Castlevania Symphony of the Night (SOTN) is probably the best Castlevania ever created, so no wondering that future metroidvania often used it as main inspiration. Sadly, right now the series is practically dead, and between the many indie metroidvania, very few of them have a comparable dark and gothic atmosphere. Demoniaca is the project of an Italian team, inspired by SOTN but bringing its own identity into a really dark and grim world, with a small amount of violence and nudity. Other than a mature and violent world, Demoniaca is also offering a deep and innovative combat system for the genre, and a beautiful pixel art. But I will talk about that shortly.
Demoniaca tells the tale of a girl abandoned half dead by a group of demons in a mass grave. Her blood got mixed with the one of demons, and she is able to heal and reborn as half’demon. She will follow her own revenge path while trying to stop a catastrophic ritual in a huge tower full of demons. Along her path she will face terrible monsters, huge bosses, and will also meet weird characters. The pixel art of the game is very gorgeous and complex, especially for characters, enemies and bosses. There are a lot of effects on the screen, sparkles, lightnings and also characters appearing during specific summons or attacks. Also in some cutscenes or after loading a new area, a zoom function will better highlight the characters, providing lot more details. The music is fitting with the general atmosphere, with rock tracks based on a strong guitar, which will accompany the player while exploring the dark depths of the tower.
The combat style of the game is very peculiar for the genre, and it is also very deep. Basically it is based on fighting games such as King of Fighters or Street Fighter, with the four basic buttons connected to different kind of kicks and punches. While progressing through the game, the main character will unlock new moves, to be executed as combination of buttons. Some new attacks are also able to open hidden areas or to progress in the game. There is also a parry function, which allow to reduce or to completely waive the damage received by the enemies. The combat system is deep and appealing, but quite difficult to master and to practically apply, often reducing to spamming the most effective single attack against a specific enemy.
The RPG side of Demoniaca is well developed and integrated. The main character is able to level up with experience, to collect souls as money to buy new items, and can equip several accessories. There is a huge quantity of items to collect, from rings or necklaces to boost the statistics, to more peculiar items which will expand for example the information on the mini-map, showing also the movement of the enemies. The items can be collected from hidden chests, but also the enemies will sometime drop special necklaces or rings. The emphasis is however not on obtaining new weapons, but on discovering new combos and attacks to practice and to perform them.
Demoniaca is a really challenging and punishing game, with a huge step in the difficulty after the first boss. The enemies punch hard, with strong and fast attacks, usually lot faster than the main character. Also flying enemies are particularly nasty and difficult to fight or to simply avoid, since often they are almost immortal and with very narrow space between them. Demoniaca also feature an old-school save system, based on finding save points. So forget about autosaves or checkpoints and go to save often, because if you die then you will lost lot of progresses. Of course these are not negative side, but it worth to mention that people looking for an easy metroidvania will find in Demoniaca a real challenge. Instead, old-school players will probably love it.
The enemies are interesting in both design and attacks, with a lot of variety in each new area. The bosses are huge and challenging, usually providing long and strategic battles. Even regular enemies are quite hard to defeat, and it is very important to discover their weak points, even if sometimes this is not too obvious. For example, a huge robot fighting with a telekinetic knife will make the main character into pieces, especially because its attacks are unblockable, till the player will discover that the telekinetic knife can be punched-back to avoid any damage, if executed at the correct moment. Each enemy is really a unique surprise. A small and apparently useless enemy can inflict the status “Retro”, reverting the graphical style of Demoniaca into a retro gameboy-like aesthetic.
The characters show also a peculiar design, going from aggressive demon-like human, to mysterious being such as the Boxman. I am particular fan of this character, a weird and mysterious being wearing a cardboard box over his head, teaching techniques and appearing in the most unexpected situations. For some reason he really hates crows, but this is another story.
The game is full of small secrets, and has a lot of back-tracking, in the good metroidvania formula. For example, some secret areas or events can be accessed only later by using a specific ability. There are also super strong unique mini-bosses, marked on the map with a star, which are usually too strong to fight when met for the first time, and they need to be revisited again later in the story. The game is full of references, especially of course to Castlevania, but also to King of Fighters, for example in the main character sprites. I was also surprised to see some enemies very inspired by Doom, especially by the Pain Elementals and the Cacodemons.
Sadly there are some negative sides in Demoniaca’s experience. The background is a bit static and repetitive, compared to the level of details of characters and monsters. The game is also really challenging, but with the correct items and with practice, every challenge can be overcome. The controls sometimes are not so responsive, especially during the platform session, which can be a little clumsy. However the game was released only few days ago and the developers look really responsive, so the majority of these issues could be solved in future patches.
Demoniaca is an interesting dark metroidvania, with nice characters and enemies, together with a deep combat system inspired by fighting games. If you can overcome the challenge, Demoniaca can be a really rewarding experience.
The review was based on a free STEAM key provided by the developers.