Death’s Gambit mixes beautiful pixel artwork with a tough-as-nails combat experience. Clearly inspired by Dark Souls and Salt and Sanctuary the game has a similar animation speed dependent combat system. Hacking and slashing won’t earn your way to victory. With such heavy inspiration it has big shoes to fill, and for the most part, it lands a lot of the hits, but the ones that it misses might be the ones that send death to collect.
The first thing that stands out about Death’s Gambit is the fantastic pixel art. The backgrounds, characters, enemies, all look great. They have fantastic looking animations and you will enjoy seeing your death the first few times for the cool looking reclamation animation as death collects what is left of your essence and returns you to the nearest shrine. The areas of the world look varied and the amount of design that went into the world really stands out. This was one of the things that kept drawing me in.
The introduction of this game plays very well. Early fights feel pretty easy to ramp you into the game, even the first mini-boss battle is a pretty simple stepping stone into the game. This leaves you coming to the main hangout of the game where you will accumulate NPCs for upgrades and items. Interestingly enough one of the NPCs is an enemy you beat in a battle in the game. It’s a little weird to see them in the camp because after the fight it sounded like they were still going to fight against you.
Aside from the one strange rival/frienemy you eventually get in your camp the rest of the story is actually pretty good. You find yourself in the service of Death. He grants you unending life, and you slay the evils of the world. The world itself tells some of the stories as you find yourself in a medieval world full of mystery. Wandering around the main camp I found myself on a platform and realized the ground beneath me was rumbling periodically, As I climbed higher my view crested a treeline and I saw a hulking shape the size of a mountain in the distance plodding along the countryside, every step shaking my screen even from that distance. These little moments make a set of connected levels become a pretty cool and cohesive world.
Death’s Gambit also tries to make a souls-like game a little easier to get into. Normally in these style of games death is a hard unyielding loss. Usually meaning you lose all of the currency you have on you wherever you were. Like many Dark Souls style games your currency, Shards, are also your experience points to level up your character to make them stronger. Unlike those games, however, Death’s Gambit doesn’t take it all from you when you die. It even rewards you with some bonus shards if you die in a boss battle but have made more progress than the last time you fought the boss. Dying does, however, causes you to drop a Phoenix Feather. These feathers work like many souls-like games that have a limited use healing item that you regenerate when you rest at save points.
Of course, all of this works well together to draw in people who might be more intimidated by these style of games because it has a much easier ramp to entry. However, the game also has its quirks. In particular, the combat feels less impactful than I had hoped. With other games, such as Salt and Sanctuary there is a solid feel of a hit during combat. Against enemies, you know exactly when you’ve made proper contact, and when you get hit the game makes sure to use audio and visual cues to slap your wrist and let you know exactly where you screwed up. I found this most effective in Hollow Knight which darkens your screen outline and the entire game pauses just for a moment. It’s enough for you to take at the moment and evaluate where you messed up. Death’s Gambit doesn’t cue these moments very well and it can leave you taking a lot of damage quickly without realizing it.
The other thing that could use better signaling or cues is when you’re out of stamina. I often found myself hitting the attack button and getting no noticeable response from the game, causing me sometimes to think it just wasn’t realizing my inputs. I finally noticed it was because my stamina had emptied and the game just wasn’t notifying me of this very well. No change in character demeanor or movement instead the game just doesn’t accept your inputs. It happened enough that it became a minor annoyance with the game.
All in all, I feel like this game does a good job taking a very uninviting genre to new players and giving them a slightly easier entry into the game. It just feels like it could have used a bit more audio and visual feedback on the action happening on screen.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Beautiful Pixel Art
Unique and varied enemies
Exciting boss battles
Easy entry for newcomers to the genre
Hard to track when you're being hit
Little indication when out of stamina
Hits could feel more impactful