Developed by White Rabbit and produced by Adult Swim Games, Death’s Gambit is one undead’s journey across a war-ravaged land as Death’s soldier of retribution. As a hack-and-slash 2D platformer, with traditional RPG elements, Death’s Gambit isn’t shy about it’s main selling point. As another addition to the ever-growing Metroidvania and Souls-like genres, it can be enjoyable to play – when it’s not beating you over the head.
Saved By the Reaper
Spared from a funeral pyre by an unknown Lizard-man wielding a gigantic axe, the player takes control of a recently deceased solider called Sorun. Immediately after being berated for being an apparent coward, Death appears before you and explains ‘why’ you’re now alive. After a fair amount of exposition, it’s made clear that your quest is to destroy an artefact within a city known as Caer Sorai.
As stories go, it’s actually pretty compelling. Vengeance after all is a universal motivator. The narrative develops and it seems that the actions of immortals are shaping the world negatively. While it feels cheesy at times, it never becomes boring to read on screen.
Battle Until Death
The combat in Death’s Gambit is all about aggression, with a focus on stamina management as you battle through areas. Everything hinges on timing weapon swings in between enemy strikes and then getting to safety. Beyond the basic attack combo the player is given access to powerful abilities which change how your weapon functions. These actions consume soul energy, a meter built up by attacking enemies without being hit.
A unique mechanic is that the player loses one use of their main healing item each time they die. As opposed to the traditional formula of losing currency. It’s a minor change that makes the world of difference, as it forces the player to take their healing and exploration seriously.
Despite the controls feeling rather clunky and heavy at times, Death’s Gambit also suffers from delayed action queueing. Where the game logs one action on the controller after another. Unfortunately because most weapons and abilities have fairly lengthy attack animations, you end up committing to an attack that could easily miss. Worse still is that committing to an attack means you’re unable to do anything else while doing so, meaning that dodging, blocking or jumping to avoid a hit is impossible.
This is especially problematic since the game sometimes throws situations and enemies at you that directly go against the nature of the emphasized one-on-one combat style. Certain areas feel hard simply for the sake of it and that’s not a feeling welcome in a game that respawns all enemies if you exit the application, die, or travel back to rest.
Sights & Sounds from the Battlefield
After taking one glance at the pixel art that drives this title, here’s no denying the sheer amount of effort and care that has clearly been pumped into it. Everything from the vivid backdrops to the carefully designed character and boss models is nothing short of astonishing. Given the size of certain creatures as well, like Death itself, it’s difficult to imagine the many, many hours given to creating these behemoths; especially considering that Death is far from the largest creature in the game.
Alongside the visuals is the audio, and like in many games, the two often complement one another. In Death’s Gambit, this is a sad exception. There’s often little music happening in the background as the player runs about the world trying to slay bosses, and those same bosses fail to have memorable tracks themselves. While it can sound a little too like generic epic fantasy, the most the music rises to is a discount Final Fantasy soundtrack.
- Challenging combat that teaches you to get better
- Stunning pixel art visuals
- Surprisingly engaging story
- Challenge feels artificial at times because of enemy placements and traps
- A couple of bosses feel like chores rather than intimidating foes
- Clunky control scheme that can’t be altered
Death’s Gambit only suffers with a small selection of flaws, and it’s nothing that completely ruins the experience. The good outweighs the bad at first but later in the game it struggles with the ever-increasingly artificial difficulty. Ultimately, it’s definitely worth your time if you’ve experience with the genre before and have a need for some challenge in your life for a few nights.