Buffy the Vampire Slayer only wishes she had the pizazz and shotgun power of Screwtape Studio’s lead heroine, and bane of all blood suckers, Damsel. Unlike some of her counterparts in the business of undead extermination, Damsel is also a computer hacker, professional hostage rescuer, and espionage expert. Vampires aren’t just after your blood, but your money as well, and Damsel has to help take down what amounts to an undead mafia. But, this is not your average run-and-gun. No, Damsel requires both brains and brawn to take out the “vampriarchy”, and dispensing with the ghastly ghouls is as addictive as it is fun.
Damsel offers two modes: Arcade and Campaign. Arcade tasks you with getting as far as you can before running out of a set number of lives. There is currently only one campaign out of three available, consisting of 25 stages. Each stage gives you a goal to achieve in order to end the level. These range from rescuing all the hostages, to deactivating all the time bombs, or collecting all the floating purple skulls.
However, in most cases, stages offer multiple optional goals. For instance, you might be tasked with deactivating security systems set up by the vampires, but can also save hostages along the way. The level doesn’t require you to do so to complete it, but it will add to your overall score. This is what separates Damsel from your average bullet hell title: strategy is imperative if you want to get the highest score possible.
In all levels, you will be racing against time, so the faster you make it through the level, the higher your score. However, learning the most efficient path through can be difficult, especially as enemies become more challenging. These aren’t your average bunch of bloodsuckers. You will come across hulking behemoths that can run you down like a steamroller, vampires armed with bazookas, and fire-throwing succubae just to get you started. Not to mention, these vampires love their security systems. Lasers, spikes, the aforementioned time bombs, and even security cameras that summon new monsters once you fall into their line of site are all set up to stop you.
Of course, what kind of badass vampire slayer would Damsel be without acrobatic finesse that would make the Olympic gymnastics team blush? Damsel can double jump, dash, and fire in any of the four cardinal directions while in the air. Movement is smooth and invigorating. Even hacking computers and rescuing hostages can be performed with a few well-timed presses of a button. The environments are well tuned for quick exploration; a positive given that you will likely have to run a level multiple times, particularly if you want to do everything in the quickest time possible with the most pizazz. And, yes, pizazz counts.
Chaining together combos requires timing, strategy, and skill. Learning how to collect all the skulls as quickly as possible while also killing enemies and rescuing hostages means every single thing you do, and how you do it and when, matters a great deal. Some of these combos are readily apparent. Performing a kill while airborne or dispensing of multiple enemies in quick succession will add to your score. Some combos, however, can only be discovered through trial and paying close attention to the screen. Once a time bomb has been activated, for instance, all kills you perform during that time count extra. Just don’t let it blow up.
Damsel does a fantastic job of making you think, which isn’t the easiest thing to do while trying to dodge flying bones, gunshots, and other enemy attacks. You will likely die quite a bit, especially at the beginning, while attempting to discover the surest path to a high score. At the end of each campaign stage you will receive a ranking of zero to three skulls depending on how many total combos you hit.
Choices often come with a tradeoff, however. For example, you begin with only one hit point. You can earn more hit points by destroying blood barrels found around the stage, but doing so also riles up nearby enemies and awards them an instant increase in life. Damsel’s shotgun has to recharge, so if you use all three shots rapidly, you will have to wait a few seconds to fire again, and even longer if you want to get back to full ammo. In similar fashion, Damsel’s dash will drain your gun to zero, so if you use it, you will be left momentarily defenseless until your ammo refills again. Getting used to this meant I died several times simply because I tried to run-and-gun my way through without thinking, something Damsel will definitely not allow you to do.
Having to slow down enough to consider your strategy before proceeding can at times be a bit frustrating, particularly because Damsel’s movement is so fluid and fun it is hard not to immediately race through the level. But, if you want to get the most out of the action, you have to strategize and the game is well-designed to force you to do that in most levels. You can kill hostages, which might be one of the more aggravating ways to fail a level. However, I never felt this was a deign failure, as frustrating as it is when it happens. It is just another of the myriad of ways that the game reminds you to look before you leap. The only thing I hope is eventually added is a list of combos. I like the challenge of figuring them out yourself, but it would also be nice to know which ones you’ve accomplished and which you’ve yet to perfect.
Damsel may still be in early access, but even without a cohesive plot at this point and only one of three campaigns, slaying the undead in style is addictive and tantalizing. The well designed stages boasting dark hues of purple and green easily set the mood for the vivacious action. The desire to perfect your strategy just so you can beat your own high score, just to run your rampage against the undead as quickly and brutally as possible, will leave you hungering for more like a vampire thirsting for blood.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.