I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Madmind Studios, per se. After all, I did refer to their videogame “Agony” as bad on launch in a review I wrote for it. However, I believe it might be fair to say I was among the more understanding players who partook in the studios’ journey to Hell. If you have followed Nickelbib.com for any amount of time, you will notice I write a lot of reviews for indie videogames, and you also know I try to be understanding of certain things. I understand not to expect a Triple AAA budget, and I can accept a fair amount of jank as well. This isn’t the same as saying I will fudge a review to spare a videogame developers’ feelings, but that I will factor in everything I can and try to focus on what I liked and what I believe can be improved upon.
Agony had to have been a learning experience for Madmind Studios, I would think. After what I witnessed as a botched Kickstarter campaign (subpar customer support, and frankly a lot of self-inflicted damage to their own brand), Agony was released with a plethora of negative reviews, highlighting weak gameplay and a lot of glitches to deal with. Unfortunately, charging a $40 retail price, also did little to cushion criticisms to its shortcomings. It isn’t surprising that a digital copy of Agony can be purchased now for little more than a cup of coffee.
Although I wasn’t excited for a sequel, I was at least coolly interested in letting Madmind Studios have a second crack at it. I love the depictions of Hell in the Dante’s Inferno videogame, and despite the flaws it had, Agony did have a couple of neat visuals sprinkled in. I wasn’t interested enough to become excited, not like when I bought Agony on launch, but I was interested enough to briefly follow along with its development. Then, at some point, I completely forgot it existed. Until a couple weeks ago, when I scooped Succubus on PlayStation 5 for about ten bucks.
Has it improved?
Have Madmind Studios risen like a phoenix, ushering in a new depiction of the darkest, cruelest place imaginable?
In some ways, I prefer the gameplay shown in Succubus, which is largely different than the stealth-based gameplay visible in Agony. Whereas Agony brought to (mad)mind videogames like Outlast or Alien: Isolation, Succubus feels a lot like Doom, in a watered-down workman-like way. In Succubus, gameplay is both jankier than ever, and yet more streamlined, resulting in a hollow, but enjoyable feeling of mindless mayhem. You flail your weapons around an hordes of enemies, with most levels culminating in some type of boss battle.
And, … that’s it. (Other than a rather graphic Hell orgy, but you can’t see that on PlayStation.)
That is all Succubus has instore for you. The enemies are largely nondescript and bland, with each character model disappearing in the dogpile of bland, nondescript character models. The enemies barely react when you attack them. Instead, they keep wailing away on you until you eventually smite them. It’s very basic. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, however.
In fact, at times, it can be kind of fun. Gameplay is benefited by a diverse assortment weaponry to choose from, including Hell-style weapon equivalents to axes, scythes, twin daggers, so on and so forth. Meanwhile, the gameplay itself is largely button-mashing, hack-and-slash combat. It won’t blow your hair back or challenge you in any significant way, but it is fun for a little while.
It does have one nuance that I found unique. Enemies wail on you and drain your health, but you can do a Special move when you kill them and replenishes a little bit of your health. This means that you can factor that into your strategy, finding a rhythm to how you fend off swarms.
The environment in each level does offer some opportunities for manipulation. If you find any demon babies, you can stomp on them for extra health (that is certainly a sentence). The “Force” power your characters comes with that allows you to bring enemies toward you can also be used on firepits to spread a fire that can hurt your enemies. All of it doesn’t add up to a whole lot nor does it feel incentivized or intuitive to use (you can “Force” pull explosive eggs to you and kick them at an enemy, but it is awkward because it doesn’t hold the egg in-place which makes it difficult to line up your shot).
Not to overstate, but the gameplay is very simple. You load up a level from the level selection, you are dropped into a map and you must fight your way to the end of that level. It is a little hyperbolic, but it wouldn’t be too unfair to say if you have played one level in Succubus, you have played them all. I went into it with an open-mind, but once reaching halfway point of the campaign, I eventually decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to continue with.
The story doesn’t exist. It didn’t exist very much in Agony, and it exists even less in Succubus. I wouldn’t call this a killing blow for Succubus or, even, Agony, in the sense that I believe the high-concept and gameplay could do the heavy-lifting for something like this, but it just so happens that it does not.
Graphics are about on-par with Agony, or, maybe even a little worse. It’s difficult to tell. I prefaced earlier how I didn’t expect a Triple-AAA title, and I believe the graphics and environment would have been perfectly par for the assignment had the rest of it not sunk so flatly. Unfortunately, Succubus makes one of the most head-scratching decisions imaginable with its PlayStation 5 release – censorship.
Obviously, Madmind Studios itself didn’t want to censor Succubus, but, rather, they are complying with whatever rules and regulations were told to them by Sony. This little fact doesn’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. What does matter is how they handled it. All nudity is censored. If I am honest, I wouldn’t normally mind. I know that, on their social media and marketing, they lean heavily into sexualizing their lead-protagonist (and the cutscenes throughout the videogame are filled with suggestive positioning and what I would imagine amounts to a real eye full for Steam players), but all I wanted was a fun depiction of Hell and to massacre demons with action-fueled gameplay.
So, I would have been perfectly willing to accept the fact I wouldn’t constantly be slapped in the face by forsaken penises and demonic breasts. It’s appreciated, but it isn’t required.
What boggles the mind, however, is how they decided to remedy the situation. In Succubus, your main character has an array of clothing options to choose from. I mention this to underscore the fact that they already had textures for clothing available to them. Of all the choices you could have come up with, why would you ever decide to blur out everything? Why not have everyone wear a small article of clothing, i.e. a loin cloth. Why not have everyone have Barbie doll private parts? Why not have your main-protagonists’ default be, instead of naked, one of the clothed options? Any of these options, although maybe not ideal, would be far better than mutilating your aesthetic and the very vibe your trying to create (of an unabashed, balls-to-the-wall depiction of Hell). It would have cost money. It would have taken effort, but for the damage the current approach causes to the gameplay experience, I believe it would have been worth it. What you have instead is, frankly, pretty goofy.
When I wrote my review of Agony, I tried to end things in a positive light. I said I wouldn’t buy the next videogame on launch or participate in a Kickstarter, but that I would welcome the company’s sophomore effort. Despite adjusted expectations, I found that Succubus found a way to be as big a misfire as Agony despite being on such a smaller scale. It does offer some entertainment in its mindless, Doom-style mayhem, but I found that it wasn’t long before it suffered immediate diminished returns.