Assault Spy is a character action game developed by Wazen and published by NISA on the PC in 2018. Self-proclaimed master corporate spy Asaru gets assigned the mission of stealing the company secrets of the esteemed security company Negabot by his less than considerate employer. But not only is he chained the bratty spy-in-training Kanoko, Negabot also gets taken over by the mysterious Mr. Showtime as soon as Asaru steps in the door. As a result, the company's whole stock of security robots goes on high alert. Not to mention that the Mamerican CIA agent Amelia is also running around the place causing chaos.
While Assault Spy features a lot of voiced dialogue set to some spiffy character artwork, the plot is very much a farce with next to no stakes. That's of course on purpose, as it's written as a comedy hellbent on shitting on Asaru's attempts at being a professional. But since the comedy isn't very tight and it's very easy not to care about the current happenings due to how little development happens from start to finish, I found it difficult to get invested in the story. I really wouldn't blame anyone for skipping through at least some cutscenes, especially on replays. There's just so much talking.
Asaru and Kanoko do kind of develop their relationship and there is a fair amount of delicious ham to enjoy, but without there being at least some proper stakes, I find the whole thing lacking an emotional core. Asaru could have very well have just noped out of his mission and went for a sandwich and it'd have about the same impact. It's not a terrible approach, since it goes well with how dumb it is, but I wanted just a bit more to ground the story. As is, there's just too much dialogue for me not to expect better. The in-gameplay dialogue in particular annoys me, as it's everpresent and very difficult to focus on with how hectic combat is. I have no idea why these exchanges weren't saved for moments between combat.
Now, there is a reason why I haven't focused on Amelia. That's because she really doesn't factor into Asaru's story that much. She's there, she helps and she's cool (and she's hella dumb), but her adventures are relegated to her story, which sadly isn't an exploration of what stuff she got up to offscreen. Instead, it's a what-if scenario that follows Amelia through Asaru's levels and most of his bosses, except with him and Kanoko as the villains who have taken over Negabot. It's neat to see all the characters change allegiances (and get a chance to fight Asaru), but it's even more groundless, since it's a what-if scenario. The action does mount and give her one level of her own, but even then, the story barely manages to be interesting. So the whole story is very much style and goofs over substance.
With its non-comittal relationship to its lock-on system and having Asaru's launcher put on B, I can't help but draw comparisons between Assault Spy and DmC: Devil May Cry. But seeing as this is a new IP and features some extra elements stolen straight from main-series DMC, I find it more engaging than DmC, if a bit sloppy.
Before I get to the individual characters, I wanna talk about some major aspects of combat. The first thing of note is that the game is pretty fast. It's not Ninja Gaiden levels of bananas, but it's up there once you unlock enough moves. It can get somewhat overwhelming, but the game's enemies are nice enough to have giant glowing tells for most attacks. The standard wind-up for ranged attacks (which are quite common among the enemies) is for the enemy to scan the area with a lock-on laser and then fire a projectile after it grazes you. The higher the difficulty, the less time it takes to lock on.
Another interesting aspect is the health system, which foregoes a standard health bar and instead goes for very clear hitpoints, with every attack taking one point of health. This is interesting, as it means that not even bosses are allowed to shred you without taking their time and letting you fight back a bit.
The game isn't a cakewalk, but the difficulty feels a bit off at times. Bosses in particular are an exercise in stunlocking, which feels weird to me, as for a lot of them you don't really have to master their movesets. You just have to evade a bit lazily and pile on enough damage to break their guards, which lets you bounce them around to your hearts content for a limited time. It's fun to utterly obliterate a boss like that, but it does eliminate the back-and-forth dueling I adore in this genre. Of course, the higher difficulties makes them harder to break, so that helps.
But what really feels off is the ranking system, which cares about time, damage taken and style. The issue I have is that I never ever got less than an A, even though by my metric I screwed up a lot. I think there are a few things to blame for this. The first being that I don't think there is a punishment for reloading a checkpoint, which is pretty nice actually. But the time and style requirements must be extremely lenient. You can only see the final rank of a particular fight, so I don't know for sure, but I only got A ranks when I got hit, so that has to be it. I didn't even really care about style while fighting either, as ranking it up isn't hard as long as you stay aggressive. There's some fine-tuning missing here, but it's still very fun. Kinda wish the taunts gave you some style though, they feel like an afterthought as is.
Speaking of fine-tuning, there are some issues I have with the input of certain moves. Both Asaru and Amelia have a bunch of moves done by pressing two face buttons at once. This isn't unusual, but the input buffer is so unforgiving that I find those moves unreliable to execute. Same goes for some of the dodge moves. Both characters can dodge into a dash using X (the left face button). If you use the primary or secondary attack buttons just after dodging, you do an improved dodge attack.
The issue I have with that is that it's incredibly hard to jump from X to B (the right face button) within the designated window without using your index and middle fingers instead of your thumb. Same goes for the dash attacks that work the same way (push or hold an attack button while running). It's awkward and makes me think that they overstuffed the control scheme a bit.
But, Wazen were brave enough to put in something extremely crazy that I have seen no other game in the genre try outside of fan mods, which really got me hyped. It's not a great implementation of said thing, but it's there and some other game better rip it off soon!
In the simplest of terms, Asaru is composed of elements of Dante, Nero, Vergil and Bayonetta plus some new ideas. Suffice to say, he is really fun as long-time fan of the genre.
His main weapon is a briefcase which allows for a good set of basic ground and aerial combos. What saves the briefcase is the addition of timing-based combos, which are always a welcome addition. By delaying his combos, you can shift to a longer combo or finish with an extra charged hit. As previously mentioned, you can just hit B to launch into the air but you can then press it again in the air to slam down. His combos aren't as diverse as say Nero's various ground combos, but they get the job done save for one branching move with timing so strict it feels bugged.
His ranged weapon are a set of exploding business cards with very limited utility. They're really only there to give you a way to cancel an enemy attack or down something that's flying. Kanoko is also available as a support weapon of sorts. You can summon her to distract enemies or do an assist launch. There isn't much complexity there, but having a panic button on a cooldown timer is handy.
Now, Asaru's secondary weapon, his umbrella, is a thing of beauty. Simply put, it's Vergil's Yamato outfitted with a gun! I could leaving things there, but just for complete-ness sake, let's talk about it a bit. It's a slow weapon, but incredibly destructive against groups. You can also chain it with the briefcase using the same timing as the delay combos to really wreak havoc against boss guard gauges. Aside from the gun (which is sadly a bit slow for evasive aerial foes), you also have access to Judgement Cuts, Lunar Phase and Vergil's projectile slash from DmC. It may be derivative, but it's sure as hell fun!
Lastly, we have his two super moves. The first is an amazing suplex/brain buster that you can use while behind enemies to really bring some pain. It makes spacing more important to consider, even if the animation can get glitchy at times. And if you fill his super meter, you can Overclock to slow down time à la Bayonetta's Witch Time. There's not much to say about it except that you're basically invincible with it active.
While Asaru is somewhat technical, Amelia is just stupid amounts of simplistic fun. Her deal is simple combos coupled with some charge moves. As you fight, you build tension/hype/volt/whatever the hell they actually want to call it. The meter drains easily, but you can burn it to fuel Amelia's strongest attacks, which you should be spamming constantly in order to both become invincible and to blow up everything to kingdom come.
It's kind of ridiculous just how much destruction you can cause while playing as Amelia. And with her extremely reliable homing kick, I kind of wanna call her over-powered. Especially when you pop her super meter to become invincible and unlock her even more destructive charge moves!
She also has other weapons, but they don't gel with her core moveset as much as Asaru's does. Her gun does very little damage and isn't really good for air-juggling either. It feels undercooked, save for the laser beam you can use at the cost of a lot of Volt. Her secondary weapon, a spear, doesn't generate Volt, nor can be it be comboed to from her basic combos, making it difficult to use unless you set up a group of enemies to shred all at once. It serves it purpose, but you can tell that Asaru was made first. Still, with the two of them together, you get a pretty good package.