As a preteen I often rented a strange little Nintendo Entertainment System title called Clash at Demonhead. Nintendo Power coverage made it look especially compelling; I'm an easy mark for games starring charismatic characters romping through side-scrolling platformer worlds. I never did finish it (nor did I get very far, really; it was a challenging game in the style of Metroid and I often was more interested in playing with the game's extensive item inventory of jetpacks, wetsuits, jump boots, and more), but USgamer's recent look back at the game as part of its Daily Classics series has me wanting to take another look at it with older, more experienced eyes. Here's Jeremy Parish waxing nostalgic on the adventures of Billy "Bang" Blitz:
A surface reading of Clash at Demonhead might suggest a game that played like a more fanciful version of a James Bond spy tale, with the quest for a lost professor leading to a race to deactivate a planet-shattering doomsday device. Aside from the fact that Bang's nemeses took the form of bizarre, inhuman creatures (besides the skeletal Guycot, Bang also battled a raging panda, a mushroom person, and more), Clash's plot fell very much into the epic secret agent mold. Yet its whimsical, anime-influenced presentation took the edge off the drama, rendering it very much as a broad comedy with a few dramatic elements.
The wackiness frequently bled beyond the borders of the cutscenes and dialogue sequences (helpfully labelled as "TALKING TIME") and into the actual game mechanics. Shoot an ally character and they'd complain by way of a word balloon emblazoned with the word NO; return to where Bang's comrade was betrayed and murdered and the poor fellow's corpse would become progressively more decomposed (but cartoonishly so) with each visit. The plot's increasingly loopy twists and double-crosses went down more easily thanks to the fever delirium with which they were presented, and the loose, imperfect platforming shooting became a little easier to forgive because of the gung-ho style of the art and narrative.
Like I said, it's the characters that brought me back to Demonhead time and again. Nintendo Power really made them come alive with their original artwork. Check out this piece of the coverage from the May/June 1989 issue and marvel at these bosses. Who wouldn't want to face them in battle and learn their secrets? They're so intriguing!
There was never a Clash at Demonhead 2, but the game's spirit lives on in similar titles from that era and beyond that built on what it established. Perhaps it was just ahead of its time.