3000th Duel (Switch) review
"Probably not my 3000th Metroid clone..."
I'm going to sound awfully hypocritical here. You see, I recently reviewed Aggelos, a Metroid-style action-adventure trip that played like your average fantasy-based pathfinder, but more to its credit than detriment. Its dev knew what kind of game they were making, and played mostly to its genre's strongest tropes. Of course, that approach meant Aggelos would struggle to stand out in a world where scores of strong offerings in the same category already exist. At the same time, I can that at least its individual campaign beats didn't bleed together so badly that the whole experience felt samey from start to finish...
I think you know what I'm about to say regarding 3000th Duel...
No, I don't dislike Duel; quite the contrary. It offers most qualities you would expect from a mash-up of Metroid and Dark Souls: challenging segments, menacing bosses, detailed customization, engaging combat that emphasizes timing and observation, rich lore, a refillable healing item (called "Violet Scripture" instead of Estus Flask), and mountains of weapons to collect. Unlike your typical Souls wannabe, though, this one doesn't toss you into the deep end and tell you to sink or swim. It eases you into its madness, providing ample spaces early on to grind quickly and get your stats up before you fight the first couple of bosses.
As with any piece of this nature, you eventually run afoul of obstacles you can't cross. Mainly, they take the form of exits or treasure chests your standard jump can't reach. In other places, locked doors and defunct portals await event items before they allow you to cross into new domains. Even with those impasses, though, you find plenty of side avenues and detours to check out. Duel nails map structure, providing you with whole levels you can explore before advancing with the quest, allowing you to fight some of the game's bosses in a variety of orders.
Much like the Souls series, annihilating foes earns you glowing orbs (called "karma"), which you can spend to boost one statistic per level. Here, you only choose from four attributes to bolster, including vitality, strength, mind, and activity (in other words, stamina). Unfortunately, your choices remain mostly limited to three types of weapons or a fair helping of spells you wish to use, which don't vary much at all. You don't really enter this affair looking for a blade or spear in particular around which to build your warrior. Rather, you end up going after the most powerful weapon or spell and using karma to upgrade it as much as possible. Sadly, though you can create a small number of differing builds here, the game's leveling system isn't as detailed as it could be.
The pacing slackens a bit after the early phases, mainly because the game holds off on giving you the obligatory double-jump ability. You blast full several regions at this point that come across as padding. Once you finally secure the mythical technique, though, the campaign picks up in earnest, sending you to the loftiest parts of the battlefield to find items that advance the storyline quickly. This is the point in which the campaign hooks you in, beckoning you to come back and climb higher or delve deeper into its dankest chambers to see what semi-adorable horrors lie in the muck and dust there.
Semi-adorable? Yeah, creature designs represent a softened departure from the game's inspirations. Duel doesn't completely lift FromSoft's trademark aesthetic or Metroid's sci-fi/horror trappings, instead pitting you against handfuls of beasts that would look at home in Luigi's Mansion. But then you have other beings that look kind of badass, such as the grim reaper-like Karma Hunter or the spindly Cursed Shelop--an obvious nod to Shelob from "Lord of the Rings."
While all I've described sounds swell, you have to remember what I implied earlier: enjoyable or not, the content is all so samey...
You see, nearly every stretch of hallway, nearly every pathway, nearly all enemies and bosses looks and feels the same. You begin your quest in a forest, then enter a cave where every corridor looks indistinguishable from the previous one, only to enter another part of the cave system that looks identical to its predecessor. You exit the cave to enter another forest may as well be the first area all over again. From there, you venture into a castle comprised of multiple portions that only appear slightly different from one to the next.
All along the way, you lock horns with one of the most uninteresting lineups of rogues I've seen in a fantasy game for a while. At one point, you take on a huge knight. After that, it's onto a big golem. And whom do we bump into from here except a huger knight, a bigger golem, then a knight on a horse, then a golem without legs. Oh, but you also fight some undead wizards every now and then for added diversity...
The thing is Duel's campaign isn't very memorable, even if it's entertaining. I couldn't tell you what occurred in any given portion of the campaign, but I do remember fighting a knight wielding a spear while a dragon rained fire on me; or scotching a couple of chubby, smelly zombies covered in fungi; or desperately hopping through a hallway with crumbling platforms, brambles all over the place, and tight spaces that required me to air-dash at just the right time. At least a few segments stand out, but the rest of the title's material proves fairly forgettable.
I'll admit it: I appreciate 3000th Duel, but it's quite likely I'll forget most of its content by next week. As a whole, the game at least stands out by fusing Nintendo's sci-fi adventure with From Software's unforgiving action-RPG. This offering remains solid enough that I'd be down for a sequel--or perhaps a different product from its developer, Neopopcorn. Sadly, it's not so great that it'll live rent-free in my head for more than a couple of days...
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (July 24, 2022)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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