Demon Turf is what happens if a 3D mascot platformer has a 2D character, and the game turned out pretty good. Usually, 3D platformers have players control a three dimensional character in a space with a camera system that is loose enough to be put in more dynamic angles. This would facilitate varied scenarios, and give the designers flexibility with their level design.
Demon Turf rejects this tried and true method for something very bold and striking. It begins with the admittedly uninteresting and unfunny story about a snotty demon girl named Beebz who wants to take over other regions in the underworld. Even then gamers will undoubtedly be struck by the unconventional approach of blending 2D and 3D assets.
The lurid and vibrant setting is a mix of retro low-poly aesthetics that evoke memories of early 3D games, with chunky pixelated texture and sharp, thick-lined 2D cartoon characters. The clashing of styles makes an impression, and it works well due to the expressiveness of the characters, and how the strong neon colors unify everything together.
Publisher: Playtonic Friends
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: November 4, 2021
Price: $24.99 USD
Demon Turf will feel right at home to any gamer who grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s, consuming any 3D platformer that came their way. Part collect-a-thon and part challenge gauntlet, there is a lot here to satisfy fans of the genre.
The precarious platforming is designed around lengthy stages high above a bottomless pit or a body of water. Usually Beebz will be confronted with various moving obstacles, or turrets that endlessly fire rounds. Her flexibility is part of the fun of negotiating these challenges.
Some of Mario’s moves have snuck into Beebz’s repertoire. She is able to do a the plumber’s triple-jump, side jump, long jump, and even wall-jumping makes the cut. Veterans of Super Mario 64 will feel right at home, as many of the inputs are almost the same, and have very similar handling as they did in the seminal platformer.
The girl does bring her own ability to plant several checkpoints wherever she wishes, teleport between them, and even pick them back up. The teleporting also helps you collect cake, should you need to backtrack. The only exception is during challenge stages, where players must beat it in one run.
The playability of Demon Turf is the star of the show. This is a 3D platformer made for the pros, as demonstrated by the enormous amount of highly challenging side challenges that demand mastery of Beebz’s unusually slippery controls. The stubby girl almost feels weightless, which is fitting considering she’s only two-dimensions.
Achieving a fast paced 3D platformer with a 2D character comes with a few limitations that do ultimately pay-off; the camera system keeps Beebz locked in the center of view at all times. While this may not allow for showy visuals or interesting angles; the controls always remain consistent, and landing jumps is more of a matter of managing the sensitivity while being airborne.
Demon Turf is a very easy to pick up and grasp the platforming with its experimental nature of mixing dimensions. Guidance with landing on target is a matter of aiming Beebz’s circular drop shadow, eliminating all guess work. The only downside to the playability, other than over sensitivity, is that Beebz’s animation is stiff and lacks weight.
One of the benefits of 2D animation is the limitless freedom the artists have when to comes to expressing movement. Beebz’s design is already on the bland side, and her range of motion doesn’t help her become any more appealing. She has a very stiff run cycle, and a jump with no power behind it.
The action of jumping in the game does not match her unenthusiastic hop. Beebz’s range of control is very fluent, but her animations are lacking the same exuberance. Her character is a fiery little rascal, arms crossed at all times, with her feet apart like a tsundere anime girl; but when running around and jumping she’s incredibly low-energy.
Beebz needed to have the fundamentals of 2D animations incorporated into her movements. Squash and stretch frames are completely absent, and there is no attention giving to wind-ups for maximum bounciness. Without this kind of attention, Demon Turf‘s characters look and move like a low-budget motion-web comic.
Beebz and the gang may not look like much, but there is a distinctive creative eye put towards the visual design of the environments and use of 3D graphics. The style mixing with glistening specular surfaces and chunky pixelated 32-bit era textures makes an impression. Compounded with the flatness of the 2D characters, Demon Turf manages to have a very unique look not seen before.
Some characters and NPCs will mix 2D and 3D elements together, making for a truly bizarre and profane mixture of mediums. The effect ultimately works for the experience of being in the underworlds; it’s as if God himself damned these devils to their eternal torment and cursed them into these forms.
The only issue with the presentation is that the load times between hub areas and levels feels a bit longer than one would like. On top of the load times, the loading screens sputter a lot, and make the game look like its about to have a heart attack and crash. Thankfully, this never happens, but this also occurs when pausing the game to browse the menus and read up on the various challenges available or totals.
Anyone who can get past these technical flaws and the insufferable writing will find that Demon Turf is an excellent 3D platformer with a lot to see and do. The general flow of the game has Beebz going to several themed hub worlds that branch off into stages, where she can collect a battery which she needs to go up against the gang leader of the hub.
Beating the boss means getting a new ability like flight or even a useful grappling hook. Beebz can then move on to the next area and repeat the process once again. What Demon Turf does well is allow players to enjoy the game at their own pace. Stages within hubs can be done in any order, and side objectives within the hubs can be completed whenever; be it at the start of the game or during post-game.
The side-objectives are plentiful and extremely challenging. There is so much to do it can be overwhelming, and attempting to do them early on is ill-advised since Beebz won’t have any mods equipped. This is why getting the cake in the stages are so important, because they are the currency to purchase mods to customize Beebz’s playability; like adding a third jump, or being able to drop a fourth check-point flag.
Demon Turf probably has passable voice acting, but the urge to skip past the inane and lame jokes will be too great. What is not lame is the awesome soundtrack, that sounds like a chaotic and corrupted version of the table-turning beats from Jet-Set Radio.
Fork Town and the branching areas all opt for varying styles of hip-hop, reggae, and street music, but with hyperactive flair. It adds a lot of personality to the setting, and is only outdone by the kind of urban funkiness heard in the Splatoon games.
Just when you think you’re done with Demon Turf, the game only offers more to do. Beating the last boss does not mean Beebz is done; returning to previously beaten stages remixes the level to be much harder.
In exchange, the game also litters the zone with collectible sweets, which are used as currency to customize Beebz’s appearance. There’s not a lot of substance to manipulating the pallet of her, but never let it be said that Demon Turf does not have replay value.
With better character art and a script that doesn’t make the viewer suffer from whiplash from the hard eye-rolling, Demon Turf could have been a must-have. Just by comparing the key-art of the characters to their in-game representations, the disparity of craftsmanship is jarring.
Demon Turf is the kind of game that wears its flaws on its sleeve, but everything in it comes together, and works that it becomes hard to not get sucked into the gameplay. Platforming and making progress is engrossing when the gameplay facilitates a rhythm to the level design and gaps; and this title revels in it.
Adapting to the iffy physics is only a matter of practice. The optional challenges will put hair on a boy’s chest, and will make players sweat bullets and curse the developer’s name, but you’ll be happy to fail and get up again. The designers were definitely making something for the Super Mario 64 speed running scene, and anyone who seeks a spicy gauntlet of challenges will find it with Demon Turf.
Demon Turf was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Playtonic Friends. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.