Devil May Cry games kick ass. The stylish and over-the-top antics of demon hunter Dante and his cohorts helped define the action game genre. This year’s Devil May Cry 5 made everything sleeker, sexier, and energetic. Dante’s had great games over the years, but there’s one game that doesn’t shine. Devil May Cry 2, whose Nintendo Switch port releases today, remains one of the most infamous stumbles in the history of video game sequels. With janky levels and good ideas that are butchered into a soggy mess, Devil May Cry 2 is a game I would recommend only to the most curious fans. There’s some ironic charm to be had and historical curiosity to satisfy, but that’s about it.
The original Devil May Cry arose out of a highly specific set of circumstances. It was originally meant to be the next Resident Evil game. Director Hideki Kamiya’s new, action-focused game was deemed slightly out of step with Resident Evil and spun off into its own project. When it released in 2001, Devil May Cry’s campy charm and combo-heavy combat was a hit. It was only natural for a sequel to be made. The result was Devil May Cry 2, which was released only two years later in 2003. But unlike the first game, things had dramatically changed. The cocky hero Dante was more taciturn, the boss fights uninteresting. Devil May Cry 2 was a disappointment, dropping to muted critical response and bafflement on the part of players.
Set “some time” after Devil May Cry, Dante agrees to help a demon hunter named Lucia fight a nefarious villain named Arius. Arius, a wealthy businessman, has made a pact with a demon lord in order to take over the world. It’s an interesting enough setup for a Devil May Cry game, since all you really need are Dante and some demons, but everything about it is clumsy. Dante lacks his usual charm, and levels are little more than monster hallways, unlike the puzzled-laden environments of the original game. It’s possible to play as Lucia, but her levels are the same as Dante’s with minor variations. Combat benefits from an improved camera system but suffers as it’s incredibly easy to sit back, fire your guns repeatedly, and clear rooms. Bosses were boring, including battles against demonic tanks and helicopters. Devil May Cry 2 was a hodgepodge of ideas that felt underbaked and lacked the confidence that made the original memorable.
This is undoubtedly due to Devil May Cry 2’s short, troubled development. Hideki Kamiya moved on to design Resident Evil 0, leaving Devil May Cry 2 in the hands of an unknown and uncredited initial director. Their work proved so disappointing to Capcom brass that they were removed from the project and a new director was brought in: Hideaki Itsuno. Itsuno’s background was in fighting games like Street Fighter Alpha and Darkstalkers. With less than half a year remaining, Itsuno had to right the ship. But game development is a slow and costly affair; there was only so much that could be done. As a result, while Devil May Cry 2 arguably feels better to play than the original—as long as you actually do something other than stand back and shoot your guns—it bears the marks of a game reshuffled and readjusted, lacking coherency.
Itsuno would go on to become inextricably linked with the Devil May Cry series, directing all games since Devil May Cry 2. After DMC2’s strange missteps, the series underwent a dramatic course correction for Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening. It was a prequel featuring a young and cockier Dante, an operatic storyline where he clashed with his brother Virgil, and more weapon variety. It’s a silly game, but it’s often considered the best of the Devil May Cry series. Itsuno and Capcom wouldn’t really get to experiment until after winning back players with DMC3, allowing Devil May Cry 4 to add a new character to the series, Nero, and expand the combat systems further. While Devil May Cry 2 is remembered as a blunder, it’s highly possible that its chilly reception is what pushed the following games to new heights. There was a lot to prove after Devil May Cry 2 and, thankfully, Dante redeemed himself.
Devil May Cry 2 is a stepping stone, not a watershed moment. But its gloomy stumbling helped the series in the long run. What followed was bolder, brasher, and ultimately the Devil May Cry that fans love to this day.