The first three Devil May Cry games are among the most iconic of the PS2 era. With its deep combat system, emphasising timing, finesse and creative combos, the trilogy gave rise to the “stylish action game” (or “character action game”, or “extreme action game”, or any other of a handful of different nicknames) that’s now so popular. Games like God of War, the Ninja Gaiden reboot, and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West all owe a debt of gratitude to Devil May Cry—to say nothing of the numerous works by PlatinumGames, a studio co-founded by Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya that’s made stylish action games its specialty.
At the same time, the quick growth of the genre, alongside a few generations’ worth of developments in game technology, mean that the original Devil May Cry games haven’t aged well. By modern standards, they feel awkward to play, with unintuitive controls and the same camera issues that plagued a lot of games from that era. That puts the Devil May Cry HD Collection in an odd position: it keeps alive a vital piece of gaming history–and preserving games is something the whole industry needs to get a lot better at–but there’s little appeal there beyond nostalgia and historical interest.
The PlayStation 4 version of Devil May Cry HD Collection is identical to the PlayStation 3 one that came out a few years ago, as far as I can tell. It collects Devil May Cry, Devil May Cry 2, and Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition in one convenient package, unaltered from their original forms aside from modest graphical enhancements.
Rather than full-blown remasters, the games appear to be upscaled versions of the PS2 originals–in other words, they use all the original assets, but they’re rendered at a higher resolution than the PS2 could allow. That works fine for the 3D graphics that make up most of the game, but any 2D assets, like UI elements and menus, simply display at their original resolution—and, in the case of menu screens, their 4:3 aspect ratio.
Related reading: If you want to see stylish action games at their absolute best, you can’t go past Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2. Read our review of the Switch ports that came out earlier this year.
That isn’t inherently a problem, and as someone who’s quite fond of the PS2-on-PS4 ports—which use a similar process—this is something I’m quite used to and comfortable with. But anyone expecting a more substantial remaster, like that of Resident Evil Remaster from a few years ago, will need to temper their expectations accordingly.
The Devil May Cry games follow the exploits of Dante, a demon hunter epitomising the “cool” and “stylish” hero, at least as far as Kamiya was concerned: he wears a long red trench-coat, sports white hair, wields a pair of pistols and a large sword with flash and flair, and overflows with cocky sarcasm. Basically, he’s the sort of hero that everyone who was a teenager in the early 2000s dreamed of being like.
Each game pits Dante against some sort of demonic entity bent on world conquest, typically with some personal stakes thrown into the mix as well. In Devil May Cry, he’s hunting the demon Mundus who killed his mother and brother; in Devil May Cry 2, a friend of his famous demon-hunter father pulls him into a fight with a demon called Arius; and Devil May Cry 3 sets Dante up against his own brother, Vergil. The stories and storytelling is exactly the sort of popcorn blockbuster stuff that you’d expect from a turn-of-the-century game about demon hunters—nothing deep, but full of excitement, action, and plenty of twists and turns.
The main appeal of Devil May Cry was always its combat. Between his pistols, his sword, and a handful of other weapons gathered over the course of each game, Dante has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, and stringing all these different attacks together as fluidly and creatively as possible is the key to success. Chaining attacks together without pause builds up a “style meter”, and the more varied your attack sequences, the quicker that goes up. The more stylish your combat, the better the rewards at the end of the level. A simple dodge button makes defence another part of that fluidity, rather than a momentum-breaking guard button.
Devil May Cry 2 built on that with the ability to swap weapons on the fly, and some new evasive moves like running up walls, as well as adding a second playable character in Lucia. Devil May Cry 3 went further by adding different fighting styles, each with different skills and a different focus, while the Special Edition made Vergil a playable character–something fans had been wanting ever since the first game.
Even from that brief description, you should be able to see the seeds of the modern “stylish action game”. Devil May Cry’s mechanically simple but deep, complex, flashy combat forms the backbone of a whole genre. To be able to revisit that by way of this Devil May Cry HD Collection is fascinating, in the same way that playing early Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games is fascinating if you like JRPGs.
But like I said, historic though they are, all three games suffer in playability due to their age. In the first Devil May Cry in particular, the controls are unwieldy: you can only dodge while locked onto an enemy, for example, and the button layout—triangle for sword, square for guns, cross to jump, and circle for examining objects—feels unintuitive compared to modern games. Technical limitations mean most of fighting spaces are physically small, limiting your options for movement, and animations feel small and stilted. Devil May Cry 2 and Devil May Cry 3 improve on these things to some extent, as you’d expect from sequels, but they’re still each well over a decade old, and it shows.
If you come in expecting a full remake aimed at modernising these games and smoothing over their rough edges, you’re going to be disappointed. If you haven’t played the original Devil May Cry games before (or other action games from that era), and you’re more used to contemporary takes on the stylish action genre, you’ll probably find this collection very rough. You have to be ready to set aside some modern conveniences and cutting edge technology to see what these games have to offer.
However, that’s part and parcel of playing old games. Nobody should go into Devil May Cry HD Collection expecting a game that plays like Bayonetta, and the relative rigidity is part of the appeal of playing these old games. Seeing how things use to be, how far they’ve come, and how some now-standard design concepts got their start is reason enough to preserve and play old games, and I commend Capcom on keeping them alive in their original state. As long as you know what you’re getting into with Devil May Cry HD Collection, it has plenty of fun and historical relevance to offer.
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Devil May Cry HD Collection is developed and published by Capcom. It’s available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC.
A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.