Not so long ago, there was a clear line between games developed for “handhelds” and games developed for “consoles.” When franchises had to release on both kinds of platforms, there was an art to shrinking down mechanics and worlds without losing what made the games appealing in the first place. Some captured a complex arcade control scheme and mapped it perfectly to less capable hardware. Others continued a 2D legacy while the big boys tried out new-fangled tech. The ever-advancing state of tech has made porting full-scale console fare to mobile phones almost effortless, and you don’t see those types of creative translations anymore. That’s what makes DARKSIDERS GENESIS such a welcome anomaly.
No matter what genre the Darksiders series cribs from, there’s a certain style that ties them all together. Darksiders Genesis continues that trend, fully introducing fourth horseman Strife on a much smaller scale than his three predecessors. Divorced from the grand adventures of the last few games, Genesis doesn’t make a great first impression. After all, this co-op focused twin stick shooter prequel sells for half of the launch price of the other Darksiders games. Unless you’re brand new to gaming, you know that no aspect of that situation produces the greatest games. However, no one predicted that Genesis would be the Game Boy Advance rework for the series. This is a fully realized version of Darksiders that doesn’t slack on production value because of its smaller scope.
Darksiders Genesis Review | Horseman with a mouth
Joining Strife on his adventure is War, the brawny protagonist from the original game. As stoic and serious as ever, his personality draws out one of Genesis‘ greatest aspects. It’s impossible to tell what inspired the developers to save Strife for last, but he is undoubtedly the most charismatic of his horsemen siblings. With War playing his straight man, Strife shines as a laid back warrior who’s in it for fun and glory rather than saving the world. Everyone around him still has that intense end of the world vibe, which only serves to enhance his likability. You totally believe that Strife just joined the fight for kicks, an infuriating prospect for his younger brother. He can get serious when he needs to, but the dialogue is at its best when Strife mocks War for his deathly serious diatribes.
The overarching plot gets the job done, and that’s about it. Set just after the initial formation of the four horsemen, the Charred Council sets War and Strife off to keep Lucifer and his forming hordes from overthrowing their precious balance. You do get some great insight into the mindset of each of your protagonists as they have a lot to say after slaughtering their kin and trading their autonomy for immense power. It all comes out as you play, sometimes in optional conversation points found in the rather open levels, which is the best of both realms. If you enjoyed the lore of past games, there are some key insights here worth checking out. If you’re just here to shoot demons with lightning revolvers and spinning blades, it doesn’t get in the way.
Darksiders Genesis Review | Hack and shoot
As far as gameplay in Darksiders Genesis, there’s much to discuss as it is a little different than the series’ past entries and much more than you’d expect from a “lesser” Darksiders experience. To start with, War and Strife are distinctly different characters with vastly different movesets and strategies. There are special abilities, an ultimate transformation, and elemental upgrades for each warrior, making this as much War’s game as it is Strife’s. Each character feels fully fleshed out and fun to play, making choosing a character in co-op meaningful rather than a chore. In fact, War feels spot-on when compared to his debut a decade ago, which is an impressive feat considering the complete shift in perspective.
In addition to character upgrades, Genesis features a unique upgrade system that replaces Diablo-style loot drops. Rarely, enemies will drop a Character Core, items that you can slot into an upgrade tree. Each enemy has specific perks and stat boosts, and each slot in the tree has a type you can match up for additional bonuses. It adds a bit of the loot-driven gameplay without fully devolving into a standard ARPG. It also gives you a reason to replay levels and grind away at the Horde-esque Arena mode if you so choose. You’re always progressing as you play, and that’s always a satisfying feeling.
It’s also interesting that Genesis borrows a few aspects from Souls-style games. This thankfully doesn’t include the difficulty that plagued Darksiders 3, but you do have a potion healing system you can use during battle and fog doors that lie before particularly involved sections. The potions even have a mini-upgrade tree you can stuff currency into if you need more heals. While action games probably shouldn’t copy FromSoftware by default, these small touches work well enough. If anything, they feel like feature bloat and unnecessary distractions in a game that shouldn’t feel the need to distract from the solid combat lying at its core.
Darksiders Genesis Review | Puzzing additions
The level design is one of the only real downsides to Darksiders Genesis. While there’s plenty of combat to go around, Genesis grinds to a halt whenever you stumble into another ill-defined puzzle segment. These feel ripped out of Darksiders just as War does, but the shift in perspective does them no favors. Throwing firey grenades and portal spheres can be unwieldy from above. In addition, there are certain jumps that are too easy to miss over and over because it’s overly difficult to line up where you need to land. Some will probably find these segments palatable, but the variety isn’t worth the trouble.
The puzzles can also tie into secrets and hidden upgrades, and there are plenty of each. Each environment feels so jammed with bonus areas that it’s sometimes unclear when you’re making forward progress. The map is tedious to use even in the most linear of levels, merely highlighting your general location rather than pointing out your exact position. Several areas also require you finding a hidden ability before you can move ahead. This wasn’t a problem so much early on, but some later stages would have me riding in circles trying to find the one path I missed the first time around. It’s infuriating when you just want to keep playing but a game doesn’t let you.
Darksiders Genesis Review | Bathing in hellfire
Minor faults aside, Darksiders Genesis masterfully shrinks down the long-running franchise into a top-down action game that’s just plain fun to play. Outside of losing a few navigational skills, the game still features all the colorful characters and intense combat you’d expect. It’s also a hell of a value, clocking in around the same length as its predecessors even if you’re rushing to the finish line. Not merely a spin-off, Genesis stands side by side with its numbered brethren, providing a worthy entry in the franchise. Looking forward, whether we get a Strife-focused 3D game or the much-anticipated four horsemen sequel, Genesis makes it easy to be eager for either path.
GameRevolution reviewed Darksiders Genesis on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.