If there is one thing Capcom did very well throughout my 20+ years of gaming, outside of coining the fighting game genre with the iconic Street Fighter franchise, was create awesome platform games! From Mega Man, the Disney NES games (Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, Chip’N’Dale’s Rescue Rangers), and Ghosts N Ghouls, these games tested the mettle, skill, and patience of young gamers for years while listening to some of the greatest BGM in the history of the business. Long forgotten in Capcom’s accolades and success is Demon’s Crest, a very different experience from the former mentioned titles, but happens to be a spinoff of Ghosts N Ghouls.
This game casts you as the role of Firebrand, Arthur’s adversary from the aforementioned game, on a quest to steal/retrieve the elemental crests of power. One of the first things I noticed about this game after all these years is that you are not playing as a traditional hero. I was under the impression that with the exception of Phalanx, the enemies that are trying to stop are good guys. Interesting……
The visuals in Demon’s Crest are stunning for the 16 bit era. It looks like a combination of Castlevania and Super Ghouls’N’Ghosts. It’s dark, gothic appeal is very well done with great multi-teared level designs riddled with puzzles and secret passages in the action stages and utilizes a world map to travel to the various locations on earth. I think it’s on par with Super Castlevania. Highlights for great graphics, you don’t have to wait long. The opening scenario is a battle with a gigantic dragon in a coliseum. When I first saw this in my youth, this looked tremendous. The Dragon Somolu is covered in battle scars from he and Firebrand’s battle in the prologue and Firebrand is wounded and breathing heavily from the struggle. Awesome to the second power!!!
Not that this should be a surprise, but the background music is stellar. Like Castlevania, Demon’s Crest is filled haunting themes beautifully composed and very seldom gets repetitive. From the eerily jaunty theme during Pago’s Headbutt challenges to the swelling tension of the boss fight music, it’s fantastic.
Gameplay-wise, this is one challenging bastard of a game. One notable feature is the ability to fly. You initate this by tapping the jump button again while airborne. This is great early on to avoid battles with grounded foes and allows access to lower areas in certain pits scattered thoughout. While not the most difficult feat, it does take a little bit of practice to get used to pressing jump at just the right time to get the desired height you want. You cannot direct your flight path vertically until you aquire the wind stone a little bit later in the game that grants full control flight. More on that a bit later. The other default skill is the ability to headbutt, where Firebrand can crush an object just in the background (statues, passageways). Air headbutting is pretty tricky, but just like the flying, a little practice will pay big dividends, especially when winning money in those headbutting contests. You can also grasp on to the sides of cliffs and walls for higher vantage points of attack, but you can take damage against quicker enemies. There are some knocks that work against this game a little. One is that Firebrand’s intial attack can only go straight forward. A simple flaw, but some airborne enemies fly at you from angles and it gets really pesky to try and divert around to get in attack range. There’s some ground based enemies that are too low to hit with normal fire, so you can utilize Ground Gargoyle’s ground scaling projectile to take care of them. this requires going in and out of your menu to select, ala Mega Man style, so most gamers are used to this. Suffice to say, Firebrand isn’t as agile or as quick as Samus in Metroid or Mario, but he has enough skills to get around these shortcomings. Speaking of said skills, the talismans you aquire from bosses grants the use of the previously mentioned armors; Water Gargoyle, Ground Garoyle and Air Gargoyle.
These armor have different strengths and weaknesses (there’s two other ones you can unlock, but I’ll focus on these three). With Ground armor, you can shoulder dash and break rocks and your fireball is twice as strong as the standard fire, but you can’t fly. The Air armor is quick and you can fly in any direction, but the fireball, while very strong against air enemies, is very slow. Water Gargoyle gets access to some swimming portions of the game. This armor is, of course, at best in the water. Using this anywhere else is asking to get ripped to shreds.
Things like wall grabbing and flying will take some getting used to, as different types of enemies and stage puzzles and traps attack from all directions, you’ll have to be pretty quick to conserve energy for the boss fights, that get increasingly difficult, especially the final, FINAL battle with Phalanx.
IN CLOSING: I feel this game is very underrated and was given a raw deal back during it’s initial release. It has a different feel to it and a slightly different learning curve from Capcom’s other platformers, and being a sister project of Ghouls N Ghosts would’ve garnered more attention. Instead, this buried treasure kind of wallows in obscurity, but then again, Mega Man X existed around the same time, so it goes without saying that a better game was available. Demon’s Crest has really cool visuals, solid gameplay, and really challenging difficulty curve to it. It’s worth a playthrough if you’re looking for something that feels a little different in the platform genre.
REPLAY VALUE: 8/10
PROS: Stellar presentation, Well-balanced gameplay, Music
CONS: Difficulty can be a nuisance, Airborne enemies suck!!!!!!