Devil May Cry 4 Refrain Review

I can applaud Capcom Mobile on its port of Devil May Cry 4 to the iPhone and iPad insofar as it brings the core elements of the franchise to a new platform without falling victim to two pitfalls: 1. completely rehashing what it’s already done (which was the case of the great but very standard Dead Space) or 2. slapping a franchise name on a barely related game just to sell it.

Unfortunately, Capcom wanders into the third, and perhaps most deadly, trap of all when it comes to bringing big franchises to mobile: it waters it down, perhaps assuming mobile players can’t handle what console players do every day, and the result is a drab, boring, overly easy and fairly unengaging game in which mashing buttons is your primary effort.


Devil May Cry 4 Refrain (IPhone [Reviewed])
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: February 3, 2011
MSRP: $6.99

Devil May Cry 4 Refrain is, as the title suggests, a rework of the story of Devil May Cry 4, but made more palatable for an 0n-the-go audience. You play the entire game as Nero and work through most of the story points from the console game. There isn’t a whole lot of difference there as far as plot, except that the text-only cutscenes are pretty underwhelming and offer little in the way of context. If you haven’t played Devil May Cry 4, you probably won’t know what’s going on so much in Refrain. Not that it matters.

You’ll fight through 10 different levels as you travel through DMC4′s setting city, killing demons by hitting combinations of four buttons: one to shoot Nero’s gun, one to slash with his sword, one to use his demon arm and the cool powers that come with it, and one to jump. The most interesting part of the game by far is your ability to create some pretty decent fight combos with those four buttons, and the more varied attacks you chain together, the better your score for the level. You can also opt for a simplified version if four buttons is too much to deal with, which combines shooting and swordplay into one button, changing which weapon is used based on your proximity to enemies.

While the combo strategy of the game is nice, and echoes some of what goes on in the console version, it’s marred by the fact that you never actually need to get good at the fighting in Refrain. You can do combos to up your score, yes, but you can just as easily rely on Nero’s charged pistol shot to do all your fighting, the whole game through — bosses included. Refrain’s difficulty level is so low, in fact, that it gets downright boring.

In each level, your goal is to find the end. You’re creating a mini-map of the level’s layout as you go, pretty much by trial and error: if a room has two doors, open one and see where it goes. Every room or every other room, it seems includes some kind of demon you have to kill. For the most part, these guys are extremely easy — many iterations don’t even bother to fight back, or they’ll take a swing at you once very five minutes or so. Difficulty in enemies doesn’t ramp up until way at the end of the game, and even then, it’s nothing that’ll give you frustration.

Boss fights are kind of sad in this regard. There are eight of them spread over the 10 levels, but they’re all really, really easy. Each boss has a total of two different attacks to avoid, and while Refrain tries to go with scale to make the enemies impressive, it fails to make them even a little bit difficult to defeat. As with fighting regular small-scale enemies, fighting generally turns into a button-mash or a game of keep-away as you reposition to attack the boss from a place where it can’t reach you — which is most of the screen. If you just go with your guns, you can easily take down any boss without a real fight, it just takes a while. The ease of the game is a shame in the face of the fact that DMC games are generally known for their difficulty.

Doing well in levels is supposed to help you earn more abilities and combos, but the unlock rate for such things is really slow. It seems Capcom expects you to want to play Refrain through several times — which isn’t an impossibility, given that you can get all the way through it in a little more than two hours in total — but the real question is, why would you want to? The fighting isn’t engaging enough to make you want to earn more engaging fighting, and even if you did, most of the game’s enemies would just lie down for you anyway.

And visually, there’s not much to keep you involved, either. The bosses are generally visually interesting, but the rest of Refrain suffers from being kind of ugly, drab, gray and unimpressive. Working through each level is about reading the map, not about looking at the screen. A lack of camera control compounds this further; you’ll spend plenty of fights just firing your guns at whatever Nero has locked onto offscreen, and it doesn’t really matter what it is he’s shooting at since it probably won’t do any damage to you anyway. You’ll kill everything in a room, consult your map, find the appropriate door and usually move into a more-or-less identical room. It might have stairs in it, or the doors might be sealed and require you to kill the things in the room you would have killed anyway, but that’s about it.

Despite there being a lot of things to fight in Refrain, this mobile port is a pretty weak use of the license. The combos can be fun to execute and link together, especially once you get good at leading ground fighting into aerial combos and then back down, pummeling your enemies into submission. But the whole game has the feel of shooting fish in a barrel, except the barrel is room after boring gray room. Sometimes the fish are big, sometimes they’re on fire, sometimes they give some inane text dialogue before you shoot them. But there’s little that will draw you back to the barrel after one run-through, if you feel like finishing at all.

Pros:

  • Decent combo system for combat
  • Fighting captures the feel of Devil May Cry
  • DMC 4 fans might enjoy revisiting the story in a less intrusive, bite-sized way
  • The current $1.99 sale price tag is extremely reasonable if you really want a mobile DMC experience

Cons:

  • Combat is repetitive and way too easy — most enemies don’t even try to fight back
  • Boss battles are over-simple
  • New combos unlock really slowly, which keeps the fighting from ever really expanding
  • Cutscenes add almost nothing to the experience
  • Graphical style is kind of drab and uninteresting; no camera control means you won’t even see most things

Final Score: 45

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