Clash at Demonhead
Developer: Vic Tokai
Clash at Demonhead is one of the best games in the entire NES library. But maybe you had to be there. If one were to breathlessly list all the innovations and strides it made in the platforming/shooting subgenre nowadays, the natural reaction from your audience would be, “...And?”
Like many other trailblazers, Clash at Demonhead’s chief flaw is that everything to come down the pike since has added polish and refinements to its formula. And you can’t even call what it does “its” formula, since it owes a tremendous debt to the original Metroid. As with its forebear, you’re tasked with exploring a large, nonlinear world, gaining power-ups that enhance your maneuverability and access to the world as you go. In Clash at Demonhead’s case, you buy these power-ups rather than find them in the world, which in some respects is an improvement, since it means if you’re ever stuck at an impassable barrier, you always know where to find a solution. The downside is that this does sometimes mean grinding for money, but few complained when Symphony of the Night introduced an economy to the genre, and it isn’t any worse here.
It also featured short but interesting dialogue scenes, providing a rudimentary story where Metroid had none, and gave the player a colorfully designed cast of heroes and villains. The gang of Seven Governors that hero Billy “Big Bang” Blitz must challenge are all memorably rendered in an art style one doesn’t often see in video games these days, the sort of puffy-faced anime look that went out with the early ’90s.
But if Clash at Demonhead doesn’t sound very impressive anymore when broken down into a list of bullet points (nonlinear platforming! anime story sequences! 12 items, armor, and weapons to buy!) try to remember any other NES game you played that accomplished anything close.
The ambition, heart, and even polish on display—the game may lack some of the niceties of later metroidvanias, but it has sterling controls and well-designed levels—elevate it well above its peers to the top of the mountain.