Devil World (NES) review
"Satan may steeple his fingers with reserved glee every time a company releases the next Vice City, but deep down, we all know that the Prince of Darkness has a soft spot for the classics. Even in the early 1980s, he was busy at work planting the seeds of moral destruction in games like Pong and Pitfall!, or so the radical right will have you hear. And boy, was his mean streak really showing the day E.T. hit stores! But of all the gaming waters the devil has tainted with his poison fingertip, thi..."
Satan may steeple his fingers with reserved glee every time a company releases the next Vice City, but deep down, we all know that the Prince of Darkness has a soft spot for the classics. Even in the early 1980s, he was busy at work planting the seeds of moral destruction in games like Pong and Pitfall!, or so the radical right will have you hear. And boy, was his mean streak really showing the day E.T. hit stores! But of all the gaming waters the devil has tainted with his poison fingertip, this mortal weakness of his for video games is exemplified no better than in an olden Japanese game made by Nintendo called Devil World. Here, the father of sin gets to show his influence in a more direct way by taking up the starring role in his own game.
Not being any stranger to wrongdoing, it's obvious from the start that Satan has shamelessly plagiarized his own game from Pac-Man, one of the greatest and most enduring arcade hits of all time. He's added a few choice elements of his own to mix things up a bit though. The most obvious is the transformation of Pac-Man's trademark power pills into understated crucifixes, which are the source of your decidedly Bub-like protagonist's incredible Christian powers. Without a cross or a Bible hovering in front of your reptilian form (as the situation warrants), you can't even pop the most basic of pills. Collect one, however - they're all over the maze, you can't miss them - and the holy celestial power of a million seraphim comes streaming out from your body in the form of a tiny but mighty fireball that can vanquish even the most relentless demons.
Devil World alternates between three different styles of play, with the three distinct parts all forming a single round. The first part of each round plays out as if Pac-Man and The Exorcist got married with children. Familiarity will wash over you as you navigate your dinosaur through winding corridors constructed of shiny solid blocks, a sharp contrast to Pac-Man's neon rods. Unlike the yellow circle, movement to the other side of the screen via instant warp is rather inhibited. Best of all, the almighty Dark Lord, ever-present at the top of the stage, is himself in control of two minions who operate pulleys that move the maze in all different directions. True to his moniker as the Author of All Lies, you've got to keep your eyes on him at all times; if he points up, his imps will move the maze downward. Similarly, pointing left sends the maze to the right. And of course, so on and so forth. During the times when the maze moves, you must drop everything you're doing just to avoid getting ruthlessly crushed between the inexorably crawling edge of the maze and a hard wall.
Completing this task brings on a more tongue-in-cheek variation on the Pac-Man theme where you must hunt down four floating Bibles and deposit them in a central box of evil (confirmed by that most ubiquitous symbol of evil in Western society - a skull-and-crossbones) in order to triumph over the highest of evils and cause him to scurry off into the night on wings of vampire bats. The religious theme stays prevalent in both divisions of the round, but it's nearly impossible to get offended by something like this. With the lord of the underworld clad in red underwear and waving his arms in a manic fashion and cycloptic lesser demons toddling after you with no conviction in their footsteps whatsoever, it almost feels right to laugh it straight into the ground.
Pass these two tests and Satan, who judging by his melodramatic exit has watched one too many black and white Dracula flicks, will bow out for a moment to allow you a few seconds in a chaotic bonus game that is rendered pointless by how short is but is completely free of his influence. Unfortunately, without Satan around to shift the level on its axis and send his comical forces at you in pairs and triads, the game loses that spark of charm that it had, and before even the seconds entailed by the bonus game have passed, you feel the mouth of monotony breathing its chilly smoke down your neck for the first time. (Believe me, this is the toughest thing that I, having been reared by Pentecostal doctrine since I was eight, have had to admit up to this point in my life.)
From this point forward it's easy to tell how the game will pan out. Where it stumbles most noticeably is at the fork in the road where it parts ways with Pac-Man and the overtones it took from its distant relative. Trading in timelessness for cornball novelty, Devil World consigns itself to mediocrity after just a few short rounds of mind-numbing routine. It's slow beyond belief and never speeds up, and its enemies drag their feet too much to create the kind of tension that the yellow dot-gobbler was able to. Pac-Man's foes were always on the move and stepped it up a notch with each passing level; the Christian dinosaur plods along as if wearing boots made of glue, and his most imminent threat in any one stage is the walls grinding him into paste rather than running into one of the two denizens of this labyrinthine hell.
Regardless, Devil World is good for a few minutes worth of entertainment every once in a while, whether serious or not. It puts a few interesting ideas on the table (adding an active element of action to the Pac-Man formula via the spewing of fire from tiny crosses with the A button, varied level goals, bonus rounds, etc.), but doesn't have the courage to follow through on their potential and ends up becoming an apology for itself. Think of the bully who, after having his hard exterior chipped away at by a relentless therapist, reneges on his former ways and - for lack of a more delicate term - goes soft. So it is that Devil World's true colors are exposed by this simple analogy. What might have been a game that displayed clever uses for a maze runner with a religious bent gets stranded in an ocean of standard fare, its then-touchy Christian elements wasted in a boring, quiet action game that is destined to get shelved along with misfires like Nuts & Milk that are only a glimmer in the eye, seen as a quirk of the way the Japanese mind works.
One thing that bugged me, though; if Satan really did make a game starring himself, why would he put himself on the losing side, to be defeated by someone who would go on to be famous for trapping evil wind-up toys in soap bubbles? I batted away the dusty cobwebs of my brain and only found one hypothesis worth postulating: maybe he peeked at the end of the Book only to learn that the good guys win. I think it's safe to say that would take the wind out of any evil being's sails.
Community review by snowdragon (April 18, 2004)
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