If there’s one thing gamers constantly crave, it’s a decent 3D platformer. Though the genre has seen its fair share of all-time classics, it’s safe to say its popularity waned as shooters and action-RPGs ascended through the 2000s. Indeed, unless a 3D platformer comes bearing the name ‘Mario’, ‘Crash’, or ‘Spyro’, chances are it will face a fairly steep uphill battle toward success.
Demon Turf looks to hook old-school platform fans while implementing several modern elements to keep things fresh. Developed by Fabraz and published by Playtonic Friends, it stars Beebz, a 1000-year-old demon who must navigate a series of levels — or ‘turfs’ — in order to reclaim the land from the Demon King and ultimately usurp the ruler from his throne.
Getting a 3D platformer to feel authentically ‘retro’ can be a tall order. Thankfully, Demon Turf pulls it off for the most part. You’ll spend the vast majority of your time utilising Beebz’s various abilities in order to get from A to B, leaping across platforms, bouncing on trampolines, and dispatching various foes who happen to be standing in your way. Your goal is to collect batteries in order to unlock the gateway to the zones’ boss characters; defeat these and you move onto the next set of stages.
The platforming controls feel remarkably tight. It’s clear developer Fabraz has taken a few notes from Nintendo's premier platformers, with Beebz able to pull off triple jumps, backflips, and long jumps, all of which feel easy to execute and string together. Before long, you’ll be pulling off ridiculous feats of athleticism that would make a certain plumber beam with pride. There’s a bit of a learning curve involved when you start out — moving what is effectively a 2D sprite within a 3D world can be a bit jarring for the first few levels — but after a short while you’ll settle into a nice rhythm.
The stages themselves can prove to be tricky at times, so this is where Demon Turf’s unique checkpoint system comes into play. Rather than dole out standard checkpoints like every other platformer on the market, you’re required to set your own checkpoints by planting a flag in the ground at whichever point you choose. You only have a certain number of flags you can use, so deciding where to use them can either make the levels a cakewalk or a downright nightmare to navigate. You can also teleport between the checkpoints if need be, though we rarely found any requirement to do so.
In essence, however, being able to set your own checkpoints doesn’t really add a whole lot of value to the experience. Staking your turf is a fun idea, but more often than not you’ll be so wrapped up in making your way through each level that you’ll forget to plant flags at all, meaning that any eventual mistake will send you right back to the start. The game does highlight specific areas of each stage that would make convenient spots to plant a flag, but this arguably goes against the whole concept.
As brilliant as the platforming is, the same unfortunately can’t be said for the combat, which is simply too janky and repetitive, and halts the momentum you gain during the platforming segments. At various intervals, you’ll come across small, contained arenas in which several enemies will pop into existence; you’ll need to get rid of them all in order to unlock the next pathway through the stage. By default, Beebz is able to shoot out projectiles which force enemies backwards upon impact, meaning you can leverage this and either send them flying off the edge of the arena or right into a wall of spikes. It sounds fun in theory, but the execution feels flat.
As you progress through the game, you’ll gain new abilities like the grapple hook, which can be used for both traversal and grappling onto enemies, but again, utilising this ability never quite feels intuitive or fun (at least, outside of traversal). Whenever a combat section cropped up, we found ourselves rushing through it just to get back to the stellar platforming. Thankfully, the amount of time you spend platforming far outweighs the occasional combat section.
Aside from the standard levels, there is plenty to be getting on with in the game's hub world. Here, you’ll meet a load of characters, some of whom offer challenges to take on, including a rather whimsical game of golf in which you move a giant boulder down a course towards the goal. You can also collect items like lollipops and exchange these for colour dyes, so you can mix up the look of Beebz throughout your journey.
Featuring flat 2D characters in 3D environments, Demon Turf initially looks a bit, well, odd. In practice, the juxtaposition of visual styles actually holds a lot of charm — it's not quite Paper Mario, but it works. There are so many expressive elements to Beebz and the surrounding cast, it reminded us an awful lot of the timeless style of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
The music and sound design is worth a shoutout, too. The music reminded us of games like Splatoon and the classic Dreamcast title Jet Set Radio, with vinyl scrubbing and rhythmic beats making up the majority of tunes; it’s just heaped with attitude — we love it. Most of the core characters are fully voice acted, which is a fantastic little touch that’s always appreciated, even if some of the cast sound a bit iffy at times.
Demon Turf is a fantastic platformer that’s held back from true greatness by sections of dull and repetitive combat. Push through this, however, and you’ve got a game that rewards daring and bravery, bolstered by wonderful platforming controls that let you string together incredible combos. The visuals are initially a bit jarring, but the character design really shines through and give it a timeless aesthetic. If you’re a fan of 3D platformers from the 'golden' N64 era and beyond, this one is well worth a look.