In the past, if you were hankering for some over the top, one man against an entire army, button-mashing action, your choice was usually limited to whatever the latest version of Dynasty Warriors was out at the time. But now there's finally a little variety in the beat-em-up mix, with Devil Kings hacking its way onto the PlayStation 2.
To say Devil Kings is similar in gameplay to the long-running Dynasty Warriors series is somewhat of an understatement -- swap out Dynasty Warrior's ancient Chinese setting for a mythical feudal Japan one and you have Devil Kings instead. And just like Dynasty Warriors, Devil Kings offers fast, frenetic action that's light on strategy but high in body count. Unfortunately, it also shares Dynasty Warrior's biggest flaw - hacking and slashing your way through hundreds of enemies is about all there is to the game, so those looking for a more cerebral fix may find themselves bored with all the button mashing.
In Devil Kings, players take the role of one of 12 characters in a quest to take over feudal Japan. While there are only six characters who will be initially selectable, playing through the game's Conquest mode will eventually unlock six more. Each character is a super-powered uber fighter in their own right, and sport their own unique weapons, attacks and weaknesses.
Devil King's Conquest mode is where most of a player's time will be spent. Before each mission, players are presented with a map that shows over a dozen territories - players must choose which territory to attack/conquer, with the goal being total domination of the entire map. Depending on which character you choose (some start off with more territory than others), Conquest mode may take up to seven or more missions to complete.
Before each mission begins, players are given the option to kit out their warriors with different weapons, armour or accessories. Different items bestow different bonuses, with some items being found randomly during the missions themselves. Finding these items (as well as unlocking the extra characters) is what gives Devil Kings its replayability - if you want to find everything, then several play throughs with different characters is a must.
Once inside a mission, players are presented with a large, open area in which to unleash hell. Mission objectives are usually quite simple - move from point A to B while destroying everything in sight, and then defeat the powerful boss waiting for you at the end. While there is the occasional mission that tries to shake things up (such as protecting a checkpoint from being overrun by enemies or stopping a cavalry attack in its tracks), most of your time in Devil Kings will be spent whaling on any enemy you can see with little need for strategy or finesse.
Combat in the game is simple - the Square button is a basic attack, while Triangle performs a stun attack. Pressing different variations of these two will result in some nifty looking combos, with button mashing doing just as well as remembering any set sequences. Each character also has a Fury gauge that builds up during combat - pressing Circle with a full Fury gauge will unleash a special attack which can usually clear out any enemies surrounding the character.
Missions in the Devil Kings can become quite crowded, with dozens of enemies on screen at the same time. At times, it's almost difficult to see your own character, but this chaos only adds to the fun and frenzy as you clear out wave after wave of hapless victims. In fact, the sheer variety of enemies you'll face is one of the highlights of the game - Devil Kings will see you facing off against lumbering giants who throw boulders, kamikaze soldiers who run at you with bombs strapped to their backs, behemoths who use giant logs as weapons, and much more.
The sheer number of allies and enemies on screen at once does take a toll, however. While the game's frame rate chugs along fairly smoothly, Devil Kings does have the shocking tendency to pop up enemies right in front of you. You may be running along what looks like an open field, for example, when suddenly a contingent of enemy troops just appears from nowhere. Enemies will also sometimes disappear while you're in the midst of fighting them - there's nothing more annoying than being hit by something you can't see.
At its core, Devil Kings presents an exciting gameplay experience, but it fails to live up to the standards set by the admittedly more established Dynasty Warriors series. The last game in the franchise, Dynasty Warriors 5, had some impressive features such as two-player co-op, intelligent allies and literally dozens of characters to choose from. Devil Kings, on the other hand, feels more like a stripped down version of what Dynasty Warriors 5 offered. Still, it's refreshing to see a different take on the genre.
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