There's been a lot of games I've played over the course of my life. Games that I've considered beautiful works of art, games that I've regretted ever wasting the energy powering up my system to play it, but out of every game I've ever played there's never been a game I've SOUGHT after nearly as much as Clash at Demonhead.
Clash is a title that you might have heard of, might have not. It's one of those cult classics of the NES that is the archetypal "obscure game". Ironically, it's probably the most well-known game from the library of the company that created it, Vic Tokai. The game isn't even that rare or expensive, so you might be wondering why I consider it a game I've "sought after" so much. Well that's pretty simple: I couldn't read when I first played it.
The game was released in the US in 1990, and around that time I had to rely on my brother for the mostpart to read portions of video games that I couldn't. Unfortunately, it didn't relay the game's title efficiently to my longterm memory. What finally jogged it was the incredible amount of character that the game has. In fact, the game left such a big impression on me at the time that it was EXACTLY how I remembered it. I finally found it about ten years ago or more, and although I've occasionally picked it up for various reasons between then and now, there's a very important reason I wanted to play this: I never beat it without cheating. When I was little I never finished it, and when I picked it up again I mainly ripped the graphics from it for something I was working on. So this week I buckled down and plowed through this NES sleeper hit.
The main thing I've always liked about this game is the Metroid feel it has. Instead of having a linear set of levels, you start at the bottom of Demonhead Mountain as Billy "Big Bang" Blitz, and you have to traverse over 40 routes making your way to the top. However, making it to the top isn't even enough. Right from the get-go you are assaulted by the first of seven "Governors", Tom Guycot, challenging you to collect the Royal Medallions of him and the other Governors. This is where I picture what the game would have been like if it had been made by another company... Instead of the bosses being hidden throughout the game's suprisingly vast world, what would it have been like in the hands of a different company's style?
What if Capcom cancelled Mega Man Legends 3 to remake Clash at Demonhead?
The thrill of Clash at Demonhead is the sense of exploration. Even if you have a vague understanding of where the major elements of the game are located in Demonhead, you can't always memorize the entire layout. The terrain is diverse, traversible with four suits that completely change Bang's look, those being the Hyper Boots for high jumping and high speed, the Aqua Lung to allow you to breathe underwater and swim faster, the Super Suit for high defense and the ability to survive under lava, and my personal favorite, the Jet Pak. The flying ability gives you a vast advantage over the terrain, moves just as fast as the Hyper Boots, and allows you to beat several bosses incredibly easy.
Speaking of bosses, the Governors are what really make the game for me. They aren't the most advancedly programmed bosses by any stretch of the imagination, even by the standards of the NES, but they've all got unique charm. The first boss, Gazh, reacts to every blow to his horn (his only weak point) by flying up vertically and raining fireballs all across the room, and Max starts out as a microscopic, barely visible spec and grows larger until he's one of the biggest bosses in the game.
However, for all of their charm, they aren't without their faults. The boss Rowdy, for example, can be beaten by ducking and firing at his crotch repeatedly.
Notable weaknesses: The Crotch
Not only that, but the biggest cases of video gaming blue balls can be linked to this game. The whole game, right from the start, you're told one thing: Tom Guycot is a badass who's gonna kick your ass. He has the hardest attack to dodge in the entire game, and you just get a taste of it right on Route 1. All the Governors are sure to let you know that he means business.
Max knows who's boss.
And here's the kicker: you never get to fight him again. If you reach Route 33 like he challenges you to, he's not there. Eventually after the story progresses, someone else kills him FOR you. I've never had a game that I've had so much fun with make me SO mad... but I can't stay mad. Clash at Demonhead combines action and adventure in a way that was uncommon for the time, and really it's still been pretty rare ever since. I'm glad I finally played this game through to the end legitimately. It still holds up as one of my favorite gaming experiences. It's sad Vic Tokai hasn't made games in over a decade, and even sadder that one of them wasn't another game like Clash at Demonhead, but I hope that someday someone would consider sequelizing this game. It would do Tom Guycot proud.