Death’s Gambit is unapologetically similar to the Dark Souls series in many ways. From the slow-paced combat and harsh difficulty, to the look of the menus, Death’s Gambit is what happens when you take the Dark Souls formula and make it two-dimensional. But while the visuals are interesting and offer a lot of dark and twisted 2D sprite eye candy, its gameplay has a few issues that just don’t translate well into the second dimension. Stiff controls and unforgiving difficulty spikes may appeal to the Souls-style crowd, but not everyone will share the same enthusiasm for what amounts to a frequently frustrating and unoriginal experience.
Death’s Gambit does have some great looking sprites for the many monsters and environments you come across. The dark and grim places you visit have little details that don’t get in the way of the action but add a nice layer of depth to what you see on screen. The bosses are some of the most interesting characters to see in the game since their designs can get as wild as their toughness in battle. The knight you control doesn’t look as interesting as what is around him, but much of your focus will be on what stands in your way to the next area and boss to conquer.
Beyond its visuals, however, Death’s Gambit one-for-one duplicates the gameplay of the Souls series, sometimes to a fault. Something as simple as climbing up a ladder can be a hindrance when you need to hold a button to grab a ladder and climb but instead drop straight down as your character locks up before grabbing onto the ladder itself. Its things like this that are frequently annoying as you traverse the game’s levels and need to repeatedly pass through sections over and over again. Luckily, you don’t take any damage after falling from great heights, which is a good thing.
The biggest problem you’ll deal with is the stamina meter, which is a staple of the Souls-styled games that doesn’t translate into 2D very well. Everything from jumping around to attacking uses up a portion of the stamina meter, which is very slim from the beginning of the game. It becomes incredibly important to level up the Endurance stat and increase your stamina, otherwise, you’ll find yourself becoming vulnerable at the worse times simply because you were jumping around to avoid attacks. Jumping shouldn’t drain the stamina meter since it’s the one thing you do the most frequently over anything else, but Death’s Gambit somewhat punishes you for doing so. In boss fights, jumping to avoid attacks might cost you precious health shortly afterward when you can’t attack or defend yourself, which will lead to many death’s.
Yet Death’s Gambit most disappointing aspect is how unoriginal so many things are within it. Though the names of many items are changed, their function and portrayal within the game are identical to their equivalent in the Dark Souls games. For some people that might be a big deal, but to others, it will make Death’s Gambit seem like a 2D rendition of Dark Souls and nothing more beyond that. The game even pokes fun at itself in a few places, noting the striking similarities from the dialogue of characters you come across, but that doesn’t help to make Death’s Gambit feel more original.
You’re still fighting monsters in an unforgiving world, where saving and dying respawns everything, and gathering “souls” to increase your power to fight even bigger and more vicious monsters. You have a number of classes to choose from at the start with “gifts” to take with you before setting out on your dark adventure. It’s all darkly and eerily familiar. There’s very little else here to differentiate what’s already been established elsewhere, and for some probably rendered in a better way.
If you like having the harsh and unforgiving challenge that the Souls games have, then you’ll probably take a liking to what Death’s Gambit has to offer. It’s more of what you know about these kinds of difficult games, but rendered in a new dimension. The sprites look great and have lots of neat details that will stand out from the equally interesting dark and grim backgrounds. However, the controls can be stiff and the harsh spikes in difficulty will filter out many players who would otherwise not have the patience to deal with such an unforgiving game.
This review was based on a digital review code for Death’s Gambit for the PlayStation 4, provided by Adult Swim Games.