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It Came from Japan! King of Demons

4:00 PM on 10.04.2012 // Allistair Pinsof

[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun. For the month of October, the series will focus on games that may make you spook a poop.]

Games with dark, satanic overtones weren't exactly Nintendo’s bag. So, there should be no surprise in reading that a Super Famicom game, which roughly translates to King of Demons, never came West.

The surprise lies in discovering the quality of the game. King of Demons' sinister world brings to mind the apt-for-Halloween classics Super Castlevania IV and Splatterhouse 2, but it’s the great-feeling controls and action that make King of Demons a stand-out title on the Super Famicom. And, as a result, one of the rarest and expensive titles in the system’s history.

Thank God Satan for emulation, right?

King of Demons (Super Famicom)
Developer: KSS
Released: August 25, 1995
Current value: $175
Fan translation: Yes
For fans of: Super Castlevania IV, Splatterhouse 2, Contra

For a seemingly cut-and-dried 2D action-platformer, King of Demons doesn’t feel like any other game. Opening with an ambitious, interactive cinematic on a bridge, the title immediately evokes a unique atmosphere.

Like Splatterhouse’s antihero, Abel isn’t shy about embracing demonic powers in order to save his loved ones. The game opens with Abel’s friend Bayer betraying him by sacrificing Abel’s family in order to become ... THE KING OF DEMONS! Oh no!

After some brief dialogue and fugly anime portraits, the game becomes a steadfast side-scrolling shooter that never lets up on its pace and generous -- or grueling, depending on how you look at it -- amount of boss fights. Abel is constantly running through gateways leading further into the hellish world, falling down pits, and even hopping a demon train full of demon turrets and other crazy demon shit.

Abel becomes increasingly more devilish as the game continues, adopting three demonic forms. However, you’ll have to play the first stage as a fairly normal resurrected human. Abel feels like the way I imagine John McClane would feel if there was ever an awesome 2D Die Hard game. You dump on demons with a glock, have an awesome roll maneuver, and can perform a ridiculous double-jump. I’d disapprove on this break from reality if it weren’t for double-jumping being the greatest mechanic that God Satan ever gave developers.

After you defeat a boss, you are bestowed a jewel that will change Abel into one of the game’s demon forms. Depending on the gem’s color, you will become a dragon, harpy, or whatever the heck the third form is supposed to be. Each character has its own pros and cons, since their attack, special, jump, and dash is different. Play the game enough times and you’ll know what form is best for which stage. There are even tricks to the system, such as using the same form to gain a more powerful version. Using all three forms will also grant a new more powerful form during the endgame.

I’ve read others say the game is easy, but I have to disagree. The many bosses of King of Demons gave me grief for the longest time. It didn’t help that I had no understanding of specials or the demon transformation system, of course. The game is full of bosses with tricky movement patterns. The scale and detail of the later bosses is really impressive for the system. Even though you are meeting hell’s spawn on their own level through your transformations, I never felt that winning came so easy.

King of Demons’ visuals and audio can be pretty underwhelming at times, especially for a ‘95 release. If you can look past these things and not compare it too much to Super Castlevania and Splatterhouse, you may find one of the better horror-themed 16-bit games. I can’t think of another SNES/SFC game with bosses this creepy, gross, and huge. The controls, action, and grim visuals make this an easy game to recommend to horror and action fans.

What 16-bit games scared you?

Is double-jumping the greatest? Y/N?

Are you a fan of games with tons of bosses? Why?

Allistair Pinsof,
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