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Demon’s Crest

It’s always a shame when an outstanding game goes completely under the radar.  We would like to believe if a game is good enough it will find an audience.  This isn’t always the case, with many of the highest rated games being ignored at retail. This occurs frequently during the holiday season as every publisher in the world tries to capture the all important Christmas dollar.  Capcom’s Demon’s Crest is one such case, a phenomenal action game that was caught in the wake of Donkey Kong Country.

Demon’s Crest was released November 1994 for the US.  A spinoff of the Ghouls & Ghosts series Demon’s Crest was the third in the series, following the little known but excellent NES installment.  Firebrand has returned to the Demon World after being defeated by Phalanx in his bid to unite all of the elemental crests for infinite power.  Armed only with the Crest of Fire you set out for revenge.

You know considering Firebrand is an annoying bastard in the G & G series its ironic that now you have to help him essentially achieve godhood.   A lot of the reviews at the time of the game’s release complained that the game was too short with no replay value; this is completely false.  There is an untold amount of hidden secrets and levels to complete if you look for it, something I guarantee most gamers will do since this could be considered a less anger prone Ghouls & Ghosts game.

Retaining the light RPG elements the series has featured gameplay largely involves controlling Firebrand as he confronts the denizens of the demon world in the action stages.  You fly to each location on the for the time impressive Mode 7 world map.  Aside from the actual levels there are numerous side areas to visit, such as potion shops, spell creators, and even minigames.  Truth be told, it sounds like a lot, but most of this stuff is completely unnecessary to complete the game and are only necessary to unlock some of the end game content.  The magic spells available are weaker than your numerous breath attacks and with the exception of health potions the rest aren’t needed.  Although the map is large the world itself is pretty small, with the bulk of the game taking place in the action levels.

Here you control Firebrand in his many gargoyle incarnations that you’ll earn as you progress.  If you are familiar with the Ghouls & Ghosts series this is similar.  You can fly indefinitely with restrictions depending on which gargoyle you are using.  Each form has unique powers, such as the Ground Gargoyle’s charge attack that can break obstacles or the Aerial Gargoyle’s power to fly in any direction.  These powers are necessary to uncover the many hidden secrets, such as life upgrades, extra potions, vellums to inscribe spells and the other gargoyle forms.

It is here where the issue with the game’s length takes place.  If you play the game straight and never wander off the beaten path you will reach Phalanx castle in short order and receive the bad ending.  By finding the secret paths in every level, defeating the bosses and finding new crests new stages are unlocked on the world map.   None of the reviews back in 1994 mentioned this; common sense would tell you that the empty slots on the status screen mean you are missing items but no dice.  Exploring the new areas in every stage doubles the game’s length, with new bosses and even stage elements to contend with.  The new gargoyle forms you unlock are insanely fun to use to retread previous areas for stuff you missed.  It somewhat borders on Metroidish now that I think about it.

The production values are top notch; it’s Capcom, what do you expect?  There are no in your face special effects, no special chips, just pure blissful 2d artwork.  Everything is drawn and animated beautifully; although you’ll be reminded of Super Ghouls & Ghosts at times Demon’s Crest surpasses that game graphically.  The level of detail especially extends to the bosses.  The game begins with an epic boss fight against an undead dragon and doesn’t let up from there.  From the largest undead to even other gargoyle’s they all exhibit the same lavish amount of care extended to Firebrand.  Capcom’s designers let their imaginations run wild creating some of these creepies and they are a visual feast for the eyes.  The music, while excellent, doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the graphics but in the long run it doesn’t make a difference.

It’s a damn shame that Demon’s Crest isn’t more popular as it has something for everyone.  It’s beautiful, long, and easier than the Ghouls & Ghosts games while still offering a decent challenge and most of all fun.  To some extent you could say the same about all of the games in the series, at least the beautiful and fun part.  Who would have thought the red asshole that caused many broken controllers would go on to star in his own series?  Whoever made the call we as gamers have reaped the benefits.

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