The modern indie scene has gone above and beyond all expectations when it comes to tackling some of the most cherished genres throughout video game history. We’ve definitely had an abundance of excellent indie 2D platformers, but strangely enough, with the exception of say Yooka-Laylee and A Hat In Time, we don’t get to see that many open-world 3D platforming games developed by smaller studios.
The truth of the matter is that even big-budget developers have struggled in the past to capture the quality and imagination that Nintendo themselves virtually invented and pretty much perfected. It’s worth wondering then, if the genre is simply one of those examples where the bar has been raised maybe a bit too high?
Demon Turf sets out to prove otherwise as we play as a young demon girl called Beebz with high ambitions to become Queen and rule the roost. However, the only way for her to be taken seriously is by conquering the four turf leaders of Forktown and overthrowing the Demon King himself.
Beebz happens to be a 2D sprite leaping around a cel-shaded polygonal world, and navigating her around a three-dimensional landscape translates fairly well for the most part. At face value, I had a reasonable understanding of my sense of space with the aid of using the spot of her shadow as a handy guide. Her fantastic animations are sketched across various angles, and how they twist and turn into different kinds of creatures both above ground and underwater, really punch in a personality that fits nicely within an already interesting visual style.
Beebz can triple jump, sideward somersault, gain a little extra air time with a spin and even ‘yahoo’ long jump in her own little way. Such actions should somewhat hit home if you’re already familiar with the acrobatics of a certain plumpy plumber, albeit maybe with a bit more stiffness and a little less spring.
Her core moveset can be combined and manipulated to pull off some rather fancy tricks with a bit of practice, patience and plenty of experimentation. While her core mechanics can at first seem a little slow and rigid, navigating her can begin to feel a bit smoother once mods are purchased and upgrades are earned. Mods can be bought by finding cakes scattered around stages which can improve anything from slightly increasing her default running speed, earning an extra checkpoint or even improving the way Beebz throws hands in combat.
Beebz’s upgrades – to which she permanently claims just before encountering a boss fight – help Demon Turf steer away from its blatant inspirations and uncover more of its own identity. Turning into a rolling snake and racing across narrow roads, or launching her Hookshot to gain some height and momentum provides a sense of speed without having to constantly yahoo jump everywhere. Transforming into a bird and soaring between two peaks of a high snowy mountain also adds a greater sense of satisfaction.
It does take a fair while to get to this point though, and the depressingly dull red hues of a dusty apocalyptic first world doesn’t create much of a first impression. Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the majority of the stages during the campaign just didn’t come across nearly as interesting nor as fun as I ever hoped they would.
I often found myself waiting for what felt like forever for lifts and moving platforms to get into a reachable position. On many other occasions, jumping distances frequently tend to be a little too high and awkward to reach for no good reason. While I’m sure stages are intended to be rehearsed to seek various paths and conquer appointed speedrunning times, the landscapes themselves can somehow oddly feel a little disjointed and lack an obvious flow. Which, ultimately, gave me very little incentive to want to replay them very often.
There is a great deal to do in Demon Turf though, with every level transforming into a brand new alternative route accompanied with a slight change in visuals once the turf has been claimed. The sizeable main hub world also has plenty of challenges and things to do tucked away, including finding video game cartridges that can be played at the local arcade, or a fun and addictive trials room hosted by a little lollypop fella disguised as a mint.
Between both the arcade and the trials there are callbacks aplenty to the history of Super Mario games, such as the first Bowser level and Tick, Tock, Clock from Super Mario 64 accompanied with a caveat. The colourful blocks of the secret shrine levels of Super Mario Sunshine commonly make up the architectural appearance during the trials – and happen to be by far the strongest set of levels in the game. Furthermore, those who can conquer all of Mr Mints challenges have the opportunity to get a pixelated portrait of themselves placed in-game on Mr Mints’ wall for bragging rights.
The checkpointing system – a feature that sounds much better on paper than it does in practice – can potentially sabotage the balance of stage progression rather than verifying it. By default, Beebz has three opportunities to respawn at nearly every given point of the player’s choosing by pitching a flag to secure her respawn point. If Beebz runs out of flags, she is bound to that final post until she either beats or quits the level altogether.
The obvious use for having the freedom to independently checkpoint at will would be to narrow down areas into shorter segments to practice beating end of stage speed-running goals and mark an impression on online leaderboards. As for the less competitive player, I find it hard to believe it to be nearly as practical to blindly place a flag with absolutely no idea of distance or challenge that still could lie ahead.
This is especially the case when taking into account the stages themselves can vary quite substantially in size. It also doesn’t help matters when the camera can struggle to find a good angle regardless of whether it’s controlled manually or set to automatic. Because of the way platforms can be laid out, it’s too easy and frustrating to misjudge jumps, lose your footing and either die or plummet down a vertical descent back towards the beginning. Beebz at least does have the ability to warp between her flags which can especially come in handy when hunting high and low for collectable sweets and cakes.
When it comes to tackling enemies, the only way to deal with them is to sumo slap them into spikes or off cliffs – very much like the territorial test for dominance when facing the Horned-Bullys from Super Mario 64. Combat sections quickly became dull to deal with, and outside of the bosses, the enemy design is incredibly bland in pretty much every way. Thankfully, these moments aren’t nearly as common or as annoying as I thought they would be, and the game does eventually provide options to deal with these encounters much better with mods.
The soundtrack to Demon Turf feels at home within the confinements of its gameplay. Unfortunately, despite absolutely loving the music from the creator’s previous game, Slime-San, I could barely tolerate the whines of overused Splatoon-or-Jet-Set-Radio-esque tribute band tones. I also found the American high school Nickelodeon characteristics of the narrative equally, if not more so annoying. This is all likely the case of me starting to show my age, and in all fairness, I can barely stand my own teenagers, let alone fictional adolescents stuffed into a video game.
Demon Turf may not have tantalised my platforming taste buds as much as I hoped for but I can see it gathering a well-deserved following. The community has already shown the impressive possibilities of getting from A to B in style, and I’m sure once the game gets into the hands of the wider public the possibilities are only going to flourish and amaze even more. With that said, the speedrunning community does make up for only a small percentage of the 3D platforming fanbase. So to say Demon Turf is a great 3D platformer for that reason alone is probably stretching it a bit. For what it’s worth though, it is at least a competent one.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Playtonic Friends