We had to restart Demon's Tier+ from scratch. Not in the sense that it's a roguelike – we mean literally deleted our save data. Over and over again we journeyed into the depths of its randomly-generated gauntlets of monsters, spikes, explosions and the Reaper himself; we slaughtered enemy after swarming enemy, gathering coins and D-tokens (the currency with which you buy upgrades), only to ultimately die and lose everything.
Back to the village, where we'd stare in vain at the useful upgrades and relics available for those D-tokens we no longer had; an escape rope that lets you leave the dungeon with all your D-tokens intact? Why yes, that would be useful to have... but how were we supposed to afford them without being able to escape in the first place?! When you run out of health – as we said – you lose everything, and the ability to return to your grave and destroy it for those precious D-tokens isn't much of a consolation. What on earth did the game want from us? After deleting our save, we ran the tutorial again, intending to make a beeline straight for the shop to get one of those ropes – only to find said shop closed until we'd taken a run at the dungeon. Huh?!
Anyway, there's an anti-climax here. It turns out that hitting the X button doesn't just show you info and your currently-equipped item; you can press left or right on the analogue stick to select more stuff. And, erm, you start with ten of the escape ropes. It would have been nice if the game informed us of that on the opening list of basic instructions, but at least we were then able to progress with Demons' Tier+. We dedicate so many words to this issue simply so you, the reader, don't make the same mistake we did.
Upon accessing the core gameplay as intended, we were happy to find there's a lot to like about Demon's Tier+. Effectively a twin-stick shooter with exceptionally light RPG elements, it's been compared to arcade classic Gauntlet in some quarters, but that's not really on point. The levels are randomly-generated, which means there's a uniformity to them but thanks to the fast-paced gameplay, it works nicely – you don't spend enough time in each stage for them to begin dragging on.
Time – that's a key word here. You don't have a lot of it; five minutes per floor, in fact. Each stage gives you a mission – kill all the enemies, blow up all the barrels, etc – and if you go over your allotted time, the Reaper will emerge to put an end to your run. It's on you whether you want to comb every inch for coins and chests and risk getting cornered by Death Itself, or quickly escape once the mission's criteria is satisfied. It's a nice implementation of your typical roguelike risk/reward, as coins here are very valuable. You'll need them to buy incremental upgrades for your character, such as speed boosts, higher attack damage or faster recharge on your specials.
There are multiple characters to choose from, recruitable from the village between runs using your D-tokens. Each has different abilities and general parameters, so you can tailor your choice around your favoured playstyle in your quest to clear each tier of the dungeon. There's also local multiplayer, but only for two. This is cool, but four would have been even better (if chaotic). When things click, though, it's frantic fun blasting away at the enemies as they close in. Judicious use of special abilities (like the default "bullet cancel" power) will see you through, and if you feel like you're about to die, you can drop an escape rope and bail to buy stuff that'll give you an edge next time.
Graphically it's all fine, if a little bit over-processed; we also found that the darkness effect in the dungeon was a little too pronounced. There are only a few pixels in it, but we'd like to be able to see a little further; a few times, projectiles would seem to fly out of nowhere and cost us valuable HP. Mostly, though, it looks exactly as good as it needs to, with particular attention given to the rather excellent character portraits in the well-made cutscenes. It's probably also worth noticing that said portraits will be especially popular with enthusiasts of anime breasts.
The music, too, is great stuff – the tunes are memorable and it's remarkably evocative of the Super Nintendo; the boss theme, in particular, could almost have been ripped from an early SNES RPG. Sound effects are nice and chunky too; you'll always know when you've hit an enemy or set off an explosive. Look out for those meaty kabooms when you take out a boss.
While its roguelite gameplay is familiar territory, Demon's Tier+ executes the formula very well. It could do with a more elegant tutorial than the multi-page bombardment the game starts with, but it's hard to hold that against it when everything else works so nicely. It may not have prestige, but Demon's Tier+ is cheap and cheerful. A good, pacy game for two.