I rented my share of dud video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System when I was a kid, but sometimes I'd rent a game I couldn't quite crack, and my need to figure it out would drive me to rent it again and again. Sometimes it's for compellingly bad reasons like with what happened with Back to the Future Part II and III, but sometimes it's for good reasons. Consider 1989's Clash at Demonhead that was somewhat ahead of its time in terms of level progression, power-ups, and storyline. This was a game that played out more like an episodic animated adventure with talkative supporting characters and a series of Mega Man Robot Master-type bosses with lots in the charisma department. Over at Kotaku, Peter Tieryas reminds us all why Clash at Demonhead is one of the console's unsung greats.
Similar to some of my favorite games of the era like Zelda II, The Battle of Olympus, and Goonies II, Clash’s sidescrolling action has areas you can tackle in any order you’d like. The overworld map consists of 42 routes. The routes generally have you going from one end to the other, clearing out enemies, and procuring wads of cash. Some of the areas have multiple levels that take you up into the mountains, sink down into the ocean depths, and barely cross deadly lava pits.
The navigation can be a bit confusing on the overworld map since the actual routes only have their numbers show up if you’ve selected the area (I wish, similar to the way it is in Bionic Commando, destinations could have had numbers on top of them). In this case, a trusty paper-and-pen come in handy to chart the way. To alleviate some of the difficulties of backtracking, which you’ll have to do quite a bit, you gain special Force powers from a magical Hermit that allows teleportation to any route Bang has finished.
I think what really ensnared me was the massive for it's time collection of power-up suits that allowed the hero Bang to fly, jump higher, swim, survive in lava, and so much more. Each suit offered a different key utility that was essential in some levels and useless in others, and the trick was to accumulate these suits and choose when to deploy them at the optimum time. Talk about replay value! Usually the progression in games like these was to constantly grow stronger in a one-way path. Bigger guns, better shields, etc. In Clash, the suits could be swapped out when needed to boost Bang's stats in one manner while potentially decreasing them in another. For me at the time, it was a revelation. The problem was that the game could be unrelentingly difficult if I wandered off the assumed path and it was easy to end up at a dead end where I needed an ability I hadn't unlocked yet and would have to backtrack across an area I'd only just barely survived the first time. I really should revisit it as an adult armed with more patience and trusty save states.