This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
Nothing is more infuriating than what I like to call Name That Tune Syndrome, named after the 80s-era game show. It’s when you remember something that used to be good and that you liked, but you can’t remember the name of it and it drives you nuts to search for it. Even in the era of Google, there’s no real cure for Name That Tune Syndrome other than to hope that something random you come across gives you the elusive key to unlocking the treasure chest in your mind.
While at Retro Games Plus last week, I thought I had found something similar. I had been thinking of an NES game for some time that involved a medieval theme and a hero who used a big sword to either attack high or low to take out enemies who were usually armed with shields. Picture a game revolving around fighting knights in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and you’d have a solid idea. Twenty years of rose-coloured memories have me thinking this to be one of the greatest games of all time, though I couldn’t place the name. But at RGP, I found a game called Demon Sword. It had a big Norse guy on the cover! With oily muscles! And a sword! This had to be the game I was thinking of! I checked it out and brought it home, excited to finally scratch a decades-long itch.
What I got was a game stunningly like Legacy of Kage, a game I hated. Instead of a medieval theme, the game was obviously set around a Sengoku-era theme. Only one thought crossed my mind: “Oh, crap. I remember this game. I… I’m in for a long week.”
HOW WAS IT THEN: Demon Sword was hardly a world-burner in 1990. Legend of Kage didn’t transfer over to the NES well years prior, and Demon Sword—which has no affiliation with that game–is even cheaper. The biggest deal is that the hero has few limits as to where he can go. He can run fast, leap high, and leap far. This leads to a mindset in most players similar to what you’d see in a newbie to Sonic the Hedgehog: the thought process is to jump far and wide, as far as one can go. At least in Sonic, there’s some thought to the stage design and alternative options in case something goes wrong. There are no such luxuries in Demon Sword. Stages are designed with randomly placed pits and traps that serve less to test the player than they do to annoy. Also, Sonic had tight controls that made deaths that weren’t a fault of strategy a fault of the player. Controlling the main character in Demon Sword is like trying to control a kid who’s high on M&Ms and
Pepsi; it’s exhausting and usually leads to someone falling into a pit.
There is no possible way to take a subtle step in Demon Sword.
Actually fighting enemies is a chore as well, though the problems in Demon Sword were easier to ignore in the 90s. Cheap hits from enemy projectiles are good for whittling away health, and it’s easy to fly into a previously unseen bad guy while mindlessly flying around stages like something out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The character has two weapons: a sword that’s useless until later stages, and throwing stars that barely do damage. There are also power-ups, but they usually require being on the ground to get them, which leads to problems. Cheap deaths are a common occurance in Demon Sword, but in 1990, this wasn’t too big a problem as it was so common.
Going strictly off of empirical data, Demon Sword didn’t sell too well. I can’t find any reviews of the game, either, but this was right as the NES was hitting its stride. It’s not like it stood out for any reason other than for falsely advertising a medieval game that’s obviously Japanese.
All of the problems I mentioned before still exist, and unlike then, the industry has evolved to the point where they’re no longer acceptable. Why would someone put up with cheap deaths when most of the game is played jumping into the air like an idiot, only to find out too late that they’re heading into a pit? Why would someone sit through seven stages of a game that is frustrating to the point of controller chucking on the first stage? Why would someone play this game when far better games just for the NES alone exist, let alone anything someone would find now?
For anyone with a soft spot for Demon Sword, it’s at least affordable. It’s $4 at RGP for the cartridge only, and eBay has it for $7 with an addition $4 for shipping and handling for a complete game in box. However, anyone looking for a retro game to play should ignore this one altogether. I would’ve had I known what I was getting into, and time has not done Demon Sword any favours.