The Nintendo Entertainment System continues to amaze me, almost 30 years after the fact. Exhibit A: Clash at Demonhead. I first ran across this game a few years ago while shopping for NES games on eBay. The game cover immediately jumped out at me. Take a look at that cover art for a second -- there is no denying this is one awesome-looking game.
But cover art was notorious for being very misleading back then, and I expected the game to feature exactly none of the action depicted here. Still...the cover is badass, and enticed me enough to purchase the game (which is insanely cheap btw).
Having zero knowledge about the game, I popped the cartridge in without expecting much. And boy was I in for a surprise, as Clash at Demonhead preceded to take me on a wildly addictive non-linear adventure for several hours.
Our hero is Billy "Big Bang" Blitz (just call him Bang), who works for S.A.B.R.E. (Special Assault Brigade for Real Emergencies). While on vacation he gets an emergency call that Professor Plum has been kidnapped. Plum created the Doomsday Bomb, so it's up to Bang to stop the kidnappers from obtaining it.
Along the way Bang finds out that the kidnappers are the Seven Governors, led by a skeleton named Tom Guycot. Bang learns that the Doomsday Bomb is controlled by seven medallions, which are in the possession of each of the governors. Bang will have to travel across Demonhead to find them.
Gameplay is a lot like the Mega Man series, where the platforming consists of a lot of jumping and climbing while avoiding attacks and shooting at a plethora of enemies. But it takes on a more Metroidvania style, a genre coined for blending 2-D scrolling action in a non-linear world. And just like Mega Man games, it's a very hard, punishing game that will have you dying often and repeating areas. Enemies can be unpredictable and can easily knock you down a pit, where you'll survive the fall but have to fight your way out of a cave and try again.
Thankfully you'll get a ton of items to help you through the terrain of Demonhead. And these items may just be the most awesome items found in any NES game...ever! We're talking Power Boots and Aqualungs, Barriers and Microrecorders...and the best of all: a Jetpack that lets you fly and a Supersuit that let's you swim in freaking lava! Sure, you might only use the Supersuit once or twice but it's still cool as hell. And the Jetpack might possibly be the sweetest looking 8-bit costume I've ever seen. It's purely amazing.
Once you get over the awesomeness of this equipment (I never will), prepare for a decently long adventure. Playing without a walkthrough will add several hours, and if you take your time and "farm" certain areas for cash the game can easily take as long as 20 hours to beat -- an insane amount of time for an NES game.
However, you may have to give in to some sort of guide at certain points, as the game can become confusing as hell. You really have to memorize every zone on the map and take note of the inaccessible areas you'll need to come back to later. Even then, it's quite possible you'll pass over a small pocket of water that is actually a gateway to another area. It might be fun to spend a long time finding the next area, but it can also be extremely aggravating as well.
You will also have to beat some tough bosses to progress along the way. Some of them are easy, but many of them can be an absolute nightmare, especially when they seem to take a zillion hits before dying. You're going to want to use the Barrier skill to survive, and Thundershot is the most useful weapon in the game. Make sure to stock up on these! There is one boss called The Demon that you won't be able to even kill until you find the Sword of Apollo!
Soon after you find the sword and defeat the Demon, it's about time to head up to Demonhead mountain and end this thing once and for all. The trip up the mountain is pretty awesome and memorable. Your ascent will attempt to be thwarted by a ton of enemies hellbent on knocking you off the side of the mountain. Stand tall, and you'll eventually reach the top, where the jetpack will take you to your final destination.
*SPOILER ALERT* Once the last baddie goes down, get ready for an interesting sci-fi twist. The real culprit is an alien being that created the world and is unhappy with the way humans live. He wants the Doomsday Bomb to destroy the world!
It's then up to Bang to stop the Doomsday Bomb by using the seven medallions. Only problem is he has 30 seconds to place them in the correct order. Failing to do so gives you the "bad ending" (which is just a THE END screen) while succeeding gives you the normal ending of the game.
So, after playing what I think is one of the best NES games I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, I have to ask myself...where in the world was this game when I was a kid? I never saw it even once along the racks of my local Toys "R" Us. Then I found out that it wasn't released in North America until 1990, a few months after I had traded in my NES for a TurboGrafx-16. It seems like I'm not the only one that missed this game either, as a lot of gamers had purchased the Sega Genesis that year and the NES wasn't getting as much attention. And it's too bad, because this was just the kind of game I had been waiting for. Glad I finally found it!
Lastly, I need to give huge props to Vic Tokai, the company that made the game. Those guys made one helluva good NES game here, and they don't even make games anymore! With the variety of enemies and rewarding gameplay, colorful backgrounds and level designs (not to mention the coolest items of all time), and the whole open-world feel makes Clash at Demonhead an instant cult classic they should be proud of.
Here is the box art for the Japanese version of the game, which was known as Dengeki Big Bang!:
And some artwork seen in the manual: