Monday, January 28, 2013

Demon's Crest: Play this now (also fuck Capcom)

at 4:54 PM
Seriously Capcom, fuck you. Why do you so frivolously mishandle all your best series? You put out Gargoyle's Quest as your VERY FIRST game on 3DS's Game Boy Virtual Console, but leave Gargoyle's Quest II (NES) and Demon's Crest (SNES) to languish in your archives for the 7+ years of the Wii VC's lifespan? I don't get the whole deal with not releasing games on VC - seems like it would be almost pure profit; then again, what do I know? Somewhere between "a little" and "basically everything". Depends on the day of the week. 
Presumably to discourage identification with Satan, Firebrand the Red Devil is green in the US box art for his debut starring role. Then again, he's green in the game too, but so was every Game Boy hero.
Despite the fact that it's virtually unavailable commercially, you know and I know that you can find a way to play Demon's Crest, and it's high time you went and did so. In fact, make it the next game on your toplay list, if you can even in the tiniest way appreciate a 2D platformer. I think we all have room in our hearts for that. 

Even among those aware of its existence, Demon's Crest has a tendency to spook players with threats of insurmountable difficulty. I've even seen FAQs and video walkthroughs mention that the game is "near impossible". This is "near 100% made-up". Complete myth. It is indeed "near impossible" in the same sense that it's nearly impossible to tie your shoes, or nearly impossible to eat a bowl of cereal. To succeed, all you need to do is try. The only excuse not to finish Demon's Crest is that you were like, I don't know, hit by a car while sitting in front of your TV. And I live on the ninth floor, so that hardly ever happens. The two traditional means of rendering a game "unbeatable" are limited tries (Super Mario Bros.) and obscure puzzles (Castlevania II). Crest has infinite continues (there is no lives-system at all - when you die you can respawn at the last checkpoint or return to the overworld) and little in the way of puzzles - certainly not anything as difficult as the widely played Super Metroid. The legendability of its difficulty is simply a misunderstanding of dumbschoolers (?) expecting Mega Man boss battles, or onlookers associating the game with its MUCH harder GnG cousins (Ghosts'n Goblins, not Greg 'n' Greg [this blog hahahaha! Ahahahahahsaahahahafdshsafdha!]).

The first two Firebrand games (Garg Quest I and II) play like a top-down RPG with random battles and one-time dungeons, with platforming taking the place of turn-based battles and dungeon-crawling. Demon's Crest, the third, uses a Mode 7 free-roaming overworld reminiscent of ActRaiser II (another criminally overlooked game) or Final Fantasy VI (once you get the spaceship). You can safely fly around this map until you choose to land on one of the clearly marked stages or shops. Landing will take you into one of the handful of branching 2D side-scrolling stages, each of which is littered with hidden items and alternate routes. Each major path will lead you to a boss conflict (that's right - some stages have as many as four! different boss fights), each boss will leave behind a power-up, and each power-up will expand your abilities in a manner similar to Mega Man X. These new abilities will make available new routes, so on so forth, you get the idea. There's a wealth of such optional content - a player going straight from point A to B without exploring or replaying stages will experience less than half of what the game has to offer. Thanks to gradually unlocking stages (two at a time) and clear visual presentation, you'll always know where to look for places to use your new skills. This isn't Super Metroid where you have to go to every single room in the game and use a Power Bomb - it lends itself to a rather succinct linear playing order like Mega Man.
Beyond its Goldilocks scale, where Demon's Crest truly excels as an adventure platformer is in providing rewards for exploration. Let's look at the standard examples for a sec. In Super Metroid, getting an optional item usually means you can open up another identical cave area to get another item to open up another identical cave area. The new tools are fun in and of themselves and offer new means of transportation (lazer feet, grapple) or combat (charge beam, ice beam), functioning to modify your repeated traversal of the same basic world. The real goal of the game - the entire notion of progress - comes from upgrading your capabilities. Metroidvanias like Symphony of the Night take a radically different approach, in which new talents serve almost solely to open new doors, sort of just splaying a normal linear level path across an interconnected world. 

Demon's Crest takes a little bit from each of these approaches. In the larger world, new abilities do work like Metroidvania-style keys, unlocking entire new stages that could have just been presented linearly, if not for the challenge of discovering them. Since, unlike in Symphony, exploration is totally optional, these hidden routes are far more rewarding - secret levels are fucking exciting! As a matter of fact, the experience becomes full-blown Super Mario World. But then you're also powering up in a non-trivial way. This ain't no pansy-ass Alucard sliding kick. Firebrand gets a number of different attacks and transformations that completely alter his movement mechanics. And, you guessed it! The hidden areas emphasize the abilities it takes to unlock them. You don't get the full impact of Water Firebrand until you uncover the underwater cave substage that plays like Ecco the Dolphin. By exploiting your growing skill-set on the main path, you'll arrive in areas that offer unique stage design (and, as aforementioned, boss battles) that the game world otherwise totally lacks!

For all this talk of navigation, you may be surprised to learn that the focal point of the gameplay is the bosses. Are the bosses? Ugh, there's just no way to make that sound right. You'll spend a substantial portion of your playtime in these conflicts, and they're likely what'll stick with you after you put down the game. It's not quite Alien Soldier, but a kindred spirit nonetheless. You won't die many times in the levels proper, certainly not after a playthrough or two has taught you their ins and outs. The challenge lies in the lengthy but fair boss fights which require space management (zoning), timing, and aggression. See, I actually like bosses with deep health reserves, because it means you can't get lucky and, as Golem would say, "cheese it". These ain't yer pappy's nonsensical reflex-driven Mega Man battles; they're methodical and rewarding of strategy. This is reinforced by the almost universal pre-boss checkpoints which allow you to infinitely retry each battle. Lesser games mask poorly designed boss fights by throwing you back to the beginning of the stage when you lose - Demon's Crest is confident enough in their challenge that it puts you right back in the thick of it. 
Oh, right, and they're huge and awesome-looking.
Play Demon's Crest. Even if it doesn't impression you as strongly as it has me, it'll at least provide new perspective on those classics you do love.

I think my new e-handle is gonna be fingernail_of_the_spectre. That is a very real item from GarQ (pronounce: "gark"). Someone's been messin' on Wikipedia! Look out for me on such sites as Internet.com and TheInternet.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment