As Dante’s first adventure, Devil May Cry on Nintendo Switch is an intriguing look back at gaming history, even with its notable flaws.
Coming off the release of Devil May Cry 5 earlier this year — a game that I think is easily one of the series’ best installments — going back to play Dante’s very first adventure feels like a bit of an interesting experience. That’s not to make it sound like it’s a bad thing, as the recently-released Nintendo Switch version of the original Devil May Cry is very much a faithful translation of the PS2 classic. That might even be to a fault as, by and large, what you see is what you get from the Switch version; it doesn’t add much in the way of new features compared to what we saw from the first game in last year’s Devil May Cry HD Collection on consoles and PC.
But in going back to play through the original Devil May Cry, I couldn’t help but get the same sort of feeling like I get when revisiting the early catalog of a band you’ve loved for ages, or an author whose first novel you’re re-reading for the first time in many years. You can see the traces of the kinetic, over-the-top action that has defined the Devil May Cry series for so many years, but the original Devil May Cry still looks and feels like an entirely unique experience all its own, still trying to define itself.
This especially comes from the fact that the original Devil May Cry started off as an early prototype for Resident Evil 4 (before it ended up as the classic that we all know and love). With the subject matter and tone being radically different from the Resident Evil series, Devil May Cry ended up being spun into its own series, and from playing it again, you can easily see some of the strands that tie this game to Capcom’s survival-horror classic.
Compared to the modern entries like Devil May Cry 5 that hone in almost entirely on action, spectacle, and increasingly complex combat, the original Devil May Cry features a far more diverse range of gameplay elements that especially feel Resident Evil-esque, maybe more than players might be expecting. This especially comes from the fact that there is a fair amount of backtracking and light puzzle solving in the original Devil May Cry, as players take Dante–at this point, a very young demon hunter–through the halls of a deserted island on the search for the demon lord Mundus.
The more exploratory elements of Devil May Cry are by far the most interesting aspects of the game to experience today, given how much the later Devil May Cry games have expanded more on combat and style and less on puzzle-solving. That said, it’s also the area that perhaps has aged the game the most, with Devil May Cry utilizing the same Resident Evil-style fixed camera angles that can make backtracking and exploration a bit of a hurdle to cross. This especially can make combat a bit more challenging than expected, as the player can easily be attacked by enemies off-screen, combined with Dante’s somewhat stiff movement and controls. This is remedied a bit by using the Switch Pro Controller versus the less sensitive Joy-Con, but there’s no denying that there will be a fair bit of PS2-era jank to deal with when playing the original game.
While Devil May Cry is at its weakest when it tries to echo Resident Evil, its strongest elements of combat and style are still on relatively fine display. Dante’s wealth of combat techniques and mix of melee and ranged combat still feel as satisfying as they did back on the PS2, especially when faced with one of the game’s challenging boss battles (many of which being more of a challenge than in the later DMC titles). Though the actual range of moves and mechanics at your disposal in Devil May Cry is a bit more limited compared with the likes of DMC5, having the ability to work up to S combos or perfect attack chains on-the-go with the Switch version is still an enjoyable experience, and speaks to how Devil May Cry is still one of the defining character action titles of its time.
As a nearly two-decade-old title, Devil May Cry is not without its flaws compared to the standards set by modern action games. The game’s weaknesses — namely its stiff controls and uneven exploration-based elements — stand out far more now than they did in 2001, but there’s no denying that the original game is still an action classic that defined the genre for years to come.
While it may be light on bringing anything new to the table in terms of features or updated visuals, Devil May Cry on Nintendo Switch is still a thrilling experience that merges action and style in a compelling way, with its mission-based structure being surprisingly well-suited to being played on-the-go. Having played through DMC5 just a few months ago, it’s fitting to go back to where the demon hunting all started and to appreciate just how far the series has come, and how Dante has lost none of his style all these years later.