Damsel is the debut title from Brisbane-based developer Screwtape Studios, and a that weilds is distaste for corporate culture like a cudjel. It’s a balletic, side-scrolling arcade shooter about a special agent on a mission to investigate Red Mist, a drink created by a corporation owned and run by literal, actual vampires.
Damsel’s pulpy, comic book aesthetic is a smokescreen. It drapes a lighter, more cartoony vibe over a story that dives into darker subject matter. Damsel herself works for the Department of Sanguinarian Affairs, or DSA, who have recieved an anonymous tip that Red Mist actually contains real human blood — an act that would contravene the uneasy truce between humans and the vampires. However, once her investigation begins, any concern regarding truces is shattered — spurred on by her handler Swan, and science wiz Die-ode, any vampire unfortunate enough to get in Damsel’s way is getting dusted
Each level is more or less a time attack with simple objectives — resuce hostages, defuse timebombs, avoid electric fences and take out fangs. Levels begin with simple challenges and gradually increase in complexity, adding new enemies and mechanics to deal with, as well as extra methods for earning bonus points. Damsel can move quickly around the level by dashing and double-jumping, and can hang from legdes to take out security cameras and flying enemies. Her shotgun, named Ra, is capable of firing a lethal burst of ultraviolet buckshot, which might be the dopest shit I’ve ever heard in my life. Ra can be aimed in four directions and is powerful enough to dispatch most basic vamps in a shot or two, but is still deadly to hostages so weild with caution. Up close combat switches the shotgun for a wooden stake to the chest.
When everything is working and the music is pumping, Damsel is great fun. There’s a rhythm to its movement and a strong sense of inertia that will carry you through level after level. Like a lot of games where speedrunning is the core of the experience, there is the issue of The Stumble — the moment when you mess up and it kills your momentum, ruining your run. Luckily, Damsel loads as quickly on the Switch as it did on the PC, so starting a fresh run is only a few button presses away.
Though it released on Steam in 2018, Damsel has only launched on the Switch this month and already feels right at home on the Nintendo portable. The controls are tight, its concepts broad, its art is gorgeous and it has that same “one more try” energy found in games like Celeste. A strong debut from an Australian developer to watch.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Smooth combat; Fun premise; Gorgeous presentation; Local produce!
Lowlights: Complex as it is, those looking for even greater degree may be left wanting
Developer: Screwtape Studios
Publisher: Screwtape Studios
Platforms: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Mac OS, Linux
Review conducted on Nintendo Switch with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.