Reviewer’s Note: The latest update to Devil May Cry 4 refrain (Out Now, $4.99) has released to widespread complaints that the game hangs at its first loading screen. For user reference — in iFanzine’s experience as of this writing, the updated game takes approximately one full minute to load when first fired up on a fourth gen iPod Touch.
The Devil May Cry franchise is getting to a point where its growing legendarium is making it less and less accessible to those who have only followed it casually over the years. Gamers new to the series are sure to wonder at the pantheon of demons, supernatural half-breeds and secretive organizations the franchise has accumulated up till now, as well as why the latest game features a protagonist who looks, dresses, and fights just like Dante – the series’ trademark character – without actually being him.
This time around the spotlight falls on Nero, another gun toting, sword slinging, trenchcoat-wearing smart aleck whose status as a devil hunter lends him to friendship with a demon-fearing religious sect. What begins as an investigation into the church leader’s assassination becomes a quest to unravel the unsavory mysteries behind the organization Nero has affiliated himself with.
Whereas the console versions of Devil May Cry 4 make use of excellently directed cutscenes to flesh out Nero’s adventure, Devil May Cry 4 refrain attempts to make do with sparse dialogue boxes and prerendered stills that barely hold the plot together at best. Characters are introduced and wiped away with nowhere near the development they receive in the console version as the game struggles to compress Nero’s journey into a mere ten missions, versus twenty originally. There’s enough information in Devil May Cry 4 refrain to pick up the gist of a story, but not much beyond that.
But hey, since when has story ever been the central concern in a Devil May Cry game? What matters most here are blazing pistols and cleaving swords, and thankfully the transition from console to iOS left enough intact to make Devil May Cry 4 refrain a clear standout among mobile Action games. Per series tradition the player will busy him or herself guiding the protagonist through flashy combination attacks, spending just as much time juggling foes in midair as smashing them on land.
In addition to the usual sword-and-gun mechanics that have always formed the core of the series’ combat system, Nero can make use of a sort of spiritual tractor beam called the “Devil Bringer.” With this he can snare enemies from afar and bring them his way; once Nero has an adversary in his grip the player has even more expansive options for dispatching it. Using the Devil Bringer on very large or heavy enemies causes Nero to fly in their direction instead, which is great for finding the weak points of giant boss monsters. The upgrade and equipment systems don’t appear to be as robust here as series fans are used to, but the game still rates player performance in realtime and dishes out rewards in the form of new skills and combos between missions.
While boss battles are always great fun in Devil May Cry 4 refrain, run-of-the-mill combat unfortunately pits Nero against what appear to be the exact same minions throughout much of the game’s first half. To be fair, series diehards might point out minute differences in the enemies that crop up during the first four levels after careful inspection, but to someone with a more casual interest in the franchise these will quickly blur together visually and behaviorally. This complaint does improve drastically at the game’s halfway mark.
Whereas the console version’s game environments were complex and interactive enough with Nero’s Devil Bringer to lend Devil May Cry 4 sound standing in both the Action and Adventure genres, Devil May Cry 4 refrain feels more like a straight-up dungeon crawler. Thankfully it’s still peppered with a few interesting puzzles and riddles that provide much needed respites from traversing the visually flat chambers left in the iOS edition. A handy mini-map makes exploring a breeze for the most part but it is flawed in one important respect: it is incapable of showing which floor the player happens to be on in a multi-level environment. Players are sure to be confounded by one or two missions set inside buildings that exhibit identical floor plans on multiple levels.