Monday, November 05, 2007
Virtual Console Review - Devil's Crush
Devil's Crush - Naxat Soft for Turbografx-16 - 10/10
How's this for you? I felt generous enough to take screenshots of the entire playfield of this game. Something like this should be standard for any video pinball game, especially the ones with larger, multi-screen boards.
Devil's Crush is my favorite Turbografx game. It's also somewhere on my short list of all-time favorite videogames. I remember trying it for the first time back around 1991. I owned a Sega Genesis, and this kid at school had a Turbo. We made a temporary arrangement and swapped consoles. My friends and I enjoyed a mix of titles, including Bonk's Adventure, Military Madness, Dragon's Curse, and Alien Crush. The best of them all was Naxat's Devil's Crush.
This was Naxat's second pinball game for the Turbo, the first being Alien Crush. That game was one of the original launch titles from 1989, and was a decent show-off game. It was pretty good fun, even if extended periods of time revealed the gameplay to be shallow. Clearly, Naxat was taking extensive notes for their sequel.
Devil's Crush is the definitive video pinball game. It was light years beyond everything that ever came before, and it proved so overpowering that no one has ever really tried to top it. Really, the only pinball games to appear in the succeeding years were straightforward, more, ahem, "realistic" pinball sims. Sega wisely paid tribute with their excellent Pinball of the Dead on Gameboy Advance, hewing tightly to Naxat's standard from a decade earlier.
Many pinball games tried to incorporate videogame elements, but most of them felt tacked on. Most of them were good, but not really inspired. Something was missing; that spark was lacking. Revenge of the Gator on Gameboy; Dino Land on Genesis; Pinball Quest on NES. These are some good examples, but they were yesterday's games. Devil's Crush was the evolutionary leap, the best fusion of the two entertainment realms.
The idea of taking a large pinball board and littering it with game characters is practically standard today, but here was the first game to ever really do it. I'm amazed that they managed to get it right. Naxat must have playtested until their fingers bled. It's not unlike playing on some old, neglected pinball machine, one that's become overrun by spiders and ants and hoards of creepy, crawly things. What a brilliant notion.
Is there a more stereotypical "heavy metal" videogame than Devil's Crush? I can't think of it. Skulls, monsters, bats, hooded monks, weird frog things. Ronnie James Dio would love this game. I'm pretty sure this is what the world inside his head looks like that. In fact, you may want to find an old vinyl copy of Holy Diver to spin while you're playing. I see vinyl copies of Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell all over the place for five bucks a pop. You should seriously consider that idea.
But then, I suppose, you'd be forced to turn the music down. So much for that idea. Here is one of the most celebrated game soundtracks of all time. The main board features only one song, a long and mean slice of heavy metal guitar rock heaven. It was the Turbografx's finest hour. Some classic gamers may insist that, nay, this is the greatest game soundtrack ever made. If that were put to me, I don't know where I'd fall down. Really don't. If the Devil's Crush theme isn't number one, it sure as hell deserves to be lurking close.
All of this underscores the basic fact - and this is one of those stupid videogame review cliches that I hate to repeat - that the gameplay trumps everything. This is a masterful game of pinball. The action is fast, the tension is deep, your reflexes are always tested. The board design takes after the more modern pinball games, with multiple goals and objectives. Ironically, this was done in an effort to defend pinball against the onslaught of the video games, which cut deeply into their territory.
In addition to the three-screen table, with its multiple secrets and tasks, there are numerous bonus boards, where you must destroy various foes. This is a continuation from what Naxat did in Alien Crush, only more intense and more challenging. Apparantly, you can actually "defeat" the board and win the game by winning all the bonus rounds, but I've never come any close. The only time I saw this was via cheat code for Technosoft's Genesis version - an excellent translation, by the way, even if I still prefer the original. I'm enough of a fan that I'd gladly pay for that version as well. But Technosoft is one of Virtual Console's greatest holdouts, and that's another story for another day.
Another dim-witted cliche, another truth: every gamer deserves to have Devil's Crush in his or her library. You wanted a novel experience? Desperate for more instant arcade thrills? Try this.