If you’re old enough to remember the early days of the polygonal generation in the mid-to-late ‘90s, you’ll recall when developers used the old ‘sprites for characters’ trick.
Take something like Mario Kart 64, for example. Rather than using polygons to render Mario and his chums, the game displayed them as sprites while they raced through polygonal tracks.
At the time rendering polygons was ‘expensive’ when it came to the consoles’ processing power, so this was a technique used to make characters look a little more detailed while saving on resources.
Of course, in this day and age such tricks are no longer needed and developers are able to make fully detailed characters, often with more polygons in a single character than games of that era used for their entire worlds.
It’s interesting, then, to see Demon Turf go back to that old visual style with characters that appear 2D in a polygonal environment – not out of necessity this time, but as a conscious design choice. It’s a little jarring at first but we grew to love the effect.
The game puts you in the noticeably flat shoes of Beebz, a young demon (she’s only around 1000 years old) who decides she wants to become the Demon Queen. To do this she has to visit each of the game’s ‘turfs’ and collect a set number of batteries – once she’s got enough she can fight that turf’s leader in a boss battle and take it over.
Having an interesting art style is all well and good, but platform games live and die by their responsiveness. A game can look like Banksy himself designed it but if the actual act of running and jumping isn’t satisfying, then the whole thing’s a write-off. Thankfully, that isn’t the case with Demon Turf.
The game’s interesting mix of double-jump and spin techniques leads to a surprisingly varied moveset. The order in which players jump, spin and double-jump results in different types of height and distance, meaning players have to think a bit more than usual about how to traverse some of the more platform-heavy stages.
When you add to this the other techniques you earn as you play through the game, such as the hookshot which is introduced early on, things rarely get stale – at least when you’re focusing on the actual platforming, that is.
Demon Turf is clearly aimed at veteran platformer fans, but even the best of us can find ourselves missing a jump every now and then, something that can potentially be frustrating when making your way up an extremely high section (of which this game has plenty).
To counter this, developer Fabraz has introduced an interesting checkpoint system where players are armed with a small handful of flags in each stage and can plant them wherever they like on their journey.
“The game features an interesting checkpoint system where players are armed with a small handful of flags in each stage and can plant them wherever they like on their journey.”
If you think you’re about to approach a particularly tricky section, then, you may want to place a flag at the start of that area – that way, if things go wrong, you can start there again, instead of back at the beginning of the level.
By deliberately limiting the number of flags you own, however, the game ensures you can’t just stick flags down everywhere you go. Instead, you’ll regularly have to decide whether you want to use up a flag for an upcoming section, or whether you’re brave enough to take it on without that safety net.
Each stage also awards players with a trophy for beating it within a set time, meaning these flags are only a temporary solution anyway. Flags may help you reach the exit, but if you want to fully clear the stage on the way to beating the game 100% you’re going to have to ditch them entirely to beat those times.
Collecting is very much the name of the game, and the main method in which Demon Turf extends its longevity. The main story isn’t exactly short, clocking in at around 10 hours depending on your skill level, but each stage has a few hidden candies to collect (as well as those time trial trophies).
When players beat a level they also unlock a second version of it, with many of its platforms and mechanisms changed, essentially turning it into a new stage. So you’ll need to do all those too.
When you add to that the golf mini-game (which we weren’t in love with, to be honest) and the other goodies that you encounter along the way, you’re looking at around 50 hours to clear the game 100%, so it’s a very generous package for platformer fans.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t without issues. Combat in particular is extremely underwhelming, with Beebz only able to fire flimsy hand-shaped bolts at her opponents.
She can either fire small ones by pressing the attack button rapidly, or charge up more powerful ones (which can also repel enemy projectiles). They aren’t really attacks, though, they’re more like shoves.
The vast majority of the fight scenes, then, revolve around pushing enemies around and trying to nudge them into deadly hazards rather than taking them on directly.
The combat just doesn’t feel satisfying enough in general, and each time we encountered enemies (which only happens a few times each stage), it became a real lull in the action.
“The combat just doesn’t feel satisfying enough in general, and each time we encountered enemies (which only happens a few times each stage), we felt a real lull in the action.”
Some of the bigger stages can also be quite confusing to navigate. Players can press L3 to bring up an arrow that points towards the nearest hidden candy, but a similar feature would have helped for players who aren’t sure where to go next.
Each stage basically dumps the player in a large environment and makes them figure out where to go, which is fine most of the time. Some stages, though, have a number of individual components or smaller rooms that need to be tackled in order to make the next part of the stage accessible, and these aren’t always signposted very well.
This can result in some frustrating moments wandering around trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing next. There’s a place for that in some games, but when the platforming here is so well handled we constantly found ourselves frustrated at the interruption.
These issues are enough to ensure that Demon Turf is simply very good rather than truly brilliant. It’s one of the more stylish games you’ll play in recent times thanks to its unique art style and its sensational music (which we would have sworn was partly handled by Jet Set Radio composer Hideki Naganuma were we not already aware it was composed by Fat Bard and M.R. Miller).
Platformer veterans would still be wise to check it out, and speedrunners, in particular, may fall in love with it thanks to the copious helpings of speedrunner specific settings in the options screen, such as the ability to display a total timer and your username on-screen.
It’s still worth bearing in mind, however, that while there’s a lot to love here, Demon Turf also has more than its fair share of… well, demons.
Demon Turf looks fantastic and its platforming mechanics are brilliantly satisfying, but it's let down by boring combat and occasionally confusing level design. It's still worth a look, but it's not the best.
- Such a well crafted and unique art style
- Rock solid platforming sections are a treat to play
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Combat is thoroughly uninteresting
- Some of the stages can be confusing to explore