Takes a little time, sometimes, to get your wings back in the air.
Demon’s Crest is one of those mythical SNES games that had low print runs, so very few people had the chance to play it back in 1994. I recall a blurb from an old Nintendo Power claiming that it actually generated “negative sales,” meaning that more people returned the game than actually bought it. Given how strict Nintendo has been about Western localization and walling off religious symbolism, it’s a miracle that Demon’s Crest was ever brought over here to begin with. Over time its legend has grown, and Capcom finally put it on Wii U Virtual Console for everyone to enjoy, or, at the very least, try to enjoy.
Demon’s Crest is a strange hybrid of Mega Man X and Gargoyle’s Quest. You play as Firebrand, a demon who’s tasked with stopping archenemy Phalanx from taking over the Demon Realm. Much like in previous Gargoyle’s Quest games, Firebrand explores a large overworld map (this time in stunning Mode 7), traveling to distinct levels in hopes of taking down bosses as well as finding items and movement upgrades. The difference here is that there are fewer levels, but each level has at least one branching path. Additionally, through great effort, Firebrand can find Demon Crests, which transform him and give him new abilities. The Earth Demon, for instance, can smash certain objects but cannot fly, while the Hawk Demon has impressive flight abilities but can’t grip walls. You can also go into shops to play a “Whack-a-Mole” variant and buy potions and damage-dealing spells.
You’ll also find minor upgrades to Firebrand’s default arsenal. For instance, you can acquire fireballs that break certain walls or miniature tornados that double as temporary platforms. While some of these items are useless or redundant, Health Upgrades are always welcome. You’ll also find vials for carrying potions and spell scrolls for… spells. Finally, you’ll find the occasional Talisman that gives you permanent stat boosts; however, you can only equip one at a time.
My biggest knock against this game is that it’s one of the more obtuse Capcom platformers. There’s a lot to take in here, and the game doesn’t explain itself at all. Sure, the digital manual helps, but not as much as you’d hope. You’ll be backtracking as much as you did in Mega Man X3, but, unfortunately, Demon’s Crest doesn’t feature the speed and “holy crap I’m powerful” edge that the X games do. Firebrand is fairly plodding, and it takes a really long time before you start feeling truly empowered. You’ll also be taking frequent trips to the pause screen to equip/upequip different things because, apparently, cycling through powers with the L/R buttons would just make too much sense. You only have access to three levels at first (I’m not counting the intro stage), and more eventually open up, but I can’t figure out what the triggers are. As I said, Demon’s Crest is silent on this point.
That said, the game’s visuals are stunning, with big, detailed sprites and gothic backgrounds that wouldn’t look out of place in a Castlevania game. The soundtrack isn’t as catchy or energetic as the X games, but Demon’s Crest is going for a different tone. While I can’t say I’m a huge fan, the music is interesting nonetheless. The bosses, by the way, are generally awesome and can be incredibly challenging, though sometimes to the point of frustration if you’re not using the right weapon for the job. As such, I recommend liberal use of Restore Points.
Demon’s Crest didn’t really live up to the hype for me, as it took a lot of patience and research before I started enjoying myself. Maybe I’m just getting cranky in my old age, but I don’t want to have to work to enjoy something. While Mega Man X is a blast right out of the gate, Demon’s Crest is a much slower burn, but worth the trouble once it clicks.