It’s a sad fact that some games do not deserve the hand that they are dealt, and of these titles Demon’s Crest has to be at the top of the list. This spiritual successor of the Gargoyle’s Quest games once again stars Firebrand of Ghouls and Ghosts fame as he journeys through Demon Land. It would also be his last flight, as Demon’s Crest harbors the distinction of selling so bad that it actually had NEGATIVE numbers at one point due to returns!
Ouch! Does such a failure mean it is not worth checking out? You’re about to find out as we descend into the Demon Realm! Get ready to have one hell of a ride!
Don’t expect Shakespeare here as Demon’s Crest sports a basic tale designed to move things along. Long ago six crests fell to Demon Land and ignited a war for control. After years of fighting, our villain(?) Firebrand emerged with all six crests, only to have them stolen by the mustache-twirling Phalanx. It’s up to Firebrand to get his crests back, gain revenge and take over Demon Land in the process. It’s about time we had a protagonist that isn’t such a goody two-shoes!
At its heart Demon’s Crest is an action platformer that decides to do things a little differently. Where most emphasize jumping, Crest utilizes a system based on hovering and clinging to various surfaces. Firebrand jumps in the air and by tapping the jump button again he will stay there. From there you can move him left or right until he finds a wall to cling to, at which point he can jump and hover again, going ever higher. It sounds complicated but once you get used to it you will have no trouble navigating even the most spike and enemy filled passages and finding every hidden nook and cranny!
Doing so will require you to explore levels thoroughly since Demon’s Crest offers a wealth of abilities that you will find as the game goes on. In the beginning you will only have access to the Crest of Fire, but as the game proceeds you will gain some great new abilities. A favorite of mine is the Crest of Wind, which transforms Firebrand into a winged gargoyle capable of full flight. In the same tradition you should be on the lookout for upgrades to your Fire Crest, since these are also waiting to be liberated from their hiding places. Aside from giving you an arsenal of new attacks, these upgrades over the original fire breath serve to open up some opportunities. One attack bursts open walls, another allows you to cling to un-climbable walls, and there is one that creates a temporary platform for Firebrand to climb. Finally, there are talismans, potion bottles, and vellum scrolls hidden throughout the game. It’s a shame most players failed to find these helpers because it could have really helped this game’s TOO HARD reputation if more players were aware of them. From faster fire-breath to healing yourself to damaging your enemies, all offer short-term boosts designed to tip situations to your favor.
That’s because Demon’s Crest gives us a land of endless possibilities along with plenty of reasons to seek them out. Immediately after felling your first zombie dragon and and battling through the gorgeous opening stage, you will be free to choose where to go in your quest for vengeance. You can literally skip half the game’s areas as you trek through this adventure, but with a game this gorgeous, why would you? Still, the fact that Capcom allowed freedom in how your adventure proceeds is a novel concept that will allow for some BRUTAL challenge runs!
Stages are often set up as obstacle courses that utilize your powers. Even enemies themselves are largely roadblock in nature, with many having specific weaknesses you may not be able to exploit yet. As an example, many levels have mummified knights floating around in their armor, and they are impervious to damage until you get the Buster attack. After you gain this you can carve a path through them, but until then you have to go around, making for a much greater challenge. The bottom line is every enemy from skull-tossing ghouls to vanishing ghosts ensures tight and interesting level design while still offering the choice that is vital to this game since you can beat most of it as standard Firebrand if you want to, and may the force be with you if you try!
As for the levels themselves, each is fiendishly designed around whatever the theme of the area is, and the stages are often dynamic in nature. One of my favorites is the forest that starts normal enough but then changes depending on which path you choose. One path leads to the forest burning, and the other leads to an eerie skeleton swamp. Each level contains its own obstacles, atmosphere, and enemies that are representative of the area. Take the Demon Town’s Graveyard, where rotting hands reach out for your ankles and bone piles are utilized by denizens as ammunition.
Then there are the bosses of this twisted realm. If I had to hazard a guess as to why this game had so many store returns, I would have to hinge it on these boss battles. The jump in difficulty between the three bosses in the opening area (Two are pushovers, and if you can’t beat that Dragon then you should probably stop gaming!) and ALL of the bosses that come after is plain bad game design, pure and simple. No matter what direction you go in, your first trek through Demon’s Crest will likely have the same result: Telling yourself that this game is awesome sauce through the opening, then choosing an area to that is equally easy to play through. At the end of your trek you will meet a boss, and that boss will kill you dead. Over and over again.
That said, don’t give up since your perseverance and determination will let you experience some of the most epic boss battles of the era. Each one is a well-designed behemoth that will test your acumen as well as force you to experiment with all that gear you’ve found! It’s tough to pick a favorite: Is it the slime-covered eyeball that shoots lasers at you? Or the fire demon that morphs as the battle rages on? Perhaps the sword-arm skeleton? You will curse them, you will hate them, but at the end of the day it’s the bosses that steal the show in Demons Crest. They make you really think about how you play your game, and the feeling of accomplishment you get after finally besting them is one of the closest things the SNES has to that old “NES Hard” designation.
Enough credit cannot be given to the presentation of this game, which revels in its macabre graphical style. Lighting and weather effects are used to great effect, thanks to the game makers full use of the system’s tricks and treats. This is one of the few games of its generation that uses graphical capabilities to enhance the gameplay experience. Just look at the designs of the Demon Village where demons live and work in the ruins of a city destroyed long ago. Or the world map that you FLY AROUND IN looking for levels and mini-games (which are out there). Sound-wise, this is perhaps my personal favorite on the SNES, giving us a brooding and epic feast for the ears. From the title screen to the triumphant organ that signals a new discovery, the music makes the game in this instance.
On a final note, the game DOES use a notorious password system that can be extremely tedious, but this does not count against the game because it is short enough that it can be beaten in one sitting.
So to play devil’s advocate, Demon’s Crest is an ambitious game that set out to do a lot and accomplished most off its bucket list. The only glaring flaw is the difficulty disparity between the introduction and the rest of the game, which is genuinely bad, yet worth adjusting to for the devilishly good times this game provides. Demon’s Crest shows us that it’s good to be evil sometimes.
Four Out Of Five Stars
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