Marketed as “The 3D Platformer with Attitude!”, Demon Turf was revealed early last year as the next in line from Slime San developer Fabraz. Although the platforming genre is admittedly quite crowded, the reveal trailer showcased an art direction rarely attempted. The teaser no doubt helped this game stand out from the crowd. Instead of shooting for a low poly or modern aesthetic, Demon Turf features a 2D character traversing a fully 3D environment. It’s quite an ambitious project for a small, Western-led team, and that alone deserves props. Style isn’t everything, however. Fortunately for us, this unique art direction isn’t the only risk Demon Turf takes that pays off in spades.
Players take charge of demoness Beebz as she makes her way through various “turfs” (hub worlds) in an attempt to conquer their leaders and, ultimately, take on the Demon King after being taunted by him in a dream (which also serves as the tutorial). She may be 1000 years old, but she has all the spunk and sass of a teenager. You’ll be accompanied by a dorky sidekick known as Midgi, who bares more than a passing resemblance to the kappa demons of Japanese legend. Although the plot is not the main focus of a game like this, what’s here is unique enough, and the dialogue has its moments of tongue-in-cheek humor. In addition, there’s a surprising amount of NPCs to chat with within each hub area as well as the primary levels themselves if you’re so inclined to stop and smell the roses, and some of them even have optional quests for you to take on (More on this later).
At its core, Demon Turf brings the hardcore, precision-based platforming of the dev’s previous title and plops it into the third dimension. Beebz has a fully-fledged moveset to work with, drawing some similarities to the 3D Mario titles. Triple jumps, wall jumps, and sideways somersaults will all be familiar to anyone who’s touched a big Mario adventure from the past 25 years. On top of this, Beebz can transform into an adorable little bat that twirls around with the tap of the shoulder button, and this serves as not only a double jump but a sort of hover as well. If that weren’t enough, you could jump out of this form to perform a gap-clearing super jump that is incredibly fun. Games like this ultimately live or die based on their movement tech, and Demon Turf nails it. Although there is a bit of a learning curve involved with handling a 2D character in a 3D world (I can’t stress the importance of watching your shadow during the game’s platform-heavy moments), it’s a blast once you get the hang of it.
Interestingly, Demon Turf does not have the traditional checkpointing system you would ordinarily find in a 3D platformer. Instead, you’re tasked with placing your own. Self-Checking adds an exciting dynamic to the game, as well as a risk-and-reward system for first-time players who don’t have prior knowledge of stage layouts. Do you stick a flag right before a seemingly tricky portion of the stage, or hold off and see if you can do it without a safety net? The choice is ultimately yours, and this system works out wonderfully for the most part. It’s easy to self-sabotage a run by placing checkpoints too early (or too late), but the game, fortunately, eases you into this concept by suggesting points of interest in the first couple of worlds. Even better is that you’re allowed to teleport between them once they’re placed, making backtracking for collectibles and side quests less tedious.
While the core gameplay is rock solid and the DIY approach to checkpoints adds a unique touch, unfortunately, the elephant in the room needs addressing- the combat (and, by extension, bosses). I’ll give the dev props- they (yet again) took a creative approach to it. Instead of directly damaging enemies, Beebz is smacking them around with blue shockwaves. Whenever you enter a designated “Combat Zone,” you’re tasked with either pushing enemies off the arena or into spikes. Using the environment to dispatch foes could have made for some interesting situations, but even after several hours in, lining up attacks and successfully driving monsters into their demise just felt awkward. It also doesn’t help that these Combat Zones often take place inside tight corridors and that these corridors just so happen to be the place where the (otherwise fine) camera gets snagged.
To elaborate on the bosses, they’re mainly of the “puzzle” variety. Before each encounter, your new transformations will aid in dispatching them (and as an asset in upcoming stages). It’s a particularly odd design choice, and while you’re given a sort of tutorial before each fight, I can’t help but wish that these were introduced organically throughout the course of regular gameplay. That way, the player would have time to get accustomed to each new mechanic before being tested on it. For example, I never truly felt comfortable with the Hookshot, the Kirby-Esque wheel, or bird powerups until after the boss fights when I could adequately experiment with them in the main levels.
Fortunately, the combat and boss battles only make up a tiny portion of this robust package. Even after beating the main game, I was stunned at how much Demon Turf continued to surprise me. The side, as mentioned earlier, quests are numerous and meaningful. First, there’s a Photo Gallery in Forktown (the game’s central hub) that rewards players for making good use of the game’s photo mode. You’ll be awarded sweets for snapping photos of points of interest throughout the various hubs and stages, which in turn you exchange for customization items. Then there’s an arcade in town that offers different stages that are loving recreations of various courses from Super Mario 64 and the Super Mario Galaxy games with a few added wrinkles. If that weren’t enough, all of the Trial stages from last year leading up to the release of the entire game are here to take on. Last but not least, each stage has a speedrunning trophy to obtain (even the remixed “Return Trip” levels). Completionists and speedrunners alike will have a hell of a field day with all of this.
In sum, Demon Turf is quite possibly the best indie 3D platformer to hit the scene since A Hat in Time. While it’s not anywhere near as beginner-friendly as the latter title, players who are willing to adapt to the game’s somewhat steep learning curve and forgive the lackluster combat will find a lot to love. The game is currently available for $24.99 across all major platforms. While it’s (unfortunately) digital-only at the time of writing, I do not doubt that the game gets picked up for a physical release in the future.