torstai 3. helmikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Demon's Crest (1994)

Genre(s): Action / Adventure / Platform
Released: 1994
Available on: SNES
Developer(s): Capcom
Publisher(s): Capcom
Players: 1

The Gargoyle's Quest series had existed about as long as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but what was still missing by late 1994 was a 16-bit installment of the Ghosts 'n Goblins spin-off. Although the previous game in the series, Gargoyle's Quest II, didn't sell too well by Capcom's usual standards, they wanted to do one more game starring Firebrand, win or lose. Commercially, they did lose - but critically, they won. Demon's Crest is not only one damn good platformer, it's one of the great forgotten gems of the SNES, and by far, the best game in the Ghosts 'n Goblins franchise. 

Devilishly great

Firebrand has set out to collect the pieces of the Demon's Crest, which allows its holder infinite power over all natural elements in the demon realm and beyond. He is severely wounded in the decisive battle over the Crest and his situation is taken advantage of by a dark lord known as Phalanx, who succeeds in stealing the pieces of the Crest Firebrand has been able to acquire so far, with the exception of one shard that holds the power of fire. Fueled by anger, the weakened Firebrand begins the quest for the Crest anew, with the purpose of destroying Phalanx in the process.

I promised myself I would have written the review for Demon's Crest by the end of this day, since I have a lot of work to do outside of the blog, and just because I want to move on from the Ghosts 'n Goblins series of games. I have a lot of ideas about what to do next and after Gargoyle's Quest on the Game Boy, I felt like the whole series was in between me and those ideas. Well, then I started Gargoyle's Quest II on the NES and as you can see, I liked it. After finishing the game, I remembered what I have waited for all this time as far as this particular franchise is concerned - to try out Demon's Crest on the SNES. I had no knowledge of how the game was like, but now I was starting to suspect that it would be no more than a 16-bit update of the Gargoyle's Quest concept, and that it would be a quick and easy game to complete and review. Oh, how  wrong I was, and I found one of the best SNES games I have never played before. However, I will try to keep this review simple and short, to fulfill my promise to myself - but make no mistake about it, the review's length is not tied to the quality of the game whatsoever. It rocks. 

The adventures of the demonic seagull.
The graphics and sound are excellent. Whereas the first two games in the Gargoyle's Quest series had a sort of comical approach to everything about Firebrand's world, down to the character, Demon's Crest is more influenced by gothic horror in the style of Castlevania - to be more specific, Super Castlevania IV is brought to mind more than once or twice, as well as Super Metroid to some extent, which has been a clear influence to the advanced side of gameplay in Demon's Crest. The background music switches between the styles of atmospheric and intense, never dropping a strong gothic feel - I like it a lot. Who composed it? Toshihiko Horiyama. Doesn't ring a bell? Before taking on the duties of single-handedly whipping up the soundtrack for Demon's Crest, the guy led the team that made all that amazing music for Mega Man X. Explains a lot, if you ask me.

Demon's Crest is very different from the previous Gargoyle's Quest games, which is probably why it wasn't simply named anything like Gargoyle's Quest III. There is a world map, which is totally open for exploration from the very beginning, but on which you don't do anything else than fly around to the destinations of your choice - there are no random encounters or items to find on the map, or anything. Demon's Crest is a pure platformer... with elements from The Legend of Zelda and Super Metroid. The game is broken down into stages, towns and minigames, all played from the very same 2D perspective, the only exception in the whole game being the world map, which is smooth Mode 7 all the way.

This is air unit 666. Just a few skeletons hanging
from windows. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Just making it through a stage isn't enough to totally complete it. There's a lot of hidden stuff in each stage, acquireable by doing a little offbeat exploring or returning to a stage after gaining some certain ability, like the upgrade that sacrifices your basic fireballs on the behalf of hardened projectiles capable of breaking solid rock. If and when you need to return to a previously beaten stage, you certainly don't have to deal with the bosses again; upon reaching the location where you fought the boss, the screen simply fades out and you're automatically taken to the next phase. However, after you've acquired what you came for, there's no way out except dying or playing the stage to the very end once again, which is quite a drag considering that Super Mario World already had the feature of being able to leave an already beaten stage any time without having to resort to committing suicide.

In towns, you can visit all sorts of shops and talk to NPC's, and headbutt some windows and other background items to gather money - sometimes even rare items. The shops sell magic spells, most of which are unfortunately quite useless, and some really potent potions. You need blank vellums to be able to "write down" spells, and urns to be able to store potions. The tedious thing about spells and potions is that if you happen to die after using up everything in your inventory, you will not only need to start the whole stage over, but also without these perks. If you simply cannot stand a chance against a boss without them, you need to backtrack into the town to replace your already used items, over and over again. Then again, you always have the option of trying some other stage instead. It's hard to find the easiest order of things in this game... or just one easy stage after the introduction, at that. The minigames are represented by small rows of houses on the world map, and they can be played to earn some extra money or special items.

Name one genre game without a floating eye.
Firebrand can fly for an infinite period of time from the very beginning, so no wing upgrades are needed this time around - but the space reserved for special items in the main menu is quite large. Firebrand is able to shapeshift into different elemental forms - for example, the first additional form you gain is the Ground Gargoyle, who utilizes the power of earth, and is able to break certain types of obstacles by ramming into them. He's also able to shoot projectiles along the ground, which is an essential ability since you still can't duck for some awkward reason, and there are many enemies that you simply can't hit with any fire-based projectile. In many of the most strategic boss fights, you need to use several forms to be able to get by, and this brings in a lot of unpractical and unwanted menu toggling, which is the worst quality of Demon's Crest in my opinion. Well, at least the basic controls are pretty much perfect this time around, after being such a nuisance in the earlier games. The wall jump and flight controls are fluid and responsive.

Demon's Crest is a very trial and error-based game, yet not in the worst possible way. Since the whole world is open from the beginning, you might wander somewhere where you have no chance of survival, or simply making progress. However, after each failure, you have the option to either retry the stage or return to the world map to choose another one, AND you get to keep everything you picked up until you kicked the bucket. Demon's Crest is an extremely difficult game, but it has an incredible flow and failures rarely piss you off, except in some of the more complexed boss fights that are annoying rather than really difficult, and in those cases in which a boss has you trapped in a corner, and on his very last legs (indicated by a reddish colour) he happens to get lucky and lands that one last hit about a nanosecond before you unleash yours. Double that if you've used every spell and potion in your inventory on the guy, and simply can't do without 'em. It's back to town with you to restock, and then you'd better pray you're able to ace the long stage and face off with the fucker again with decent health to begin with.

It's kind of like "Gargoyle's Metroid", a frustratingly hard but extremely addictive, non-linear platformer, which might take a while to truly open up, but once it does, I'm not surprised at all if you find it one of the greatest games you've played on the SNES. Personally I can't quite rate it that high as it has many flaws, but it is a great game, and once again, my definite favourite when it comes to any game remotely connected to the Ghosts 'n Goblins series.

Graphics : 9.0
Sound : 9.3
Playability : 8.5
Challenge : 9.1
Overall : 8.7


a.k.a. Demon's Blazon: Makaimura Monsho Hen (JAP)

GameRankings: 88.37%

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