There’s something about the words “3D Platformer” which touches a nostalgic nerve.
They send me back to the hazy days of the mid-90s and the many happy hours spent with my Nintendo 64. Games like Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Goemon’s Great Adventure and the underrated Rayman-like Tonic Trouble featured heavily in my playlist, but then of course there was THE 3D platformer. The one that, while not the first true 3D platformer, defined a generation and set the standard for other similar games. I am of course talking about Nintendo’s uber hero. The Italian which does as little actual plumbing as possible and isn’t a cold-hearted sniper with a habit of inheriting spooky real estate.
Mario 64 was a game I wanted to enjoy, and I did to start with. I “wah-hooed” my way around Whomp’s Fortress and felt the giddy delight of collecting those 8 red coins with the escalating musical scale. But then I remember Mario’s face contorted in pain as he clutched his smoking buttocks when I again misjudged a jump in Lethal Lava Land. Then there’s that blasted, cheating, rubber-banding penguin in Cool, Cool Mountain! While I did get to the end-game Bowser battle, I admit frustration got the better of me and Mario 64 was consigned to the heap of games I never have and never will complete.
So, it was with mixed emotions I picked up Demon Turf from developer Fabraz and publisher Playtonic. As a fan of Banjo-Kazooie and knowing that Playtonic created its spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee, and consists almost entirely of former members of Rare, my hopes were high. Unfortunately, Demon Turf is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugliest combat mechanic I’ve ever experienced.
To open with the good points.
Demon Turf has a truly unique and unconventional art style that blends 2D comic strip characters in a 3D cell-shaded world. It’s a shame that this is wasted once you leave the main-hub area of “Forktown” and enter your first world, the “Apocadesert”. First impressions count, and this first world fails to make much impact as you’re presented with 50 shades of brown. I know that the clue is in in the name, and at the risk of going Anakin Skywalker here, I’m fully aware that sand sits on the dreary end of the colour spectrum. But 7 levels exploring the nuances between umber and burnt umber is a bit much.
Thankfully, when you hit the next zone of Armadagedon this piratical paradise feels like a colour explosion! Sadly, the colour fixation returns in the New Neo City area as the level designers seem to be fully obsessed with fuchsia and everything looks like it’s being viewed through purple-tinted aviators! It’s also a bit of a disappointment that the pun-based names of the zones stop here, as if the developers ran out of inspiration and looked at the snowy mountain tops of zone four and thought “Sod it, Peak Plateau!!”.
Each of these zone-worlds, or Turfs, consist of 7 levels. Each level has core collectables, three pieces of cake that can be used to buy skill mods and other trinkets, and a battery. These batteries are the Mario Stars of the game and all 7 must be collected before you can face the Turf Boss.
The overall aim of our protagonist Beebz is not only to defeat these Turf Bosses, but to collect 50 batteries so she can take on and de-throne the final boss, The Demon King. For those of you who can do quick maths you’ll have worked out that four zones with 7 batteries only adds up to 28 batteries. That’s because in order to stand a chance of completing Demon Turf, you have no other option but to replay levels.
Once you have usurped a Turf Boss, the zone world where they once ruled changes to make return trips to these areas more varied. While there may have been some mechanical and environmental changes to uncover on my return trip, aside from seeing Beebz posters everywhere, the action felt to me like more of the same back in a boring level design.
The platforming side of things is generally fine, but it can easily slide into knuckle-clenching fury. The art style, while eye-catching can also make depth perception awkward and I had to rely on using Beebz’s shadow to gauge where she was going to land. Traversal is done through your basic move set of jumps and double-jumps. You also have a spin move where you can cover more distance and when combined with your other jump moves you can pull off a few longer jumps and summersaults.
Wall grabs, wall jumps, and wall slides are another regular feature and extremely useful in reaching higher ground. Unfortunately, Beebz is quite a sticky character and if you jump anywhere vaguely near a wall she will either immediately cling to it like an anxiety-ridden Peter Parker, or violently ricochet off into the abyss.
In terms of level design there are the usual suspects of moving platforms, crumbling ledges, springy jumpy times and slippy icy slides. Then there are some fun variants with ledges that disappear when you jump, so you need to double-jump to make them reappear to land on. There are also self-propelled ledges that you need to operate by using your spin move. But in the dark recesses of my memory, I feel like these are not exactly revolutionary and I suspect similar platforms are used in the annals of Mario or indeed Sonic history.
Then there is the worst aspect of Demon Turf. The combat.
With other notable platform games that feature combat, you can usually kick, punch, jump on heads, or get your noisy backpack bird to rapid-fire eggs out of her beak?! Beebz however is restricted to a strange and rubbish version of “Mage Hand” where you effectively just push people about. This does not cause any damage to your foes as your aim is to try and slowly and inaccurately Subbuteo them into spike traps or push them off into the void.
One of the many issues with these combat sections is that the inertia from your magic hand push can also send you flying off into a spikey pit or gravity-induced demise. These combat sections are also unavoidable as you need to beat all the enemies in a combat zone to open new pathways in a level.
The Turf Boss fights are also wildly underwhelming and infuriating. At the start of each encounter, you receive a special item or ability, the first one being the ever-faithful platforming stalwart – the Hookshot. Other abilities include transforming into a speedy ouroboros snake which lets you wheel about, a spell for slowing down time and a glide and dash in the shape of a crow.
Initially these powers are introduced as a way of defeating the boss, and in the first fight with big-pig-thing Fredo, you do need to use the hookshot to pull him to pieces. Then for some reason with the other three Turf Bosses, combat reverts to the ridiculous Pushy McPush nonsense and your newly gained power is just a way of traversing the path to the battle arena.
There are a couple of interesting quirks.
The ability to set your own checkpoints marks this game out from other platforming predecessors and injects a degree of freedom and some strategic thinking into the gameplay. You have three checkpoint flags at the start of each level, which you can increase to four, and you can choose where and when to place them. With this you can really gamble with your ability, do I place a flag after doing a particularly tricky section so I don’t have to do it again if I fall, or do I push on and pray? I expect there’s an even bigger thrill to completing a level without putting down a single flag, but I’ve always been a fan of claiming territory so it was flags ahoy for me.
There’s also a loophole of sorts if you’re finding getting one, or a few, batteries difficult. Provided you have a decent stash of cake, you can use this to pay the Forktown “Resistance” to steal the battery for you. I did take advantage of this confection-based bribery for one of the levels, as trying to cross narrow-falling ledges in an almost pitch-black environment is not my idea of fun.
Sadly, much like Mario 64, Demon Turf will be a never have and never will complete kind of game. Overall, I sunk a good 11 hours of time and came away with 4 bosses beaten and a total of 30 batteries, but no real desire to continue any further.
I don’t want to mark a game down if the fault is more due to my own lack of skill, and if you enjoy 3D platformers then Demon Turf is a fairly decent but not very innovative example of the genre. There are trophies for speed-runners who are especially talented in hitting that parkour, along with other “entertainments” in the Hub area where you can engage in a push-and-pull game of “golf” or take part in a Photo Hunt for additional rewards.
In some ways Demon Turf is a strange TARDIS-like game in that on first impressions it feels quite small and compact. But actually, there’s quite a lot going on, and I wonder if this attempt to squeeze in more has had a detrimental impact on the core of the game.
If you’ve got the skills, then I’m sure Demon Turf can provide a few thrills. Despite the art direction and ability to set checkpoints, there’s nothing especially new or revolutionary to be found here as many of the standard platformer tropes are present. There are some genuinely fun moments when you do manage to line up a successful combination of jumps and spins and hit each landing with perfection. But for the most part I found this to be more of a frustration platformer wolf hiding in cutesy comic book sheep’s clothing.
Review code provided
Platform: PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo
Release Date: 04/11/2021
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, Action, Platformer
Publisher: Playtonic Games
Download link: US PSN / UK PSN