Saturday, November 23, 2019

Demons Crest Review

While most gamers are probably familiar with Ghosts n Goblins on the NES (usually in the context of joking about not being able to even clear the first level), the rest of the Makaimura series remains relatively obscure. Thanks to the SNES Online app on Nintendo Switch, I was finally able to try one of the other entries in the Makaimura series that I’ve heard such great things about in retro gaming circles, Demon's Crest.

Demon's Crest is a 2D platformer that incorporates some adventure game and RPG elements. The game focuses on the winged demon, Firebrand, who was an enemy in Ghosts n Goblins. Now on his own quest to wrest control of hell from his rival, Phalanx,  Firebrand must seek out various magical items and defeat other demon lords to gain their powers in preparation for the final showdown. I played through this game from start to finish live on my Twitch channel.

  • The dark and moody setting and themes of Demon's Crest remind me of a Castlevania game but told from the bad guy’s perspective. It certainly stands out from most other SNES games.
  • Firebrand can cling to walls and flap his wings to hover indefinitely from the very beginning of the game. I was expecting these would be powers you would unlock during the adventure, so this took me by surprise.  Have these abilities completely changes how you traverse the levels when compared to pretty much any other retro platformer I’ve played.
  • Firebrand's transformations and power-ups change his capabilities in both combat and traversal. This was a novel mechanic for the early 1990s and continues to be fun now.
  • The game's complex level designs work really nicely with the transformation mechanic. Returning to a level after gaining a new ability can open up new paths, secret areas, bosses, and access to even further character upgrades.
  • The music in this game is awesome (in fact, I'm listening to it as I write this). Composer Toshihiko Horiyama really knew how to make the SNES sound chip sound spooky.
  • If you want to see creepy or sometimes just disgusting-looking creatures, this game is for you. Good thing I wasn't expecting the generals of hell's army to be cute!
  • The game's overworld map is a great showcase of the SNES's Mode-7 effect. Flying from one zone to the next almost feels like a creepy demonic version of Pilot Wings. 
  • For a game of its age, Demon's Crest is fairly generous with checkpoints. That being said, I still made use of save states to shorten the distance between checkpoints since this game is quite difficult.
  • Firebrand is a rather slow and stiff character. Often his movements feel slower than a situation calls for. Eventually, I got used to this and learned to plan my movements a bit ahead of time rather than just reacting to enemies and obstacles, but it still didn't seem ideal.
  • The controls and user interface for the various demon powers were counterintuitive at times. I ended up downloading a scan of the game's instruction manual since Switch Online doesn't include instructions for retro games.
  • Many of the bosses can be frustrating bullet sponges unless you have the right powers. It's often unclear whether I was underpowered for a boss or just needed to "get good". As a result, I save scummed my way through a few of the early game bosses until I was able to sufficiently upgrade my character. I was very thankful to some of the folks in my Twitch audience who pointed me toward the hidden items that I missed. Without their help, I likely would have been relying on a guide to get through this game.
  • There are a few areas in levels that I would consider to be annoying but not difficult, especially areas with flying bats or infinitely respawning ghosts. These enemies aren't much of a threat but are there just to pester you as you try to accomplish something else.
  • As a result of the game's designers really pushing the SNES to the limit, there is considerable lag and slowdown in some sequences. The Switch's emulation preserves this aspect of the Demon's Crest experience, I suppose for accuracy's sake.
Playing through Demon's Crest was very interesting from a historical perspective and definitely worth playing for me, despite some of the frustration I experienced. I can recommend this game, but only with a lot of caveats; players used to retro games will likely enjoy it, but it's certainly not a good starter retro game.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 9 hours to reach the good, but not best, ending

Advice for enjoying this game: Don't beat your head against the wall against bosses, either explore more for power-ups or check a guide.

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