Last week, we looked at the astonishingly good value (and morally laudable) Bundle for Ukraine, hosted by itch.io and set up to raise funs for charitable organisations helping to benefit the horrible situation that is, at the time of writing, continuing to unfold right now. There are a number of standout titles in that collection, and one I’d been meaning to explore for some time even before this bundle came around was Demonizer, a lovely-looking pixel art shoot ’em up. Well, no time like the present, eh?
Demonizer, developed by Iori Branford, describes itself as a “fantasy bullet battle to end monstergirl genocide”, which is a good start for any game, and then it goes on to say that it’s specifically inspired by Raiden Fighters, Strikers 1945 and Battle Garegga. I didn’t need any further convincing to give it a go, since those are all magnificent games — and if you’re going to take inspiration from things, you may as well take inspiration from the best.
It’s actually an evolution of an earlier game developed by Branford known as Inebriator, which was put together for a game jam in 2018. In fact, the entirety of Inebriator (which is just a few minutes long) is included in Demonizer — a fun little bonus, and a nice means of seeing where Demonizer originally came from.
But on to Demonizer itself. In Demonizer, you play the role of Princess Amelia, who has turned into a succubus and joined the peaceful ranks of the monstergirls. Unfortunately, the horrible humans do not like monstergirls very much — clearly not enough anime in their lives — and are systematically doing their best to wipe them off the face of the planet. With that in mind, Amelia feels that she has no option but to take to the skies and blow the ever-loving shit out of as many of them as possible — and perhaps make a few new “friends” along the way.
The mechanics of Demonizer are pretty simple. You have a standard wide shot and a more rapid focused shot; much like in Cave shooters, making use of the latter slows your movement as well as showing your hitbox, allowing for more precise movement as necessary. This is especially useful during boss encounters, as you might expect — but it’s also very handy during some of the more intense sequences during the levels.
The game features an auto panic-bomb system whereby if Amelia has one or more bombs in stock and takes a hit, she’ll set off a bomb — but it will consume all of her bombs at once. Meanwhile, manually triggering the bombs is useful not only for defence, but also for dealing significant damage to more powerful enemies such as bosses. You re-acquire bombs at a pretty rapid rate throughout the game, so there’s no real reason to be stingy with them.
The game features a handy enemy display to the side of its vertically oriented play area, and this shows the enemies that are currently on screen along with their current health. This is something not seen all that often in shoot ’em ups, but it’s a very welcome sight here; it allows you to prioritise targets as well as see at a glance how well you’re doing in a particular encounter. Since the enemy icons are animated, it also allows you to see what your foes are doing even when they’re “out of sight”.
Yes, one interesting aspect of Demonizer is that enemies will quite often take cover, hiding behind things, in buildings or making use of forested areas to stay out of sight. You can’t hit them while they’re hiding — but you can, of course, blow them up the moment they poke their heads out to try and take a pot shot at you, and this is consistently satisfying.
Even more satisfying is the titular Demonize mechanic, whereby certain enemies will drop pink hearts and enable you to turn them into demons on your side. These effectively act as your power-ups; they’ll shoot alongside you, take hits for you and even collect additional items for you — though you’ll need to power up your own shots before they’ll act more “independently”.
Visual presentation is excellent. Interestingly, Demonizer adopts a tile-based pixel art style that one might more typically associate with RPGs — indeed, the original version of Inebriator outright used graphics from RPG Maker 2003 — but it works really well for the demons-on-humans conflict of the game. Most enemies are humanoid-sized — or “human in a death-dealing machine” size at most — and as such your tactics will often have to be a bit different from games where you battle screen-filling bosses.
Alongside the excellent visual aesthetic is a wonderful YM2612 FM synthesis soundtrack that would sound absolutely at home on the Mega Drive, coupled with some meaty, bassy and satisfying sound effects. The whole thing has a highly polished feel — and runs at one of the most silky-smooth frame rates you’ll ever see in the genre, too.
On top of that, the difficulty level is extremely well-balanced. The default normal difficulty puts a one-credit clear within reach of even more casual players, and two additional levels atop that provide a stiffer challenge for grizzled veterans. And within a single playthrough, the challenge factor ramps up at a good rate; the first few stages are relatively easy, but by the midpoint of the game you’ll find yourself being notably tested.
Demonizer really is a wonderful game. It looks great, sounds lovely and plays wonderfully with some simple to understand but tricky to master mechanics. Its emphasis on conflict between humanoid-sized opponents makes for a pleasingly different feel to many other shoot ’em ups out there, and the feeling of gathering allies to fight alongside you as you progress is consistently enjoyable and satisfying. Plus the range of difficulty levels makes it as accessible or challenging as you want it to be.
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