When I previewed Damsel earlier this year, I praised the game for its ability to balance the essential platforming pillars: smooth movement, challenging level design, and fluid combat. However, the real question was if the game could keep that momentum going throughout its many arcade levels. Fortunately, it does just that through committing to a few core ideas and fleshing them out completely. Despite a few balancing issues, Damsel hits a particular spot in my platformer-loving heart.
Damsel places you as the titular character – a government agent sent to investigate the shady-looking Red Mist Beverage Corporation. The group is supposedly creating special “drinks” made of human blood to energize its vampire clientele. Those who’ve found out have been taken hostage. It’s up to Damsel to eliminate the wanna-be vampire overlords and save the captured citizens.
Stylized comic strips portray the narrative between each mission. Side characters are quirky, often making bad puns to ease the situation. This lighter tone provides a break between the unsettling mood of vampires capturing humans and transfusing their blood into mass-produced drinks. It’s quite an accomplishment how Damsel can feel family-friendly thanks to its looks. Yet, if you look beyond the surface, you’ll expose yourself to a twisted, capitalist world full of deception and cruelty.
It’s a space I wish I could explore more. The comic strips are too short and don’t reveal much about the lore at all. Most of them are just watching Damsel move from one area to another. Fully voiced 2D cutscenes would be an excellent way to delve more into this universe.
Damsel’s slick gameplay enables you to be the contrasting power in this wicked world. As an undercover government agent with spectacular agility, you only have a few moves at your disposal: Damsel’s shotgun, a rechargeable dash, a ground pound, a wall jump, and eventually, a double jump.
While the move set sounds limiting, the focus on only a few abilities means that levels cater to the skills, rather than the other way around. This leads to a variety of stages each with unique challenges. One level may have you dashing across spikes into a pile of tanky vampires, while another forces you to escape from a trap of laser beams while fending off projectile-lobbing flying monsters.
A new level means applying your small set of skills differently. Instead of overloading you with a ton of skills, you’re provided the opportunity to master the few. Completing a stage on your first try is never due to some cheap mechanic. Instead, victory is an actual accomplishment that showcases all you’ve learned during your playtime.
These mechanics working so tightly together instills a flow state which is Damsel’s greatest accomplishment. However, in getting to a flow state, you must learn to manage side objectives on top of the vampire fights.
Missions are full of little objectives – some of which you must complete to move onward. These tasks start as simple as untying all of the hostages but evolve into difficult “defend-the-point” segments as you upload data via satellite. While it seems they may break your flow, they don’t. These sections simply require you to press the action button at the right moment.
They’ll take a few tries to get right, but once you’re used to the miniature challenges you can handle these segments with relative ease. Towards the end, I’ve been able to untie a citizen or unlock a keypad while still dodging enemy projectiles due to my speed.
As time goes on, the challenges add some tweaks to throw you off. You must defuse pieces of dynamite before a timer runs out, or bound citizens will have a death trigger you must avoid. These slight changes prevent you from merely mashing the action button, and come in late enough that they don’t ruin your flow state. Plus, the faster you complete actions, the more you can add to your sweet, sweet score multiplier.
Stages are based in two major themes, both representing a story arc – though a third is coming later on according to an in-game message. Most of them only take up a couple of minutes, ensuring those with just a short amount of time can still play. Hardcore players can spend extra time working on side missions for full completion.
There are also multiple bonus modes, such as a score-focused arcade segment or daily challenge runs. Leaderboards provide some extra competition, and the game even has built-in Twitch support for streamers.
Damsel is a challenging game. The difficulty scales at a reasonable rate, but I went from one-try victories to multiple-death victories faster than I expected. In fact, I began to skimp on side objectives – something I don’t often do in games – as they were just too much for me to complete at my skill level. This is a title that rewards complete mastery.
Later challenges even feel unfair at first. I’m still shocked at how competent I’ll feel during one level only to have that confidence destroyed in the next. I’ve yelled, wrongly blamed the game, and falsely called combat cheap many times to protect my ego. But, with each retry, I’d learn the map a little more, try a different route, or even take things slow. Each try brought me closer to success until I could enact a flow state. Once there, wins were based on memorization and reaction times in combination with my established skill. It’s a vicious, addictive loop that keeps you coming back.
The dark, quirky aesthetics, tight combat mechanics, and silky-smooth movements combine to make Damsel an enticing package. Getting into a flow state rarely feels more rewarding. Stages are of a pace that those with five minutes can have as much fun as those with free time. If you can handle sharp difficulty spikes and aren’t bothered much by the thought of drinking human blood, Damsel is a platforming delight worth delving into.
TechRaptor reviewed Damsel on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.More About This Game
Damsel is an engaging, challenging platformer that has a little something for everyone. It may get too hard too early for some people, but mastering the mechanics is incredibly rewarding.
- Super Slick Combat
- Encourages Mechanic Mastery
- Missions Cater To Everyone
- Skims The Surface Of Lore
- Difficulty Scales Too Quickly