Demon Skin Review – This is Not the Dark Souls I’m Looking For
Demon Skin13th April, 2021
Demon Skin. Does this mean the game is about the skin of a demon, or is it about skinning demons as you would an animal you've just hunted? Maybe it's set in the world of One Piece, and it's about the skin of the Devil Fruit, but devil and demon got mixed up in translation. Honestly, it could be about any of these, and I wouldn't have the foggiest of clues. What I do know is that Demon Skin is a side-scrolling hack & slash platformer.
I also know that I came close to quitting the game so many times that I eventually stopped counting. This isn't including the times I quit the game, though that was down to the annoying menu more than anything else. The question then is if I came close to quitting the game due to the difficulty or due to the game being so interminably annoying that it made me want to grab Bambi, gouge his eyes out and feed him to a sadistic bear?
Let me give you a tale from my time with Demon Skin. I'd just got through a very annoying section where there is a field full of grass that happens to have bear traps laid in it. This is in a forest of necromancers and just so happens to be right after a city full of undead. Just setting the scene. So, I get through this field where the traps are quite difficult to spot, and I face off against a boss. I take the boss down because it's just a repeat of an earlier boss with three times as much health. At this point, I think, "Boss down. There'll be a checkpoint now". I walk forward and drop into a well at the side of a ledge and die. Also, the field after - traps. Traps that can only be seen when you jump because the grass disappears. Who designed this, a Scooby-Doo villain?
The well didn't stand out, or at least it didn't look dangerous. There was no reason for it to be there other than a fuck you to the players. You know what Ludus Future, developers of Demon Skin? I don't accept this. If you're going to put in hard to see and even harder to understand traps and pitfalls out of nowhere while also making many other parts of your game quite incomprehensible, I'm not going to be my usual restrained self - I'm going to nitpick like a baboon covered in fleas.
I was tempted to quit right there and write it off, reviewing the game based on my time until then, calling it a bad day and just playing with myself until I went blind. I didn't. Not out of any sense of doing a good job, more out of spite than anything else. So, I completed Demon Skin, and my initial reaction was, "You're taking the piss?" You fight the end boss, and there's no payoff. The final boss isn't even the enemy you've been aiming for throughout the whole game. It's all set up for a sequel that's likely never going to happen.
One of the major problems is that Demon Skin doesn't have any sense of narrative progression. You start with some great artwork showing a huge battle and some mystical crystal that turns the main character into a husk, very much resembling a souls-like plot device. As you progress through, you find bits of the crystal, and your character slowly changes, visibly growing in strength. Not that you actually grow in strength - more on this later. The problem is that you've no idea who you are, who the character was fighting and frankly, what's happening. Things just happen.
The character claims to have forgotten everything but seems to know the name of the crystal that did this to him and a few other things along the way that aren't mentioned at all. Names and elements are just name-dropped out of nowhere. I'm left shouting at the screen, "HOW DO YOU KNOW IT'S CALLED THAT?" The game sadly doesn't answer me. I could learn what the battle at the start was, who the main character is, and so much world-building that would have given me a clue what was going on and help get me invested in the game world, but if the developers can't be arsed putting it in the game, I can't be arsed reading it on the website.
Okay, maybe it does have a story, but it's not in the game. I've made this argument about Halo many times - if it's not in the game, it doesn't count. I don't care how many websites, encyclopaedias, films, graphical novels, etch-a-sketches, and more you release; it doesn't make the story of your game any better. Want to know what I know about the story from having played the game? The main character is called Roy, and he's part of some mythical order. You find that out in the last bloody cutscene.
So, what about gameplay? I've mentioned it's a side-scrolling hack & slash platformer. The Steam page is keen to say that Demon Skin has "a challenging combat system in the same vein as Dark Souls". It's partly accurate. The combat system here isn't bad, just sluggish.
When fighting, you can use either an upper, middle, or lower attack. You can also direct your stance to be upper, middle, or lower, and if the enemy happens to be attacking in the same stance as you take, you block the attack. This also applies to the enemies. The problem is that enemies can seem to leather you with constant attacks, not following the same rules as you. Your stamina limits you, and even as you level up, your attacks seem to consume more stamina in direct proportion to the number of points you put into stamina.
Even as you increase attack damage, enemy defence and health seems to increase in proportion. The only thing that seems to matter is increased health, not that it seems to scale properly either. It feels cheap. On the topic of feeling cheap, some monsters have attacks that knock you down, and you take longer to get up than a quadriplegic octogenarian. Combine this with the fact that the AI doesn't follow the same rules around stamina. Once you're stuck in that chain of being repeatedly knocked down, you'll only survive if the AI changes its attacks or craps out.
The worst thing is that this could genuinely be good if it were refined. Switching between stances when defending is far too sensitive when using a joystick. Just moving around, you're going to be swapping stances accidentally. Your character is just a bit too sluggish when you want to turn around, especially compared to enemies. I expect a big lumbering yeti to be slower at turning around than me. They aren't, which makes the tactic of "dash behind and stab up the arse" both the best, but the most punished tactic.
If the turning speed was upped slightly and the stances were remapped, I'd be able to recommend the fighting in Demon Skin with no reservations. From throwing weapons to flashy unique special attacks for certain weapons, as well as different combos for the three different types of weapons, it's all quite engaging, though it doesn't hit the Dark Souls level of challenge. It's longer. Bigger health bars on the same creatures. It's more like chipping away at a wall with a toffee hammer.
What haven't I talked about? Well, it looks good. The effects are good. The backgrounds can be fairly active and worth looking at. In general, Demon Skin is just the right amount of busy. It gives that feeling that things are happening in the world. You can see the time and effort that's gone into. There's a lot of skill on show, which makes it more of a shame that the lack of a comprehensible story lets it down. These link together. Some things in the background interact with you, introducing elements and characters that are also confusing due to a lack of explanation and context.
All I can say is that the times the game forced me to quit due to terrible controls weren't when I finally quit the game. To explain, if you die while you happen to be moving forward or lowering down, then press the button to click continue; you'll have accidentally quit since the game is still detecting your previous input and moved to quit. Then it quits to the desktop without asking for confirmation. A nitpick, but bloody annoying.
Oh, terrible controls. The last thing, I promise. The jumping in Demon Skin requires way too much accuracy. You've got to time the jump within a flea's left testicle of the end of a ledge for the most part. When you add in traps, it all becomes very annoying. More so when rolling or trying to drop to a ledge since Roy takes this as a challenge, grabs the current ledge and climbs back up. This made me die over thirty times during one little sequence because the bastard wouldn't hide in a ditch to avoid getting crushed.
Do I like Demon Skin? Not really, though I don't hate it. I've had a worse time with other games, and it only took me five hours to complete. Cheap traps, the sluggish movement, the unfair advantage given to the AI, and the fact that it's impossible to get invested in the game because the story is about as absorbing as cement. It all makes it impossible for me to recommend Demon Skin unless you haven't got anything else to play, you want a game with decent-enough combat and nothing else, or you want something with a bit more heart and soul than the usual AAA tripe. At least this works, and you may get some enjoyment out of it.
Copy provided for review purposes.
Demon Skin is a game that tries; it shows potential but fails due to missed opportunities and a lack of refinement. The combat is decent – though it can suffer from movement issues and unfair AI - and the game features good environments, but everything else proves to be a letdown. The story is incomprehensible, with no buildup, engagement or payoff, and the level design features far too many annoying, inexplicable, and often cheap instakill traps. It's not impossible to find some good aspects, but they're fighting a tidal wave of nitpicks and negatives.
- Decent combat system that offers tactical opportunities.
- Well-designed environments and active background elements.
- Abysmal storytelling that throws things in with no explanation.
- Imprecise controls that can interfere with the combat system.
- Bad level design full of cheap instakill traps that become infuriating.
- No real sense of character development or scaling, just a constant feeling of things being the same.
- Too much repetition in monsters, particularly bosses.