Available now on all consoles, Damsel is a platformer in which you shoot vampires, defuse bombs, and rescue hostages as efficiently as possible. The quicker you do it, the better your finishing time and the higher your score on the leaderboards, which is what this game is meant to be all about. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the staying power to keep you coming back after those first couple of hours.
Graphically, Damsel is a mixed bag. It’s a 2.5D game that’s made to look like a comic book. everything is colourful and bright, with cartoon-style impacts and damage numbers. There’s a few nice touches here, such as how the damage numbers fall out of the air and land on the ground after a second or two. Characters themselves are 2D and stick out a bit against the 3D backgrounds, but they’re smoothly animated and the way hostages dance once you rescue them is quite charming.
Damsel’s cutscenes are animated comic panels that look pretty good, but there’s little reason to pay any attention. There is a story about a vampire organisation turning out to be untrustworthy (shocking, I know) but there’s barely any characterisation to speak of and it always just feels like a thinly veiled setup pushing you to the next level. There isn’t much else to say about its presentation which is sadly unremarkable on the whole. Damsel doesn’t stand out from the waves of similar looking games, particularly in terms of its character designs. The lack of an engaging narrative doesn’t help differentiate this indie game from its competitors either.
Gameplay has the same highs and lows. Our titular Damsel can shoot with her shotgun that fires slugs, although she’ll melee instead if you’re close enough, with a double jump and dash for quick movement. When you hit an enemy your combo counter will go up one and refresh its timer, and if you keep hitting enemies you’ll get more points, naturally. So you’re going to want to keep your combo going, which you can do by collecting the many purple skulls dotted about the levels as well as hitting enemies. The skulls are usually arranged in a way that guides you through a level, so you can often defeat an enemy or two and follow the skulls to the next ones. The game is at its best when you’re following these skulls, mopping up some enemies and pushing on.
Unfortunately there’s a few issues in Damsel, such as the controls being a bit too loose. You’ll find yourself slightly misjudging jumps and shots pretty often even after you’d expect to be used to it – it just feels a bit inaccurate, which isn’t what you need from a game relying on your accuracy for a high score. Worse than this though, are the mini-games. There’s a lot of them, whenever you rescue a hostage, defuse a bomb, use a keypad, or anything like that. If you fail the bomb mini-game in Damsel you fail the level instantly and have to start again. It’s immensely frustrating to rescue four hostages and defuse three bombs only to slightly mess up the eighth one you’ve had to complete, as if it wasn’t already obnoxious enough breaking the flow of the platforming and combat.
And even worse than that is that the way levels are designed seems to impede Damsel’s gameplay. As mentioned, it’s best when you’re following skulls and defeating enemies, but levels are sometimes designed in a way that doesn’t flow quite as well you’d like. As a result, it usually feels a bit awkward and even when you are as efficient as you can be, the slight fuzziness of the controls and the level design makes it feel less satisfying, as if it was luck or coincidence that saw you through. Then as you get further into the game, things obviously get busier, so on top of all that you can’t quite tell what’s happening and crucial details, like explosives get lost behind enemies or effects, resulting in you shooting hostages by accident, or blowing yourself up. It soon stops being awkward and becomes frustrating.