I think I fell into the ‘tude trap again. I see a platforming game with an interesting art style and a spunky red-headed demon, and I’m smitten. Demon Turf ticks off a lot of my boxes, at least in concept. Unfortunately, concept only takes you so far.
Demon Turf is about a young (by demon standards) girl who one day gets fed up with the Demon King showing up in her dreams and decides to go dethrone him. It’s a pretty light plot, but I can’t remember the last platformer that gripped me with its narrative.
Of course, you need MacGuffins to unlock the bad dude’s front door, and in this case, it’s 50 batteries. To get the batteries, Beebz needs to dethrone the four local gangs. You probably know the dance steps if you’ve ever played a platformer. You go from level to level plundering them of their collectibles. Each hub world is then capped off with a boss battle.
What sets Demon Turf apart from your usual platformer is nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. The art style is pretty striking. It combines 2D characters with 3D levels, not unlike the recently released Here Comes Niko. The 2D characters can be a hit and miss. A lot of the random NPCs that dot the levels are rather generic, but some of the enemies are enjoyable and cute. It’s really the combination of the two styles that give it a unique look.
Aside from that, nothing about Demon Turf surprised me. Each world gives you a new power provided just before the boss battle. This includes a grappling hook, the ability to turn into a wheel, one that lets you glide, and the last slows time in a particular bubble. The goal of a level is to grab the battery at the end, but you can also grab cakes to spend on mods for your abilities.
Once you defeat an area’s boss, the levels change to a different, more challenging configuration. This provides you the opportunity to grab another battery and sweets that buy cosmetic changes. Don’t think this is optional, however — you’re going to need the lion’s share of the batteries to unlock the final boss.
Hold on, I remember one thing that Demon Turf does that I haven’t seen in a platformer before: you set your own checkpoints. A lot of the levels are extremely vertical, and dying or falling to the bottom can be extremely vexing. Rather than just intersperse respawn points, you set your own. You might see this as an appreciated feature, or it might just annoy you. Like when you start a new level and temporarily forget about the feature until you screw up for the first time, forcing you to repeat that whole section again. You’re also given three flags to plant (you can buy a fourth), which means you have to predict how long the level is and where it’s best to put the checkpoints.
So, on one hand, you can place a flag before a dangerous-looking section. On the other hand, if you use up all your flags too early, then it’s T.S. for you. I personally only had a couple of occasions where this happened. More often, I was prone to just forget it existed until I found myself repeating the same section over again.
No platform character is complete without a stockpile of different jumps. That’s fine; one for each type of weather. However, the way they work together can be a bit of a puzzle. For example, you can jump, double-jump, and glide. Or you can jump, glide, and long jump. Completely different distances depending on what order you perform them in. You also can’t wall-jump if you double jump or glide first which was a bee in my bonnet through the entire runtime.
What really chokes me up, however, is how unreliable Demon Turf is with its difficulty curve and readability, which sometimes go hand-in-hand. Take the second boss for example. I dropped a half-hour on the jerk because I couldn’t understand what the game wanted from me. Stun him, touch his butt, knock him off the side of the arena. Except most of the time, he’d just start flying back to the center of the arena. Other times, he’d drop like he’s supposed to, and I never figured out what I was doing differently.
It’s pervasive throughout the game. There are levels that are more open, inviting you to complete challenges to unlock doors. However, sometimes when you complete a challenge, it will show you a door opening, but give you no guidance on where that door actually is. It can lead to a lot of walking around, trying to find what you triggered, and while this isn’t a complete showstopper, it’s an unnecessary annoyance.
Likewise, Demon Turf is sometimes really picky about how you complete certain areas. The difference in your jumps may seem minute, but sometimes the game really wants you to jump, glide, jump, and won’t accept a jump, double-jump-glide in its place. Other times, it really looks like a double-jump can get you onto a ledge, but nope, it wants you to jump, wall-jump, double-jump, glide. Just don’t do that out of order or you won’t make it.
I hope you remembered to put down a checkpoint.
Demon Turf has the double-whammy of not being that unique nor well-executed. It might get a pass if it was either one of those, but every time I thought I was starting to get into its flow, something would pop up to frustrate me. It made it a difficult game to actually get through. There was nothing that grabbed me. The characters, the gameplay, the music; it’s all just so underwhelming.
What made this more annoying is its love of ancillary collectibles. Do you want to take all the pictures, collect all the cartridges, get all the candy and the cakes? How about spending time in the arena or the soccer mini-game? You’re not rewarded very well for completing these, so they’re almost there for their own sake. Extra fluff. And that’s fine, I just don’t come close enough to liking Demon Turf to bother.
It’s not a soulless game or one without a spark — there’s definitely a lot of love in the final product. It just seriously needed a few more sets of eyes on it to draw out its flaws. A lot of the things that vexed me most severely could be fixed with a few more passes of the floor buffer. Yet here we are, and Demon Turf doesn’t strike me as territory worth conquering.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]