Resurrected by Death White Rabbit Games’ upcoming 2D action RPG Death’s Gambit see’s you as a corpse like knight tasked to slay the godlike immortals of a medieval, alien, planet. If that isn’t the most NES back of the box hype-text in 2015 already, the game dutifully follows in the legacy of challenging sidescrolling action games like Castlevania.
With precise platforming, a focus on tactical combat, close ranged stabs and slashes paired with shield guarding as well as ample use of dodging, the game unabashedly bleeds with the blood of its inspirations. The 2D Dark Souls/Borne pixel art game you’ve always wanted, it would be a disservice to dismiss the game as another Metroidvania FromSoft like, however.
Titans towering over treacherous tundra, a phoenix scorching the skies, it is the boss battles of Death’s Gambit that are to die for. In the brief time I got to spend braving the nonlinear world of Death’s Gambit, I died from falling, from arrow impalement, sword slashes, from every morbid curiosity and more. Being Death’s agent comes with perks though. When fighting immortals you must become one, and every time you die in Death’s Gambit, the reaper swoops down and revives you at the nearest shrine (not a bonfire) checkpoint. That isn’t to say there’s no consequence to death. In the game every time you die, you’ll lose a single 'phoenix plume', your feathery means of healing in game. But there’s still hope yet. Literally.
Felling a foe in Death’s Gambit nets you "HOPE", the game’s uplifting experience system with which you can dole out into stats and unlock abilities to deal death onto immortals, or die trying. Be warned though, these abilities are consumable, limited to a few uses each life, before restoring on your next respawn, punishing any would be reckless reaper.
If this all sounds like your standard soulsvania fair, the Hook mechanic of Death’s Gambit is anything but. To take down some of the games giant bosses, your hook shot lets you climb onto them, adding vertical depth to your agent of death in some of the most breathtaking boss battles the game has to offer.
Using the hook shot for platforming outside those battles however felt sticky, difficult to aim accurately, if not a tad delayed than what I expected causing more than a few awkward stumbles with upper management. And while the bosses and levels are utterly breathtaking visually, the animation of the player character looked stiff during my preview, as if lacking a few frames or two when unengaged in combat. Thankfully none of these nitpicks significantly hamper the gameplay and this, of course, is why you play Death’s Gambit.
With its emphasis on the tried and true triangle of: combat, blocking, dodge rolling, Death’s Gambit isn’t so much a “hard game” as it is challenging but fair. When you die, it’s deliberate. You know exactly how and why, and learn from it. Even as my death count tallied higher and higher, when you finally beat one of the game’s immortal bosses only for them to spawn again even stronger (yes they do come back, they are immortal) Death’s gambit is just as satisfying the first time killing a god as it is every time, and I can’t wait to do it again when the game releases on PC and PS4 this year.
But if you’re dying to know more about Death’s Gambit right now, watch our nearly hour long video interview with the game’s lead designer, programmer, and combat warlock, Jean Canellas where we talk about the game’s story, which anime inspired the hook shot, and how you go about killing an immortal.