Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Coin-Op Review: 'Devil World' (1987)

It's a lot like Gauntlet ... except way, way shittier.

By: Jimbo X

It being Halloween and all, I figure now is a most opportune time to revisit an obscure, somewhat horror-themed arcade game, ain't it? Unfortunately, I picked Konami's Devil World at random and boy, did I get hosed

Also known as Maju no Okoku, Devil World is a game that doesn't even attempt to mask the fact it's ripping off a much better game. This is just a shameless, brazen swipe of Gauntlet, except inferior in just about every way you can think of. The graphics, the audio, the controls, the character design, the pace, the structure, hell, I'm pretty sure all the joysticks on the Devil World cabinets are stickier, too. It's a bad, bad game from one of the greatest developers in video game history, which is even more confounding because it was arguably right around their creative apex as designers; so, if nothing else, I guess we can't say it's not noteworthy for somethin'.

Now, this is the Japanese/European version of the game we're talking about here. The game was ported to U.S. arcades under an entirely different name, Dark Adventure, and it was WAY different. I mean, the levels were pretty much the same and the sprites didn't change, but the core gameplay was completely revamped. But yeah, we'll save the comparin' and contrastin' for the tail end of the article; for the time being, let's just dissect Devil World for what it is - and isn't - why don't we?

Alright, this here is a two-player game. You can either play as this Indiana Jones wannabe named Condor or some bitch in a pink dress named Labryna (pronounced "luh-brine-ugh," as the game's disembodied announcer will remind you over and over again.) Condor has a handgun, and Labryna is armed with a crossbow; beyond that, though, they play practically identically. 

Time for the prologue. Condor opens a tomb, a ghost jumps out and he and Labryna get sucked into the titular Devil World (not to be confused with Nintendo's entirely different Devil World, which was a Pac-Man clone about a crucifix-collecting dinosaur.) 

So here's the gist of the gameplay: seriously, it's fucking Gauntlet. You walk around, all these enemies try to kill you, you collect power ups, you fight bosses in dungeons and that's it. We begin the game in a green field, littered with stone pillars all over the place, with all these treasure chests made out of bones everywhere. So you kill the enemies (mostly, a bunch of green Minotaur guys and giant mud Golems) and you collect orbs, which are kinda' like the hearts in Castlevania because instead of healing you they just allow you to use your current weapon longer. Now, even though you start off with a crossbow or a gun, you can upgrade to more powerful weapons, including machine guns, flamethrowers, laser cannons and bazookas, plus you can pick up some secondary weapons like dynamite. The really weird thing is that you get to keep all five weapon types as you progress through the game, and every time you grab a power orb you get to quickly select which item you want to give more juice to. Of course, in the heat of battle you really don't have time to collect your wits and make a snap judgement on which weapon you want to re-up, so generally, you just wind up refueling your current weapon and don't even bother trying to ration anything.

But wait, I know you're thinking: how do you heal your character? Well, thankfully, plenty of power-up Coca-Cola cans are all over the place, so you're never really in that much jeopardy at any point in the game. And that's the perfect segue to my favorite thing about this otherwise shitty, shitty game: the announcer. Yes, this game features a really, really warbled voice doing play-by-play commentary for the entirety of the game. Even better, the audio stitching is absurdly delayed, so you'll have commentary strings that sound like this: "La-Brine-Ugh ... is given ... (literally a six second delay right here) ... food." It's probably the goddamn funniest thing I've ever heard in my life, and it's pretty much the *only* reason to even think about fishing this turd out of the .ROM folders.

So you get the key, you unlock the crypt doorknob, and that whisks you away to level two. It's another green field, with more bone chests and more Minotaurs (that are blue now.) Awesomely, using the flamethrower sets parts of the foreground on fire, and it stays on fire for a long time. But beyond that - eh, there's not really a whole lot to talk about here. You enter another crypt, and the screen urges you to "MOVE TO EYBENS." 

Yep, it's ANOTHER green field, with rock barricades and green elves lobbing hatchets at you. There's also a new enemy, these living trees that grab you and WILL NOT let you go for any reason ever. No, seriously, if you get caught in their clutches, they just hold on to you until you die, no matter how many times you hit the fire button, so be SUPER careful around these fucks. Even worse, you have to hit them about a billion times before they die, so these things are a strong candidate for most annoying enemy in any game ever - yes, even more annoying than that fucking eggplant motherfucker in Kid Icarus. Anyhoo, you keep doing the same thing you've been doing and eventually you find a shield, and then the screen tells you "MOVE TO DRAGON" and you have a boss fight against a two-headed dragon in a walled off, Zelda-esque room. Thankfully, it ain't too hard to kill, and that's our prompt to "MOVE TO NICOLIA."

Yes, it's the SAME backdrop as before - a lot of grass and rocks and shit. The Minotaurs are now grey and there are some trees (of the non-living variety) acting as foreground obstacles. You cross a rope bridge, kill some more Minotaurs and the announcer reminds you "key unlocks .... (literal five second pause) ... exit," just like he was Stevie from Malcolm in the Middle. So you get the key, you enter the crypt, and we "MOVE TO JOPLIN." Wait, like the city in Missouri?

Anyway, it's EXACTLY the same as the last four stages, so I don't know why I'm even bothering doing play-by-play anymore. The big difference here? The Minotaurs are red, and that's basically it. Then the game compels us to "MOVE TO KALAMAZOO." OK, now these people are just fucking with us now...

This is pretty much the entire game. Except without getting to experience the really, really shitty controls.

But hey, at least it gives us a new landscape! We're now inside a volcano, complete with chunks of molten lava balls flying everywhere. I guess now is a good time to let you know the music loops over and over, and periodically it just cuts off altogether for about a minute at a time. Then you fight ANOTHER two-headed dragon that looks just like the last two-headed dragon boss, and then you start wondering what the fuck you're doing with your life

Alright, so you find another key, unlock another crypt and we "MOVE TO PACIFICA." It's still in a volcano. You shoot bats, and you do some platforming across some moving rocks (PS: the jumping mechanics in this game are dog shit, so be prepared to overjump/underjump everything at least three or four times before you finally figure out just how much English you have to spin on it.) And also, the lava in these kinds of games always reminds me of lasagna, but asides

"MOVE TO KELARGO." You mean, like Key Largo? Eh, fuck this game's sense of humor. More bone boxes, and you have to deal with some new rat enemies. "MOVE TO LAROUX." Now you're on a rocky ledge, water is everywhere, bats are still chasing after you and what do you know, the stage concludes with yet another two-headed dragon boss fight, because fuck this game, that's why. 

"MOVE TO METROPOLIS" (and also, a lawsuit from D.C. Comics, if you keep it up.) Now we're inside a castle court, littered with blue Minotaurs, (non-living) tree obstacles, and more bone-boxes. Well, this game is shit to play, but at least it's fairly easy to describe. The castle here is actually pretty spacious - a nice-sized labyrinth, really. I got another really great announcer quip, too. "There is no escape, without ... (five second delay) ... a key."

"MOVE TO ESSES." The floor is green, the barriers are purple, some skeletons show up and so do some giant spiders. More bone boxes get broken, then we "MOVE TO ZARGOT." Time for more lava platforming, except now, each tile bounces up and down like a trampoline (you know, 'cause the jumping physics in this game weren't already screwy enough.) And after that, OF COURSE there's another fucking bi-headed dragon fight.

Now we "MOVE TO VEDA." The floating platforms are red, and you kill some spiders. "MOVE TO ENID." Now sentient maces attack you! Well, it's an original idea for an enemy, I'll give them that, at least.

And after that, we "MOVE TO BUNDRA," which thankfully, is the game's final stage. The floor is grey and these columns keep falling down in front of you. Then these giant rock monsters with six arms start shooting fireballs at you and the announcer yells "SPEED UP!" because you ain't killing them fast enough. The final boss fight is against this giant blue demon in a loincloth with Ronald McDonald's hairdo. "My friend will teach you a lesson!" the announcer warbles as these blinking blue Minotaurs start coming after you.

So they chase you around for a bit. There are no other props or obstacles in the room. After you kill them you get to finally go one-on-one with the end boss. Shoot him enough times, he turns into a statue and crumbles apart. The floor blinks red, you turn white and are transported on top of the Statue of Liberty, for whatever reason. And then the game concludes by giving you this grammatically correct message that still doesn't make a damn lick of sense:

So, uh, is that supposed to be a metaphor for something?

Apparently, there's also a "bad ending" you can get where your character winds up stuck on a raft in the middle of an ocean instead, but like I'm going to squander an afternoon replaying this one anytime soon. So back to Dark Adventure (a.k.a, the "Americanized" version of the game.) Aesthetically and structurally it's the same thing as Devil World, but with some MAJOR gameplay alterations. For starters, instead of being a projectile based game, it becomes a melee weapon based game. Condor's pistol gets swapped out for a whip, that one bitch's crossbow is traded for a sword, and there's a third playable character not included in the Japanese/European iteration named Zorlock who looks like a British professor and has a spear. And like in Castlevania, you can upgrade your weapon to increase its range (complete with the announcer quipping "Condor, your whip is longer") and there are a couple of sub-weapons littering the playing space, too. But beyond that, the game are pretty much one and the same. And in case you are wondering, the audio stitching in Dark Adventure is WAY better than in Demon World, even though the commentary remains hilariously garbled (albeit, without the insanely long pauses anymore.)

So, is there any reason to experience this game? Eh, not really, unless you want to see how a company can make one really great arcade horror game one year and then turn around and trot out a colossal coin-op clump of crap during the same 365-day window. It's hardly anything more than a subpar Gauntlet wannabe, and you're way better off playing stuff like Smash TV or Total Chaos or ESPECIALLY Mercs instead. Yes it's obscure and it's quirky and it's way off the beaten path, but none of those "qualities" make Devil World worth a shit; all in all, this is just a bad game, plain and simple, and it ain't worth wastin' anybody's time.


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