Demon's Crystals Review
Release Date: May 12, 2017
Developer: StarCruiser Studio
Publisher: Badland Games
Platform: Steam, PS4, Mobile, Xbox One (Reviewed)
Price: $4.99 on consoles, Free with Ads on Mobile
When playing an arcade twin-stick shooter, there really isn't much that needs to be said. Shoot, don't die. That'll get you through most everything. But what makes a game memorable is the presentation, and Demon's Crystals does suffer a bit in that aspect. When you strip away everything else, you are left with a fun and frantic arcade-style shooting extravaganza, but some of those layers of paint are a little flaky.
As one of the Urican, you have long been considered the "top of the food chain." Recently, three strange monsters have shown up and taken over, causing the once peaceful world to descend into chaos, and every living (or undead) thing is now out to kill you. You have to destroy the invading forces, collect the crystals, and....that's it. Like I said, arcade shooter. Story-lite.
The presentation of this game is what confuses me. After a bit, I figured it out, but the wording could have used some translation support. In each level, you are tasked with killing a set amount of enemies, collecting a set amount of crystals, or a combination of both. Eventually, you take on a giant enemy boss in each world. When you start a level, it says "Horde 1/3" or such, then shows a crystal and a skull with numbers beside them representing what you need to do. Odd part, though, if you don't need to collect or kill, that particular icon says "DONE" at the start. If you're doing double duty, completing one task will say "ALL ENEMIES KILLED" or "ALL CRYSTALS COLLECTED" even though the world is still teeming with both. The two tasks really don't change how you play, either. If you're killing enemies, you have to move around the map where crystals would be. If you are collecting crystals you have to kill enemies to get to them. While the patterns are cute, like hearts and pumpkins and the like, picking up the crystals reminds me of using a vacuum cleaner that isn't quite getting all the crud out, and you have to run it back and forth over the area to do the job. Many times I'd walk through a crystal field and leave a third of the crystals behind, having to rub back over them to pick them all up.
There is a leveling system, where each enemy is worth a set amount of EXP. As I played with my first of the four characters, I felt like leveling did absolutely nothing. Working with a second character and taking them to the most recently unlocked level, though, resulted in their instant death by the first touch. There are pickups that are very powerful, though, and using those weak characters with good dodging skills would result in a level one character being leveled up with the strongest character after a few minutes on that advanced level, so it really felt like the leveling in general was kind of useless.
Weapon pick ups consist of a variety of shot patterns, most of which result in covering the entire screen with your bullets, so it seems odd that there are so many patterns. Some of the more focused ones are stronger, such as the one that shoots a giant missile out of your gun. There are a couple of unique ones, like the freeze ray and electric shock, but the bullet ones are all eerily similar. Other power ups are strange, like the chunk of meat that causes you to throw meat everywhere. The zombies go for it, taking the focus off of you. There's bombs, and you just randomly throw them. The mushroom makes you gigantic, but you then cannot shoot and the enemies run away from you, resulting in a frustrating chase down that isn't as satisfying as it could be. There are also anti-power ups, like a vial that gives you confusion or an hourglass that takes away time. All the while, you are dodging incoming bullets from the enemies. Adding more players with their own colored shots makes the action even more insane, but the colors are well defined and usually easy to differentiate, unless they get mixed in with the glow of the background colors. As you advance to later worlds, the general theme changes, but a lot of enemies have the same attack patterns. Going higher in the game levels unlocks some new enemies and weapons, and learning the best way to counter every attack coming your way is key to survival.
There are a slew of multiplayer modes, from standard deathmatch to a capture the flag and survival modes. They are all local multiplayer, which is the better way to play a game such as this. Many will lament the lack of online features, but the game really does well where you can yell orders or insults at your fellow gamers.
If this game was a full $60 retail release, these issues would undoubtedly cause people to rage and return the game en masse, but this game was made on a budget and priced as such. At a mere $4.99, the game easily delivers on what it's there to do. Playing this from a complete solo standpoint will net you four different characters to blast through all of the levels with. Trophies and achievements are simply "achieve X level" "acquire X crystals" "defeat X enemies" or variations based on the difficulty level (one of which involves beating the game on every level, preventing you from simply logging in on "hard" and beating it once). An easy platinum for a trophy hunter, though it will require hours upon hours of straight-up grinding to get to that point.
Reviewing this title, I've netted about five hours and know exactly what I'm in for, but I've not even gotten halfway through the campaign on the first difficulty level. The action is repetitive, but a twin-stick shooter fan will find plenty of challenge here. Leveling is extremely basic, but it understandably progresses as the enemies get harder. Variety of weapons is cool, but they could have cut about half of the shot patterns and I wouldn't have noticed the difference. The game looks like it would have promise if some meat was put into the storyline, with creative player characters and huge menacing bosses, but the translation issues discussed above lead me to believe they would have been even more confusing if fleshed out.
$5 of my money would have easily been pumped into an arcade machine back in the day to play this exact game. Seeing how far you could get on one quarter or putting your name proudly at the top of the leaderboard is very fun, and the presentation doesn't matter as much when you're mowing down enemies on a title you spent less on than a large fancy cup of coffee. Don't come to this title looking for depth of story or gameplay style. But if you've read this article and are still excited to mow down hordes of enemies with giant energy blasts while dodging back and forth nimbly through oncoming bullets, then this game is easily worth your pocket change.
-Easy in and out quick fun
-Frenzied twin-stick shooter
-Value pricing for a concentrated and fun experience
-Enemies and weapon variations are often similar
-Leveling is a grind
Thanks to BadLand Games for providing a copy of the Xbox One Code for review!