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Daemon Detective Gaiden (PC) artwork

Daemon Detective Gaiden (PC) review

"Supernatural Mario Bros."

Daemon Detective Gaiden (PC) image

When a game makes conspicuous references to older IPs, alarms go off in my head: "RED ALERT. RED ALERT. Mediocre experience impending. Brace for apathy!" My experiences with such titles often consist of loads of hat tips attached to a dry genre exercise. Perhaps you can imagine, then, the sort of buzzing and bright flashing lights that went on in my psyche when I began the indie "faux-retro" title Daemon Detective Gaiden and beheld a most shocking resemblance: I shattered bricks with my head, nabbed coins, and transformed into various creatures and warrior classes via plants hidden within metal boxes. In response to this sight, several tornado warnings and blizzard advisories sounded in my noggin. I tensed up and trucked on in the hopes that maybe developer Yal had made the best of this ballsy callback.

Oh, but the shenanigans didn't stop there...

Along the way, I became Simon Belmont, donned an arm blaster like Mega Man (though I looked more like Ellen Ripley), faced Death atop a clock tower, belched flames in a pattern similar to Bowser, and even recruited a maiden who could float like Princess Peach. Deep in my mind, someone declared a state of emergency, fired up air raid sirens, and proclaimed that Third Impact had begun.

So I sat there, tensed into a ball and awaiting the inevitable banality, continuing to push my way through the campaign. The solid mechanics, which are fittingly loose and occasionally slippery when need be, helped me get through the worst of it. Slowly, my muscles slackened. Mediocrity never showed its face, and was replaced by something I hadn't encountered in a reference-laden independent production in ages: charm.

Daemon Detective Gaiden is unapologetically silly, cute without being sugary, and chuckle-worthy without resorting to opulent crass humor. Its web comic-like cutscenes show off snark and wit, which bolster the game's wonderfully upbeat score and intentionally antiquated presentation. Unlike other recent platformers, this one doesn't opt for brighter visuals or super crisp high definition. It sticks closer to the old games it references, although it looks a tad closer to an old Amiga or Commodore 64 piece than anything found on NES. Everything comes together in a way that reminds you what the platformer genre used to consist of: swift little challengers with an infectious amount of goofiness and sweetness, but not so much that you feel you might expire from diabetic shock.

Daemon Detective Gaiden (PC) image

For those among you that haven't toyed around much with this genre, heed my warning and don't let the apparent innocence fool you. It's a smoke screen designed to throw you off your guard. One minute you're snorting over something silly the protagonist Yal just said and the next you're dodging myriad axes tossed by vicious Minotaur foes. You'll be giggling over Yal's feminine cat transfiguration, then crying foul as the game thrusts you into a segment where you must leap up towards numerous platforms that are already crowded with foes.

To say that Daemon Detective Gaiden is a face-breaker wouldn't be entirely fair. The game's difficulty rating starts off mellow when set to "normal," but progressively climbs with each passing stage. In that way, it's a good teacher. It familiarizes you with the concept of timing your hops, advancing cautiously, and minding your angling when flying through the air. Learn from these lessons and you might also survive the crazy gauntlets the game has in store for you in its latter phases.

Of course, you probably won't find the game too difficult if you only plow you way to the finish line. If anything stole the show for me, it was the age old platformer trope of collecting specially hidden items. In this case, each level contains three paintings for you to secure, each of which is located at the end of a chain of challenges, all of which come about because of the game's wonderful blueprint. You see, Daemon Detective Gaiden doesn't sport your run-of-the-mill, straightforward stage designs. Each level packs deceptively hidden tunnels, towering ascents, and seemingly inaccessible chambers full of adversaries and traps, all of which lead to the aforementioned artwork. Swiping these puppies is not merely a matter of gunning for the goods and running away--at least not most of the time. The game presents these challenges as problems to solve or puzzles to overcome, with some trial and error involved. You'll find yourself questioning how to approach a pathway choked with enemies, or what the best possible method could be for leaping from one platform to another where there's little head room.

Daemon Detective Gaiden (PC) image

All this praise couldn't come without some ragging. The game doesn't drop the ball very often, but there is one scene with a pair of side-by-side platforms that don't register when you jump on them. Rather, you drop through them and into a fiery soup beneath them. Thankfully, that particular route is non-essential. There are also few other irksome sections that involve using the cat costume, which allows you to climb walls. It's problematic when you attempt to ascend walls near moving platforms, because said objects tend to take you with them. During one segment, I descended a wall, pressed slightly against a platform below me. When that mass started floating away from the wall, I went along with it. Jutting awkwardly from the top of it, I soon collided with another brick above the one that was carrying me and perished because the game ruled the collision a crushing death (though it clearly wasn't). Call me crazy, but I don't think that's how moving platforms are supposed to operate.

The only other warning I'll give you regards a feature I rather liked, but which may not work for everyone: boss encounters. Rather than memorizing patterns so you can jump on a boss three-five times, thereby somehow killing it, you engage such villains in scrolling shooter dog fights. Yeah, if you happen to love platformers, but hate shmups, then Daemon Detective Gaiden's rogues gallery might be a deal breaker for you, especially once said scuffles become full-on bullet hells in the latter half of the game.

Daemon Detective Gaiden (PC) image

Hopefully you can tolerate such segments, though, because otherwise you'll miss out on a terrific platformer that throws references in your face, but features both a well-built engine and a great campaign to back them up. Although it's not without a few bugs, the game is almost entirely stable and features a fair challenge rating and familiar enough mechanics that old guys like me probably won't need the level one tutorial. Don't let the genre's current saturation and endless wave of banal, wanna-be vintage titles scare you out of downloading Daemon Detective Gaiden.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (August 26, 2015)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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