Vic Tokai brought a bunch of games out to the West that were pure Japanese games at heart, and one of them is Clash at Demonhead, a challenging action-adventure platformer with enough charm to win your heart and addictive gameplay that will bring you back for more.
You might recognize the name from Scott Pilgrim. Indeed, the band in the series, The Clash at Demonhead, takes their inspiration from this game and the band appears in both the film adaptation and the videogame version of Scott Pilgrim versus the World.
Released in January 1990 for the NES by Vic Tokai, Clash at Demonhead is the localization of the Japanese game Dengeki Big Bang!. For its time Clash at Demonhead introduced concepts that were quite advanced, including open-ended gameplay options and an almost “Metroidvania” layout.
As Billy “Big Bang” Blitz, players can run, gun, and jump their way through a variety of stages that allows the player to upgrade weapons and character attributes as the game progresses.
The open-ended gameplay aspect is demonstrated in the 40 routes the player can take to reach endgame goal, with backtracking and exploration encouraged. The game’s graphics are bright and detailed, featuring large sprites and detailed backgrounds for a late NES-era title. The sound effects are not particularly lovable but they are competent. Each sound is crisp and clear and appropriately reflects what it is supposed to signify.
The music is all over the place. Some tunes will grate on your nerves and others are pretty epic explorations of what the NES can do. Gyrating between Final Fantasy fare and Z-list platformer tunes, the game is quite uneven in this regard. Some of the stages would be better served with silence but really the game offers some great platformer action. Music shouldn’t be a bar to the experience.
One thing players will notice is the significant slowdown the game undergoes when a lot of sprites are on the screen. Because the game is so detailed in each sprite, and the sprites themselves are so large, it is quite taxing for the NES hardware. The slowdown is noticeable and probably makes the video game more difficult than it should be in certain places. But really this game is all about challenge and old school fun.
When it was released critics were really harsh on the game, and rightly so – arriving so late in the NES lifespan, some of the flaws were a little glaring. Like many NES games it is needlessly opaque in its presentation and the player often has to use some kind of warped sense of intuition to figure out where to go next.
All in all, though, it’s a masterful experience by modern standards because it is an early representation of so many video game givens that we take for granted now. Open-world gameplay was unheard of back in the early 1990s, and the marriage of Metroid and Castlevania had not yet occurred so that type of neologism didn’t even exist. This game adapted so many interesting things into a very coherent package.
As for its difficulty and somewhat esoteric presentation, this is the NES. That was the way it was. While the later NES titles avoided this to a greater extent, some of the early classics on the system not only featured this heavily but relied upon it. Classic gameplay isn’t made in handholding, but in giving the player a unique experience and in that regard Clash at Demonhead is both modern and classic at the same time.