A long long time ago I wrote something on the internet about how I really liked the original Devil May Cry games and how I hoped Ninja Theory wouldn't arse its interpretation/reboot of DMC up. It probably contained quite a few epithets and lazy attempts at snark and/or comedy, I honestly can't remember.
Point is, I was wary of DmC Devil May Cry, not least for its intentional omission of a colon. I have an affinity for hack-n-slash games of all shapes and sizes but DMC has always had the best balance of challenge and experimentation. In God of War you can dial-a-combo that is always going to be more effective than whatever acrobatic nonsense you're actually capable of doing and I spend too much of my time playing Ninja Gaiden avoiding being eviscerated to get tricky with my moveset.
DmC should have been anathema to me. Not because of the much-maligned character design, I never had much affection for DMC's story or characters, but the depth of the combat. Ninja Theory, prior to DmC, have never made a mechanically sound game. Heavenly Sword demanded little of you in the skill department and poorly rewarded you for actually employing some finesse. Enslaved was barely a hack-n-slash, but that didn't mean it wasn't plagued with dreadful camera angles and overly simplistic button-mashing when it did ask you to hit things. Ninja Theory tell stories, develop characters and create worlds. Until now, they haven't been that proficient at making stabbing bad guys with sharp things enjoyable.
The new DmC isn't the deepest action game of its type. At first I thought "what was the internet talking about? this game is plenty deep" and then I slotted in DMC3 for a quick comparison. DMC3 is to this day one of my favourite action games of all time. It's poised, elegant, responsive and the most brutal test of dexterity and muscle memory short of a fighting game. DmC is not that. It has a good crack at depth. I soon learned how to properly juggle the larger enemies, how to incapacitate certain types of enemies while dealing with other and how to chain weapon combos together, yet I still haven't come close to mastering all the little tricks. By modern standards, excluding Bayonetta of course, DmC is a pretty complex and enjoyable hack-n-slash. But it isn't in the same league as the games that came before it.
However, I really don't care. DmC has more creativity and imagination in its presentation, its story and its level design than all of the DMC games combined.
I've been playing videogames since I was 8 years of age. In terms of level design, I've seen some doozies in my time. There a sequences and levels in DmC Devil May Cry that stunned me with how inventive they were. It would be bad form to spoil any of them, as you deserve to experience them for yourself. All I will say is that the conceit of the game; that Dante is repeatedly being dragged into Limbo by demons isn't just a narrative justification for you to kill things. It gives Ninja Theory an infinite possibility space to create anything they can imagine and they use it to the best of their ability. A huge part of why this game is fantastic is how it looks. The sheer audacity of the things you see and do eclipses anything more mechanically proficient games in the series have done before. Maybe it's because I appreciate the They Live-meets-not terrible Tim Burton aesthetic more than the heavy metal anime nonsense that defined DMC before, but the reboot has its own look and feel that's distinctive and memorable.
It's also a game that knows so well what it is and what it wants to achieve. The opening scene of the game involves such items as a baseball bat and a slice of slice obscuring Dante's crotch as he flies through his caravan to the sound of Combichrist. DmC plants the tongue firmly in the cheek from the word go, and when it does transition to a more serious tone it does so seamlessly. There's a singular vision on display. It's AAA production applied to a C-Level story and world and it's wonderful. You rarely get this clarity of vision in a game attempting to tackle headier issues, let alone one that's concerned with demons enslaving the world through energy drink.
And DmC does all this while walking a fine line of referencing and subverting my expectations as a DMC fan. The little mechanical references like the stinger, the aerial rave and the fact that the spiders have red orbs in them all harken back to the best of the series' past. Without going into too much detail, you know where DmC is going to end up once certain characters come into play. It's how the game gets there and the way it contextualises what was once vague and poorly explained that impresses. It's at once faithful and subversive, with Dante actively lampooning his old character design while also throwing out the same terrible puns that the old Dante used to. Looking back, it makes the people who were actually concerned about Ninja Theory ruining the fiction of DMC look ridiculous. Ninja Theory do more with this character and these themes in a single game than Capcom ever did in four.
DmC Devil May Cry is Ninja Theory's coming-of-age party. Though they've done interesting work in the past, DmC addresses their greatest flaw as a studio by actually being fun to play, allowing their creative spark to run wild. And if Ninja Theory ever get the chance to do a sequel, they've remade this world and this character in a way that I can completely get behind.