Say hello to the bad guy
If you’ve played the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, you probably know Red Arremer, even if the name doesn’t ring a bell. The red gargoyle was a memorable addition to the classic arcade title, as their AI was extremely cruel. They would hover just outside of range, then swoop down at opportune moments to trip you up. At a time when most enemies did little more than move from right to left and maybe bounce if they were feeling sassy, Red Arremer stood out as a worthy (and vexing) foe.
You can scarcely tell by looking at it, but Demon’s Crest is the third in a series of Ghosts ‘n Ghouls spin-offs that was originally titled Gargoyle’s Quest. So, after Gargoyle’s Quest 1 and 2, we got Demon’s Crest. I often complain about the bonkers nomenclature for the Ghosts ‘n Goblins localized titles. But in this case, the Japanese version of Demon’s Crest (Demon’s Blaze: Makaimura Monshou Hen) doesn’t follow their established nomenclature either.
Anyway, I don’t want to talk about the title. I’d rather discuss what a work of art Demon’s Crest is.
Naked, sinewy combat
Demon’s Crest starts with one of the best intros to a video game since Jake Armitage kicked his way out of his own morgue slab in Shadowrun. It immediately cuts in with Firebrand (the localized name of Red Arremer) standing aimlessly in a ruined colosseum. Suddenly: zombie dragon.
Before you’ve even established the difference between jump and shoot in your brain, you’re fighting a huge undead dragon. After you kill it, you break out of a window, and then the dragon’s head pops out behind you. Firebrand could just leave the dragon to be stuck there, but Demon’s Crest wants you to know one thing about the humpable piece of demon meat; he’s an absolute badass. So, he melts the head off the dragon before setting out.
Demon’s Crest quickly establishes that you are in control of the most amazing creature to walk the demon realm. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, but if you’re not talking to a shopkeep, usually the NPC is saying something along the lines of “Holy shit, you’re awesome!” One of the main recurring baddies is General Arma, and every time you kick his butt, he invariably says, “I am left aroused by your combat prowess. We must lock in naked, sinewy combat again sometime.”
And yet, the goal of Demon’s Crest is to become more powerful.
The narrative picks up some time after Firebrand tried and failed to assemble the eponymous Demon’s Crests. Each one contains special powers, and he nearly has the last one when someone finally takes him down. This is an important lesson. No one is perfect. Even the most irresistible forces sometimes fail. You just have to get back up and try again.
So, that’s what you’re doing. Firebrand has re-awoken, and it’s time to regain the crests that are rightfully his. As is law in video games, he does this by beating bosses.
The weird thing about Demon’s Crest is that it isn’t linear, nor is it heavily gated. You select your level by flying over a Mode-7 landscape and landing somewhere that looks interesting. The action stages themselves actually fork in many places, with some only being accessible when you have a specific skill. It’s rare that the game will outright stop you, but to be helpful, it tells you the ideal path if you hit the start button while flying.
The worst that is going to happen is you’ll get your fantastic, chiseled butt kicked by a boss. There isn’t much of a penalty for death. You can either try again or go elsewhere. The goal is to keep on gaining items, crests, and power-ups to overcome anything that gets in your way. This can be a little frustrating for a couple of reasons, including the fact that it has worse endings if you take on the final boss too early.
A real firebrand
As a platformer, Demon’s Crest is great, but it isn’t the best. Don’t get me wrong, in terms of gameplay, it’s definitely top-shelf. The level design is rather routine, and it doesn’t do much that wasn’t already established in the NES and Game Boy titles that came before it. It starts you off weak, and then it doesn’t take long before you live up to the name of Firebrand. After that, it doesn’t really know what to do with you.
You get your most important powers before the halfway mark, and then you’ll spend the rest of the game just getting health power-ups and inventory items. These are necessary to get the best ending of the game, but it makes the latter half of the game feel a bit flat when your rewards are just more on top of a lot. It thankfully doesn’t drag on long. Like the previous games in the Gargoyle’s Quest series, Demon’s Crest is a pretty short game. Despite this, it doesn’t feel truncated or short on content. It just gets its point across efficiently and doesn’t drag things out.
However, aesthetically, it’s one of the greatest things committed to grey plastic. The title screen alone is worth seeing. Everything about the visual and audio design has extra flare to it that is both uniquely gloomy and incredibly Super Nintendo. It has a lot in common with Super Castlevania IV in that it’s a surprisingly dark look on a console known for its bright colors. Yet, it still does a lot of audio and visual effects that were common on the console, such as chain explosions and that weird farting noise bosses sometimes do when they die.
Demon’s Crest is among my favorite games on the SNES, and I feel like I appreciate it even more each time I return to play it again. Thankfully, Capcom is pretty respectful toward the title. It landed on the Wii U and 3DS Virtual Consoles, and it’s currently on the Switch Online SNES app. Considering an original cartridge copy is worth hundreds of dollars, having it more accessible on other platforms is really appreciated.
Despite this, I find that it’s still overlooked. I had never heard of it when I was growing up with a Super Nintendo in my household and only tried it years later as I gradually uncovered the Gargoyle’s Quest series.
Strangely, there are no in-game credits to Demon’s Crest. Outside the music composers and the fact that the fantastic Julie Bell did the North American artwork, I can’t find information on who designed Demon’s Crest. Capcom wasn’t the best at crediting their development teams in the ‘90s, but they at least usually did a roll with pseudonyms. Not with Demon’s Crest, which is almost distressing.
Nonetheless, if you dig sexy gargoyles and gloomy demon visuals, then Demon’s Crest is something you should check out. Actually, even if you don’t like those things, that’s weird, but you should check it out anyway. Demon’s Crest is the Super Nintendo and Capcom at their best. It received an honorable mention when Destructoid’s Timothy Monbleau made his 15 Greatest SNES Games list, but I’d go even further than that. At the very least, I would give it a very honorable mention, but depending on the day, it could also have a number next to it.
For other retro titles you may have missed, click right here!