It’s strange to play the original Devil May Cry in 2019. You can see the places where it was going to be the next Resident Evil before it became a brand new franchise. The Nintendo Switch port, released today, is a delicious piece of gaming history. While there are some rough edges and arguably better ways to play, the Switch port is still a good, way to play one of the best action games ever.
This has been a good year for Devil May Cry fans, as Devil May Cry 5 served up a perfect mix of pulpy anime drama and top-notch combat. The game has been out since March but I’m still booting it up regularly to fight bosses or fight to survive the daunting, 100-floor Bloody Palace. Devil May Cry, which originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2001, feels a bit stiff in comparison to what came after. Nevertheless, its old-school sensibilities merge together into a package that mostly works out on the Nintendo Switch, be it on screen or in portable mode. It doesn’t look as good as its HD collection peers on PS4 and Xbox One, but Devil May Cry is so goddamn interesting that it’s easy to forgive the flaws that come with porting it to Switch.
For those unfamiliar, Devil May Cry tells the story of the demon hunter Dante and his mission to stop the demonic emperor Mundus from returning to the human world. He’s hired by the mysterious femme fatale Trish to investigate a sprawling castle where Mundus plans to return. Devil May Cry started as an action-heavy concept for what was going to be Resident Evil 4. Hideki Kamiya led the project, which became Devil May Cry after Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami deemed it a bit too far off from the horror tone of Resident Evil.
Playing Devil May Cry in retrospect makes this development history more apparent. Modern Devil May Cry games eschew puzzle solving and key collecting for raw combat. The original Devil May Cry splits between exploration and combat. In one section, you explore and find a scepter that you might need to place in the proper statue’s hands. In the next, you battle a giant spider demon in the middle of a cathedral. It’s a slow pace, with more backtracking than modern entries, but it really does help you feel like an occult detective as much as a demon-slaying badass.
Devil May Cry is a little rough on the Switch. The game’s fixed camera angles and stiff controls can make certain boss fights tough. These issues feel pronounced on the Switch, where the small Joy-Con analog stick makes refined movement difficult. This mixes with hard-edged graphics that, while sharp and detailed, still look plain. Devil May Cry’s lush level design and art direction helps mask the issue, but Dante looks stiff without the playful haze of a CRT filling the screen. This isn’t a powerful port that breathes new life into old designs; it’s utilitarian. You want Devil May Cry on the Switch? You got it. These issues can be overlooked, but eager players should manage their expectations. This port is Devil May Cry, with warts old and new.
Devil May Cry on Switch costs $19.99 for a fair port of an admittedly very good game, but you can buy the first three games on PSN in a single package for only ten dollars more. I’m not usually someone who cares about these questions, but it’s a sticking point for Devil May Cry. Switch ports of older games can be expensive, and it can be a hard decision when you can get a game that looks or plays better on a different platform for less. If you really want to pay $20 to play Devil May Cry on the go, you’ll have to push through some oddities but you’ll have a great time. Whether that’s worth it is up to you.