Y’all, the Stellar Blade demo is finally live on PS5. It’s a short little vertical slice of developer Shift Up’s character action game, so while we still need to see a lot more before we come to any conclusions, I can at least say that the demo has stoked me for the full release. Why? Well, like the previews from earlier this week have said, Stellar Blade it’s a little Bayonettaa little Devil May Crya little Nierand a little Sekiro. In short, based on this brief two-hour experience, I think Shift Up has a banger on its hands.

The demo starts with protagonist Eve’s regiment, Airborne Squad 7, descending on a subsection of Earth called District 3. The plan is to intercept an invasion by the alien monstrosities known as the Naytibas, but, as things are wont to do, everything goes awry . Airborne Squad 7’s transport ships get blown up from orbit. Eve and the rest of the team break through the atmosphere in drop pods, only for most of them to get destroyed during the descent. Hell, Eve barely makes it out alive as the pod’s hatch won’t open due to catastrophic damage to the exterior door, though a surviving squadmate named Tachy rescues her. It seems like all is lost as buildings erupt in flames around the duo while the Naytiba continue their merciless onslaught. It’s a cinematic opening that calls to mind set pieces from games like Crystal Dynamics’ tomb Raider franchise and Naughty Dog’s uncharted series.

But while the opening moments are quite cinematic, Stellar Blade has no problem immediately pushing you into combat. During these first 10 or so minutes, you’ll experience the gameplay fundamentals: attacks, dodges, parries, specials, and the like. You’ll battle some fodder enemies, like bipedal slug-looking Naytibas, as well as a few tougher foes, such as humanoid-like Naytibas, before encountering the tutorial boss: a bloated Brute with two wrecking balls for hands. Despite its size, it’s still an easy fight that culminates in some stylish finishing attacks not unlike those seen in 2013’s DmC: Devil May Cry. And surprisingly, Stellar Blade kinda feels like DmCtoo.

Stellar Souls May Cry Twice

I know that’s a weird comparison to make, Stellar Blade to DmC: Devil May Cry, but hear me out. Capcom reimagined the Devil May Cry series in a partnership with Senua’s Saga developer Ninja Theory over a decade ago. The game had all the hallmarks of a traditional Devil May Cry entry, but DmC required a bit less button-mashing and a bit more thoughtful playing when it came to attacks and positioning. Stellar Blade does something similar. It’s not quite as fast as Bayonetta 3 or Devil May Cry 5. However, it isn’t as slow as something like Dark Souls or Lies of P,either. The game strikes a nice equilibrium between these action game extremes, allowing you to find a rhythm in combat to perform some button-mashing while still expecting you to be aware enough to know where best to position yourself for your next attack.

Stellar Blade protagonist Eve looks up at a lush garden full of gorgeous plants and verdant trees.

Screenshot: Sony / Shift Up / Kotaku

Nowhere is this balance more apparent than in attack-cancelling. Interrupting your strikes to execute another move, whether that be a block or a dodge, is something you often see in faster-paced action games. Soulslikes don’t often allow you to cancel your maneuvers, locking you into your animations for better or for worse. Stellar Blade, though, does, which means you can get away with throwing an attack at the same time as your opponent and immediately pressing the block or dodge button to stop your attack in order to evade, guard, or parry your enemy’s strike. In this way, the game has more in common with a Devil May Cry than an Elden Ring. It also mechanically feels more like Devil May Cry than Elden Ring, as Eve has a variety of combos at her disposal, specials that are charged by blocking or parrying, and skills that you unlock through EXP you earn while in combat. And it feels good, too, with crunchy effects and striking animations whenever attacks find their mark.

A short but sweet appetizer

Though short, the demo does comprise a fair bit of exploration and platforming. After the opening sequence, you’ll roam around Eidos 7, a lost city destroyed by Naytiba and overrun with foliage. Your goal is to hunt for the Hall of Records to uncover information on the Alpha and Elder Naytibas that are behind the alien invasion. There are dilapidated buildings, wrecked bars and hospitals, totaled cars, and enough bodies to fill up a morgue. It’s all hauntingly gorgeous and grim, with enough collectibles and upgrade materials to keep you turning over every stone.

Unfortunately, despite her petite frame, Eve feels like she’s packing pounds of muscle. Her jump, while relatively high, is n’t reliable, particularly since you can’t adjust your trajectory much once you’re in the air. Similarly, the dodge, though great for escaping certain doom, only travels a short distance, meaning you’re bound to get hit if you don’t evade accordingly (especially since it has no invincibility frames). I’m also not a big fan of the swimming or swinging sections, which feel stiff and floaty, respectively. Still, movement does feel good when not platforming, and I imagine it’ll only get better when you unlock additional abilities like a double jump.

A mask-wearing Stellar Blade enemy screams at something off-screen.

Screenshot: Sony / Shift Up / Kotaku

It all concludes with what I assume is the game’s first real boss: a double-sword-wielding pincer-looking Naytiba called Abaddon. This enemy will put everything you’ve learned to the test, asking you to dodge and parry more than you normally would. He it’s got a substantial health bar, hits hard, performs a handful of unpredictable combos, and even electrifies his blades during the second phase.

Surprisingly, though, Abaddon isn’t that hard despite its intimidating design. I beat the boss in maybe 5 or 10 minutes on my first try and that was on “Normal Mode,” the game’s default setting difficulty for “players who enjoy combat.” I do enjoy combat, but Abaddon felt like a total chump. Even after getting a few good licks in here and there, Abaddon could do nothing when I trapped it in a corner. It’s laughably easy, as was the rest of the roughly two-hour tutorial. However, don’t think this is a walk in the park, as when you beat Abaddon, a “boss challenge” opens up so you can take on the tougher, dog-like monstrosity known as Stalker. I beat this boss on my first try, too, but it certainly made me sweat and expend every single resource I had in my arsenal. If this is the amuse-bouche to the game’s enemy encounters, then I can’t wait for the full course when Stellar Blade launches.

So, yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about Stellar Blade right now. Combat is excellent, full of flashy combos and stylish executions that give DmC to run for its money. The story seems quite compelling, with some interesting characters and tons of world-building through environmental details like abandoned camps and trashed notes. And the rest of the package, from the graphics to the soundtrack, all create a captivating world I can’t wait to explore. Stellar Blade hits PS5 on April 26 and if you play through the demo, your save data will carry over to the full release.

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