Devil World (NES/Famicom Review)

When I recently did my in-depth review of the infamous Atari 2600 disaster Pac-Man, I noted that without the chase being fun, maze chases don’t work. I then asked myself if there’s any maze chase game that isn’t true of? I couldn’t think of a single example. The only one that came close is Nintendo’s Devil World, where the chase elements eventually add to the excitement, but they take a while to get warmed-up. Devil World is the 1984 Shigeru Miyamoto classic that was his very first console-exclusive and also the only game of his that still, to this day, has never officially been released in North America. Why’s that? Well, allegedly Nintendo had a strict probation on religious symbols being used in their games, which meant no crosses or bibles. Devil World is a game based entirely around those things. It was too religious for Nintendo of America and thus it never came out stateside. Europe? They got it, because they all live in hedonism and are doomed to burn anyway, I guess. They even got it on the Wii’s Virtual Console in 2008. But, while Nintendo of America re-released many formerly Japanese exclusives, Devil World STILL was kept out of the New World. It’s funny that so many gamers make a big to-do about games that never came out in America. Often, they don’t live up to expectations. But, Devil World is one of the exceptions. Had it come out in the United States when the NES launched, it’s arguable that it would have been the second-best Black Box game behind Super Mario Bros.

I think the Devil is due for a comeback. Make a Yoga game with him! He’s used to doing the poses anyway!

Even by 1984, the maze chase genre was very tired. Nobody really had any fresh ideas and lots of games just recycled the same formula. Pac-Man begat Lock ‘n Chase, K.C. Munchkin, and others. Then someone had the idea of adding gates and turnstiles, and thus games like Super Pac-Man, Lady Bug, and Mouse Trap came along. Having played a lot of these, it’s remarkable how samey they all feel. They all sort of blend together. Then came Nintendo with this maze chase and there’s never been anything like it since. Anyone who has played Smash Bros since assist trophies became a thing will recognize the Devil and the twist in formula he brings. As you roam the level, the maze itself scrolls independently, and you’re at the mercy of it. Also you can now become crushed by the scrolling, which can lead to nail-biting close calls of nearly getting stuck between walls and the edge of the screen. The maze is only slightly bigger than the screen, so as the Devil scrolls the action from, say, left-to-right, if the last dots you need are on the edge of the right side of the screen, in a second or two they’ll pop-out the left side of the screen. It’s a BRILLIANT, one-off twist that has never been replicated and it works wonderfully (well, most of the time). In years and years of playing this genre, this is the only good maze chase where the maze itself is the highlight.

You actually only control the direction of the maze during bonus stages. I really suck at this part and it makes me grateful this isn’t part of the main game.

Mind you, the actual CHASE aspect of this maze-chase game can also be exciting, but at first, it feels like a secondary element. You start with two pursuers, both of which can be easily dispatched. Eventually one of the monsters is replaced by a mini-Devil that can’t be killed (though he’s not on every stage). Finally, after three cycles, one of the green monsters is replaced by a red one that more actively chases Tamagon, the hero of the game. Normally, I’d find the slow escalation of the pursuit to be annoying. But, Devil World’s one-of-a-kind gimmick actually needs to ease you into it. A big part of that is the game is one of the slower-paced maze chases. Tamagon sort of waddles through the stages, and while it’s never too slow, it’s a noticeably more leisurely pace than maze chase fans might be used to. You feel it right from the start too, which I think is another reason why this might never have caught-on the way it should have, and possibly the reason why Nintendo chose not to bring it out to the cocaine-filled masses of North America.

When you’ve messed up, you see it coming. And sometimes, you have to wait.. very.. slowly.. for your death by smooshing.

There’s three alternating level types in Devil World. The first is a traditional “collect the dots” challenge, but even that has a twist to the gameplay. There’s no power-pellets like in Pac-Man, but you also can’t just scoop-up the dots willy-nilly. There’s various crosses scattered around the maze. You have to get one of the crosses to begin collecting dots. While you have a cross, you can also defend yourself by spitting fireballs that turn the enemies into delicious fried eggs that you can eat for points. Eventually the crosses will wear off, but they respawn, and they’re also scattered all over so locating them isn’t really that big a deal. You have to eat all the dots to clear the stage. Despite Devil World nearly being forty years old, and the dot-collecting formula being well-over forty now, this still feels fresh because of the scrolling mechanic. Plus, the characters are loaded with charm and you can make believe like Tamagon is the dinosaur from Bubble Bobble after he goes to Hell for all the cold-blooded murders he committed in that game.

Admittedly, sometimes Devil World can be pretty frustrating. The devil shifts the scrolling at random, and sometimes the screen becomes oriented in a way where you literally can’t do anything except wait for the Devil to pick another direction. Here, I can’t get the final bible into the slot because I physically can’t fit into the gap. What you’re not seeing is the Devil kept scrolling up and down, but not side to side. I had to wait quite a while for the tide to turn even after I shot this screen cap.

The second level is a completely new take on genre. There’s four bibles that sort of just hover in the corners of the screen. You have to retrieve them and insert them into the four sides of a base that’s usually guarded by a mini-devil (they can leave the interior of the maze, but usually they stick to the base). There’s no dots or crosses in these stages, but the bibles grant you the same fireball ability as the crosses do. You can only take one bible at a time, and because you have to get to the very edges of the screen to collect them, these stages are the most exciting. There’s only three stages Devil World cycles through, and when I say the third stage of that sequence is probably the most intense maze the genre has ever seen, that’s not hyperbole. You have to pick-and-choose your spots to make your move, especially since large sections of the maze feature long straightaways and the high potential for getting squashed. This formula works so well they could have honestly skipped the dot collecting and based the entire game on this. It’s a lot of fun and it’s so satisfying every time you lock a new bible into its spot. After that, you play a bonus stage with six mystery boxes, one of which will have a free life. After you’ve cycled through the three mazes, the game loops until you game over.

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I adore Devil World. It’s everything you want from an early Nintendo Entertainment System release. It certainly does a much better job of creating a fun and exciting take on the maze chase than Clu Clu Land did. Yet, Nintendo of America wanted nothing to do with it, claiming religious symbolism was off-limits. I don’t get it. I really don’t. There’s tons of religious symbols in US Nintendo games, even ones made by Nintendo! They were all over from the start. Link’s shields on the NES Legend of Zelda have crosses on them. Castlevania has a famous cross too. It’s that thing that clears the screen of enemies. As for the Bibles, again, Legend of Zelda has a book with a cross on it that adds a flame to the end of the otherwise totally useless Magic Wand. “Okay, so it’s the Devil that got this ixnayed, right?” Then how do explain all the devils and a final boss literally named Lucifer in Ghosts ‘n Goblins being a-okay? You know what *I* think? I think Nintendo just didn’t want the NES to be seen as too Atari-like. Devil World is the most Pac-Man like game, and people would associate Pac-Man with Atari and the old guard of home gaming. The only other option is falling in line with the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Which again, would hold water if a game like Ghosts ‘n Goblins was banned in the United States. But it wasn’t, so I think my theory is accurate. I wish Nintendo would finally put out Devil World for North America. It’s long overdue. Besides, we’re all going to Hell anyway.

Devil World was developed by Nintendo

Devil World is Chick-Approved

 

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

2 Responses to Devil World (NES/Famicom Review)

  1. Pingback: Arcade Archives: Clu Clu Land (Review) | Indie Gamer Chick

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