Reviewed on an Xbox Series X
It may be a genre that pretty much disappeared from the triple-A market, but the indie videogame scene is still absolutely packed with titles trying to emulate the side-scrolling bliss of the 2D classics or the glory days of the iconic 3D titles between the 5th and 6th generation of consoles. But what if someone were to combine the artstyle and dynamics of classic sidescrollers, but inside vast 3D levels that also take cues from the bests in that area? That’s what New York-based studio Fabraz is bringing to the table here: it’s the XboxEra review for the promising Demon Turf!
There’s a demon inside me
The protagonist of this adventure is Beebz, a young humanoid demon girl who gets no respect whatsoever from her community, as she’s still seen as a weak baby and being constantly mocked by older peers. Nobody will give her the respect she deserves until she shows her worth, which sends her on a travel to conquer all the demon turfs (hence the title), beat all the leaders and take down the Demon Queen herself, perhaps managing once and for all to prove she is a brave and powerful adventurer and warrior.
Visually, as mentioned before, the title successfully combines the freedom and depth of three dimensional worlds and a 2D artstyle that actually reminishes comic books more than classic platformers of old. Much like some of the earliest 3D titles like Doom (1993) in fact, most of the interactive elements like enemies, the playable character (whom we see from a third person camera) are 2D sprites, which therefore appear flat and only display a finite number of angles. The colourful and simple geometry is therefore made much more unique by the presence of these two-dimensional elements, which display cute and intentionally choppy animations.
Did I ever tell you the definition of dimensions?
This constant battle between two and three dimensions is felt in the gameplay department as well. Beebz features a vast array of movements and skills, progressively unlocked through the lengthy campaign. Double jumps, mid-air tricks, a grapple hook, even all the way to transformations into animals that very much remind of another 2D classic: the Shantae franchise. Similarly to the protagonist of that long-running series in fact, Beebz can transform into a variety of creatures, such as an octopus to dominate the waters or an owl to fly freely through the air, albeit for limited timeframes usually.
Yet, the level design feels like something out of harshest levels in Super Mario Sunshine. A constant barrage of air platforms, moving objects and deadly obstacles, forcing the player to learn air control very early on, with levels interconnected by hubs full of other demons to interact with. The main one even features shops, allowing players to buy all kinds of cool additions to their playthrough: from cosmetic palette changes to hair and clothes and even pets, all the way to mods and extra skills to make the upcoming levels easier. None of this is essential, mind, but it certainly comes in handy.
More than the sum of its parts
My review keeps falling back into comparisons with other titles, but claiming it’s a mish-mash of 2D and 3D platformer classics is doing a huge disservice to Demon Turf, as the game is extremely creative. The combat is very unique, and battle arenas usually involve pushing enemies into spikes, or perhaps even using them as weight on a pressure plate to open a door. It’s more of a puzzle solving exercise than just pure button-mashing. Similarly, the complexity and variety of aerial movement combos, that players can connect make the traversal much more satisfying than most of the 3D platformers around, in some ways even offering a more challenging and rewarding progression than this year’s Psychonauts 2 and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
What’s even more surprising is the sheer amount of content the game offers. Dozens and dozens of long levels, all packed with optional content, speedrun options and even worthy of being replayed via further skills and abilities Beebz receives later. Each hub area features a giant boss, which not only allows us onto the next world, but all the way to a rerun of every single stage if we desire so, with new sets of unlockables and paths to explore on existing levels. These are effectively harder and more varied versions of the already seen levels, usually offering completely different gameplay experiences. There’s even a surprisingly deep minigolf mode, a photo mode which even challenges players to take shots of specific things in game, and the list goes on and on. Reaching the end credits already took me about a dozen hours or so, but I suspect that aiming for a 100% completion would take me at least another couple dozen. It’s quite impressive.
This will take a while
The game even boasts fully voiced dialogues between characters, albeit some of the smaller NPCs feature text bubbles only. Beebz’ energy is absolutely infectious, as she makes funny sounds and noises as she traverses these demonic landscapes. The way she practically hums her own intro song as she enters portals is repetitive, yet it never got old even after dozens of listens. The other NPCs we encounter are also generally well-designed, both in terms of visual appearance and character. They may not have the depth of some of Rare’s mythical collectathons of old, but they’re very likeable and interesting encounters for sure.
Yet, sometimes, Demon Turf can feel downright excessive. The levels are many and often extremely long, with only up to 3 or 4 checkpoints players can place throughout them. Likewise, boss battles can take a long time, with again very few save points to revert to. The difficulty in itself can feel downright punishing, as players will spend half of the game pulling high precision air parkour moves between tight ledges and platforms, with a mistake often setting them back by several minutes of progress. And the sheer amount of optional unlockables and secrets spread across the two versions of each level means that players will be going back and forth into areas they played through plenty of times before already, in the search of an elusive lollipop or a cake.
Flawed but fascinating
Revisiting areas further underlines another one of Demon Turf’s main problems: most levels feel relatively soulless, empty. As much as their visual style is generally on point, they still offer vast areas with very little happening, offering half a minute or more of uneventful walking. Entering the harder variant of a level fills it with dozens of collectible lollipops, some making the player go through even some of least exciting areas more than once. And that’s even before we meet the walking lollipops, which feel designed purely with the scope of annoying the player and making them lose time by chasing the proverbial goose.
But despite some of the design shortcomings and the uneven difficulty, I kept going back from time to time to Demon Turf with a smile on my face. The cool visuals, the deep gameplay, the fun characters and the sheer amount of content make this a 3D platformer that fans of the genre should not sleep on. Beginners beware, however.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 4|5, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC|
|Release Date||November 4th, 2021|