Capcom are clearly not happy.
This isn’t to say that they are undermining the competition when it comes to the new DmC (Devil May Cry reboot, I don’t know why they’re abbreviating either), but clearly are hoping that by comparing their new game co-developed by Ninja Theory (they of Ninja Gaiden fame) to Bayonetta (Platinum Games and SEGA) that they may just get a shred more credibility.
The problem is – they won’t.
DmC has had a problematic birth from the start. It takes a known and loved franchise and seeks to reboot it – not only changing the style, but also radically changing the looks of its lead character, Dante – a character who is part demon, and eternally youthful. The old one had a sense of naive charm, a character that is world-wise and yet at the same time charmingly dysfunctional; a pastiche of beauty and brawn without the relative smarts to always back up his immortal status. The new one looks haggard, aggressive and world-weary; a violent, dark and brooding menace of a figure that wouldn’t look out of place in a Death Metal band. He lacks the charm, grace and quiet dignity the old Dante look inspired in so many of us.
The second issue is, whilst Devil May Cry and its three subsequent sequels may have birthed a new sub-genre for the beat-em-up, Bayonetta did the unthinkable by perfecting it.
Bayonetta was a completely unexpected, left-of-field delight. A retro experience beyond all others, its sympathetic and intriguing story of time travel and the waging battles between heaven and hell dimensions (neither being on the side of mortals, apparantly) was dressed up with a gloss and shine and a style that was completely unexpected. Even more unexpected from it was that for all the style and over-the-top gloss, Platinum Games didn’t get carried away with it all and backed it all up with a refined, polished, balanced and deliciously deep combat system and controls that worked with the game, not against it. Master its nuances, and you would reap the rewards.
DmC is positioning itself to be as mechanically complex and rewarding as Bayonetta; but the telling and most damning implication is how they are avoiding all discussion of the styling now. DmC as a reboot that seems too serious, the game mechanics are meant to somehow carry a game that is, on the surface and in promotional material at least, very dark and complex.
And it may still work. I’m certainly not the kind of person who would begrudge a more serious, darker edge to a story. I think the old Devil May Cry games relied too heavily on the Cheese Factor, and passed it off as style, which isn’t the same thing really. But I don’t warm to the new-look Dante. He doesn’t have the same impact as the classic version. And that is an issue when you’re being asked to spend the next several hours cutting up a variety of demons with this one sole character.
And it simply has to stop trying to beat or better Bayonetta.
For how utterly perfect the design and gameplay was in Bayonetta, the most charming and likable part about it was that it was completely unexpected – it was good, and sold on the back of its quality – which shone brighter as it hadn’t decided in the run-up to smack-talk Devil May Cry. This breath of fresh air approach meant that it wasn’t sullied by the PR Showdown; it wasn’t constrained by expectations. It asked merely to be judged as it was. And it was utterly brilliant.
By constantly referencing Bayonetta, Capcom and Ninja Theory are setting themselves up for a fall by already giving pre-conceived ideas and notions of what to expect. It is unlikely that DmC will be better than Bayonetta – but it doesn’t need to be, it just needs to be a great game in its own right. These are the only two major players in this sub-genre; Darksiders seems to be going more RPG and Dante’s Inferno 2 seems to be in development hell somewhere (which you can argue is actually a rather appropriate place for it to be…).
There is room for both to co-exist, this isn’t Highlander after all. You don’t always need to beat your rival – just put up a decent enough fight for people to enjoy the entrance fee.
But if you constantly compare yourself to your rival, expect to be compared in your entirety…
And that is a battle that DmC can only lose.