|It wasn't always so easy to find a platform game on the NES that could suck you right in with it's versatile gameplay and non-stop pacing. Sure, the Mario series of platformers was impressive and lengthy, but it always seemed too cartoony to take seriously. Then along comes Demon Sword in '89, with its rich fantasy world and extensive gameplay options. Sadly, by this time the NES was beginning to show its age, and everyone knew stronger, more robust consoles were on the horizon. I propose that Demon Sword was one of the games that did push the NES to its limits, and comes up with a relatively decent game in doing so. Just don't expect a very immersive experience--the game's waaaay too short to get too involved.
Demon Sword takes place in a world rich with the textures and visuals of some ancient, East Asian culture, like China or Japan. One look at any of the buildings you come across--or even, looking at the hero himself--and you'll realize this is a land of samurai, ninja, and the horrible creatures of Asian folklore. Each stage you traverse is distinct and varied, offering the player a great variety of locales to leap across. Trying to stop you along the way is a collection of varied enemies, so what you're fighting never gets too repetitive. Slash down anything from skeletal and zombified warriors, to star-throwing ninja-women, to lightning fast ""demon dogs."" The bosses are quite big, and meticulously detailed. The only let-down in this department is with the cut-scenes between each chapter (and this is merely a personal pet-peeve of mine, actually); it appears as though Conan the Barbarian is watching some skull-headed falcon fly off with some jewel into the distance. I pictured the hero of the story coming from East Asia--not East Germany.
The sound effects and music for this game are also done rather well. Each swing of your ever-growing blade produces a satisfying ""ssshing!"" The title screen, I maintain, has some of the eeriest action music I've ever heard...it actually sounds like a sample is being played backwards. Each stage has distinct, action-oriented music, to accompany your exploits of slashing and shuriken-throwing. The distinctive Oriental vibe of each tune helps further cement the locale to the ancient Far East. Sound and music were very effectively conditioned for this title, indeed.
Well, I had to be brutal somewhere, didn't I? Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of elements that make this an effective action title. First off, the character leaps through each level like you wouldn't believe--he's obviously the origination of the nickname ""grasshopper."" Powerups abound: red orbs will heal you, black orbs will add more strength to your hero (although you don't activate these powerups until you actually lose all your health--what's up with that?). A phoenix token will rescue you on chapter 1, where bottomless pits await you under every bridge (but what about the other levels? It's like they forgot about them or something). You have a selection of three different spells you can cast, each one producing a wave of impenetrable deadly force or simply killing everything that moves on-screen. On top of that, you can turn invincible and split into three identical heroes, shoot shuriken in four different directions, and lengthen your sword to become a five-tined Blade of Overkill. What does this all add up to? An enemy- and level-designer about ready to jump off a building! Seriously, with so many options afforded to the player, there's very little challenge. The levels are all very attractive, creative, and well-designed, but the player basically blurs over them with leaps and super-speed. The bosses? They're a cake-walk (except for chapter 2's mini-boss: the White Robed Death Guy. Avoid him and his impossible-to-block spinning staff at all costs. I'm serious!). If you can't slash them, then blast them with spells or distance-kill with shuriken. If they ever attack you with a bolt of energy or a spell, simply swing your sword and it's nullified. Most people would complain that the controls suck in NES platformers, but in this one, the controls and options make the game just too easy for the player. And another thing...Since the game's so easy to beat, it'll take less than an hour to do so. That's a terrible shame, especially for a game that looks and sounds so good.
This action-packed platformer really does deliver, but in an itty-bitty package. The multitude of options available for the player means that many different styles of gameplay can be experimented with, each with successful results. Wandering through the mythic landscape can be a great joy to those looking for some old-school eye-candy. That being said, the serious gamer will not spend much time at all beating this one; any difficulty is left in the dust by the ""Monty Haul"" assortment of power-ups the player eventually collects. And by the time you're really getting into the story, it's already over. You realize you just beat the last boss and won. It's a victory before you know it.
Taito really did the Legend of Kage proud by updating it's engine and producing Demon Sword from it's ashes. Unfortunately, I imagine it turned out to be a project just too intense for the hardware the makers put it on. I'm really stretching my imagination here, but I think that if this game had been released on the Super Nintendo instead, it would have been at least three times as long, even more gorgeous, and with sound that could bring tears to your eyes it was so moving. It would have rivaled the CastleVania series. Alas, that was not meant to be, and Demon Sword was released as an aging dynasty was nearing its end, and developers had maxed-out graphical and sound production on a system that could only handle so much. It's a case of plenty of bells & whistles, but not much depth--but only because you can only fit so much into a game pak.