Very few developers can boast the introduction of as many unique and refreshing gameplay concepts as game-crafting master Shigeru Miyamoto. Nintendo’s iconic developer has reinvented and reinvigorated countless genres, breathing new life into stale and tired gameplay tropes and carving a name for himself as one of the industry’s most influential creative minds.
Devil World, in contrast, is what happens when the legendary developer has an off day.
It’s as impossible now as it was 30 years ago to craft a title under the ‘maze-game’ genre without drawing the obvious comparisons to the arcade smash-hit Pac-Man, and very few games attempting to cash in on the '80s craze the yellow pill-muncher began compare favourably. Pac-Man was an exercise in simplicity, a game any novice player could grasp and enjoy without much effort or explanation — oddly enough, these design concepts Mr. Miyamoto purports to strive for in his games today. However, Devil World replicates and then muddies the mechanics Pac-Man so effortlessly perfected, introducing confusing rules and odd iconography that make the game imposing and difficult to enjoy.
Players take the role of Tamagon, a green bipedal dinosaur creature best described as the illegitimate love-child of Mario’s trusty steed Yoshi and Bubble Bobble’s Bub, in his attempt to thwart the dark designs of the devil himself. The demon stands atop the field of play and gestures flamboyantly whilst wearing red speedos, forcing the play-area to scroll in the direction he points. Tamagon’s task is to collect all the non-descript dots on the screen without being either crushed by the scrolling maze or touched by one of the stage’s other enemies. A further wrinkle is that Tamagon can only collect the dots whilst holding a crucifix, a power-up that disappears shortly after collecting, meaning that the player must juggle avoiding being caught between the screen edge and a barrier, collecting crucifixes, dodging enemies and collecting dots. It’s as confusing as it sounds — both in concept and execution — and the game quickly devolves into hanging around a small area of the screen and praying the maze scrolls in a useful direction.
Once one of these main stages has been completed, the player must then collect four Bibles (one at a time) and place them in the middle of the stage to defeat the devil. The screen still scrolls and the enemies are still present, but the Bibles are placed in the four corners of the screen, meaning the player is at the mercy of the scrolling maze. These stages are actually easier than they sound, but can prove frustrating when the final Bible lies just out of reach and the game refuses to allow you to retrieve it.
The game’s confusing concept is baffling enough, but the religious iconography neither portrays the game’s objectives well, nor does it mesh well with Nintendo’s ‘all-inclusive’ image of the time. The game feels similar to how one would imagine a Pac-Man knock-off developed by Wisdom Tree would, an awkward shoehorning of religious symbols into a game where they make little sense. The obvious implication is that the holy artefacts are the eponymous devil’s weak point, but few new players would immediately realise that dots can only be collected whilst holding the Holy Cross, or that Bibles must be inserted into a giant block with a skull on it. It’s surprisingly poor conveyance from a developer so renowned for his effortless design skills and leaves Devil World feeling disjointed and odd, like a Sunday
school ROM-hack, especially when bonus items such as ice-cream blatantly stand out from the theme.
The visuals are entirely uninteresting – there’s very little flourish one can give a maze-game, in fairness – and the characters are bland and forgettable, except the devil himself (whose red undies and disturbing gesturing are forever burned into my retinas). The screen scrolls
smoothly on the horizontal axis but awkwardly jumps when scrolling vertically due the the technical limitations of the NES, and this quickly becomes irritating and even slightly nauseating. The music, when present, is actually fairly decent – it’s got simple, catchy melodies akin to Ice Climber and the like – but throughout most of the game the soundtrack is the bleeping of the scrolling screen.
Devil World’s worth is only as a curio, an odd reminder that even the greatest creators can’t strike gold every time. It pales in comparison to the simpler and infinitely more entertaining games in the Pac-Man series, games that Devil World is desperate to trump but seems to fail to realise what makes them so engaging. Those looking to experience a little schadenfreude at Miyamoto’s failed creation may find Devil World interesting, but those just after a good time are better off looking elsewhere.