Pinball games have been a part of video gaming practically since the beginning, and many consider mechanical pinball machines to be the precursor to the immersive interactive entertainment we enjoy today. Despite the sheer volume of digital pinball titles, it's striking that one name crops up with surprising regularity whenever you discuss the genre with serious flipper addicts: Devil's Crush. Alternatively known as Devil Crash and Dragon's Fury depending on where in the world you happen to reside, this Compile-developed PC Engine / TG-16 title served as the sequel to the equally weird Alien Crush, and would perhaps find the most fame via Technosoft's sublime Genesis / Mega Drive port. A slightly underwhelming Super Famicom sequel followed shortly afterwards in the form of Jaki Crush, but Devil's Crush remains the undisputed pinnacle of the series – which goes some way to explaining why it continues to be so well-respected today.
The enduring popularity of Devil's Crush makes you ponder why we haven't seen similar titles over the decades – granted, Alien Crush got a WiiWare reboot, but its sequel has remained steadfastly stuck in the '90s. While Compile no longer exists and IP owner Konami has no apparent interest in reviving the franchise, it falls to fans like Adam Ferrando (also known as Wiznwar) to give us the next best thing: a spiritual successor made by people who have lived and breathed Devil's Crush for the past 30 years. The result? Demon's Tilt, which has to rank as one of the coolest simulations of pinball we've played since, well, Devil's Crush.
Like Compile's 1990 classic, Demon's Tilt takes place on a single massive, three-screen table which is packed with satanic imagery and monsters – many of which fire projectiles which collide with your ball and cause it to change direction. You've got a set of flippers at the bottom of each of the table's three 'screens' (as well as a few mini-flippers elsewhere) and the aim – as you might expect – is to gain as many points as possible using your allocated trio of balls. The ball physics are spot-on, which is perhaps the most pressing consideration with this kind of game – but it's the visuals which really grab your attention the moment you switch it on.
While the table is rendered in 2D, it's one of the most active and dynamic we've seen in a pinball game for a long time. Hitting various sections on the table causes events and transitions to occur that would be otherwise impossible on a real-world pinball machine; you might unleash a circle of monsters (which you can then hit for additional points) or awaken Lilith – the satanic nun in the middle of the table – from her slumber, complete with bloody tears and (eventually) a rather shocking transformation. At the top, there's a lion shackled behind an iron mask (which you can remove by smashing it, obviously) as well as a hungry snake. Pretty much everything on the table is interactive, and knowing which bits to hit to obtain a score boost or activate the all-important multiplier is all part of the learning process.
Demon's Tilt, like the game which inspired it, doesn't help newcomers a great deal. Sure, there's a page of 'quick tips' accessible from the main menu and during play a summary of goals (or 'rituals' and 'seances' as the game calls them) appears on the right-hand side of the screen, but outside of that, you're largely left to your own devices and expected to figure out how each element on the table can be activated. The controls are basic; the A button holds down the plunger so you can launch your ball, while the shoulder buttons control all of the flippers on the table. The analogue sticks allow you to physically 'nudge' the table and impact the movement of the ball – something which seems hard to employ effectively at first, but soon becomes a vital means of keeping your beloved metal sphere out of the drain at the bottom of each screen. You can also use this feature to keep your ball in certain point-giving elements of the table for longer periods, cunningly boosting your points haul with minimal effort. Nudging is, therefore, part and parcel of the whole experience, but beware; too much tilting and you'll come unstuck, just as you would with a real pinball machine.
While the fact that Demon's Tilt only has a single table does count against it – especially as rival pinball games come with several options – it does mean you have to dedicate yourself absolutely to learning every inch of the play area, and this is key to grabbing the best possible scores. After an hour or so with the game, you might consider a score in the region of 5 or 6 million to be a hard-won achievement until you realise that expert players are getting scores a hundred times larger than that by maximising score multipliers, defeating the bosses and methodically completing each ritual.
Attention to detail is everything; while keeping your ball in play is of course of paramount importance, you need to gain an intimate knowledge of the table's inner workings to get your scores out of the tens of millions and into the hundreds of millions. Even little details – like the seemingly innocuous dice which sit below the lion's mouth – can be instrumental when it comes to unlocking truly monstrous scores; it's possible to get a tally in the billions when you're eventually good enough. While it wasn't active in the pre-release copy we reviewed, there's the promise a global leaderboard built into the game to encourage (or should that be discourage?) your high score runs.
The game's normal mode is where you'll learn the ropes and familiarise yourself with the table's many secrets, but it's the EX and Hardcore modes which really test your mettle. EX introduces weird and wonderful single-screen 'bonus' rooms which, like Devil's Crush, transport you away from the main table for brief periods as you battle all kinds of beasts to push your score even higher. The Hardcore mode makes things even more difficult by only giving you a single ball to play with. It might seem like an odd move to divide the game up in this way, especially when Normal mode is challenging enough to test the patience of even the most placid pinball newcomer, but it does allow novices to find their feet with a less-demanding version of the table before taking their game to the next level.
We've already touched upon the game's 2D visuals, but it's worth doubling back to cover them a little more comprehensively. Simply put, Demon's Tilt is a gorgeous-looking game and about as close as you could possibly get to what Devil's Crush would look like if it were made with modern tools. The table is presented like a massive gothic cathedral which has had its roof removed so you can peer within, and the various particle effects really make things come life. Granted, when things are in full swing it can be hard to keep track of what's going on, but there's an option to add a trail on the ball so you can at least spot where it is amongst all the chaos. The only real downer is that the gorgeous 'bloom' lighting effects that looked so great in the original Steam version have been removed on Switch in order to maintain performance, but even so, this remains a handsome game.
The audio is just as impressive, thanks to a perfectly-pitched chiptune soundtrack by Charlie "ec2151" Heinrich which sounds like it stepped straight out of a Mega Drive title from the early '90s. This complemented by some brilliant sound effects and the distorted voice of Lilith, who offers advice like "Fortune favours the brave" and "Stay focused", as well as telling you the rank you've achieved at the end of each run before laughing cruelly at your misfortune. In terms of presentation, it's a near-perfect package; the only complaint we have is that the menu design looks a little bit like an afterthought, but that's certainly not a deal-breaker.
It's also worth noting that the Switch version offers the ability to play the game in portrait mode, giving you a better view of the table. It's possible to do this holding your Switch vertically, but if you have the Flip Grip accessory you can use that as well. Demon's Tilt also offers a scaling option so, if you're playing on a large-format TV and want as full a view of the table as possible, you can zoom the camera right out if you so desire.
With its single table, often obtuse mechanics and sometimes brutal difficulty, Demon's Tilt isn't going to be to everybody's tastes, but if you have even the slightest interest in pinball games then you really should check this out. While more tables would have been welcome and it's a shame that some of the visual effects have been toned down on Switch, what we have here is a game of stunning depth and complexity which rewards methodical players who aren't afraid to invest a lot of time learning all of the secrets and hidden tactics. The ability to play the game in portrait mode makes this Switch port even more appealing.