If you've ever wondered what would happen if a game maker combined an old-school Castlevania game with Dark Souls, you'll get your answer here. Dark Devotion's combat and atmosphere both clearly take a page from FromSoftware's Souls games. Most encounters -- even those against minions that would be sword fodder in other games -- are challenging, with players forced to master blocking, attacking, and dodging mechanics as well as become deeply familiar with the precise tells and timing of enemy attacks. Players are meant not just to see the action but also to feel it as their knight gets pushed back by enemy blows and grunts with exertion and pain. And as they explore the labyrinthine dungeon, slowly eking out its secrets and mysteries one peril-filled room at a time, they'll begin to get a sense of how everything's connected. They'll also learn how to navigate this ancient yet complex structure not just by movement, but also through portals, switches, and use of items.
Dark Devotion's emulation of the Souls experience is compelling, but the question is whether Souls fans will key to elements drawn from Castlevania. The retro art style is undeniably alluring, and the designers have done a wonderful job creating a multifaceted two-dimensional combat system that allows players to use hundreds of pieces of gear, weapons, and items to discover and develop their own tactics. But the slow character growth, while fitting for a Souls game, feels a bit out of sync with the rest of the experience. Some players may find themselves waiting for game-changing skills -- like, say, the ability to jump -- that simply don't materialize. Dark Devotion is a bold, clever, and entertaining melding of seemingly disparate types of action and role-playing games, but it's not without its quirks.