After a long two weeks of traveling, moving into a new apartment, and starting a new job, I was looking forward to playing the newly-released Xbox One version of Demon’s Crystals. I’d heard good things about the PC version, and the game promised to offer exactly the sort of brain-dead mass demon slaughtering I needed to come down from my stressful life.
Unfortunately, there’s such a thing as too brain-dead, even for a simple shooter fan like me. Demon’s Crystals isn’t just priced like a mobile game, it also plays like one, and a boring, content-starved one at that.
In Demon’s Crystals, you and up to three friends play as one of four Urican demons, immensely powerful creatures who up until recently enjoyed complete control over the game’s fantasy world. That all changes when three mysterious beings – the game’s three boss battles – make a play for the throne by turning the planet’s population into destructive minions. As the Uricans, your job is to restore order by killing these minions, defeating the bosses, and retaking your rightful place as the infernal rulers of the planet. Do you have a plan to restore the minions? Are you basically killing your own citizens? Demon’s Crystals doesn’t care, and to be honest, neither should you.
There’s four playable characters, but they don’t have names (or, if they do, their names don’t appear on the character selection screen) and despite each of their portraits showing them holding different guns there’s no mechanical difference between them, begging the question of why the developers would bother to make four characters to begin with. Each has an oversized minigun fired in a circle by moving the right analog stick and moves with the left stick for a very standard top-down shooting experience boiled down to its base elements. Oh, and each of the Uricans looks like a scantily-clad anime girl, too. So that’s something.
There’s three game modes – Arcade, which is a solo or cooperative campaign mode across 30 levels; a solo Survival mode where you try to hold out against enemies for as long as possible in one of three worlds; and a handful of multiplayer deathmatch modes. The latter I wouldn’t bother with – since you’re all evenly matched, victory will go to whoever happened to stand closest to the random item spawns, and I can think of a dozen flash games that do the exact same thing, better, for free. Survival, too, is pretty lackluster – I generally adore endless survival modes, but the monsters and powerups are so same-y and dull that it becomes tedious after more than a few minutes.
Arcade is very much the most fleshed-out of the three modes, taking place over 3 worlds with 10 levels each and culminating in a boss. Each level requires killing a certain number of infinitely-spawning enemies, collecting a certain number of infinitely-spawning crystals, or both, within a very generous period of time. In addition to your regular weapon – the aforementioned giant minigun which fires magical projectiles in a straight line – you can pick up powerups which spawn in predetermined places on the map. I could tell you what each one does, but you basically already know – it’s your standard suite of weapon upgrades, including “grow big”, “ice gun”, “spreadshot”, etc. You’d think a game about all-powerful gun-wielding demons might have been able to come up with some more creative magical abilities, but sadly, such is not the case.
There’s nothing wrong with having simple, repetitive mechanics – who among us hasn’t lost hours to some simplistic mobile match-3 or addictive flash game? Hell, Hey Poor Player’s 2016 Game of the Year was the DOOM reboot, which like Demon’s Crystals never really gets more complicated than “There are demons. Kill the demons.” But Demon’s Crystals doesn’t just feel simplistic – it feels pointless. There’s four characters, but they all play the same; three worlds, but each one is basically identical. Ditto the monsters. Good monster design is all about creating monsters that force the player to think in different ways, and while there’s technically a good number of creatures available here, the only real differences are whether the range of their slow-moving attacks and their health pools. Even mindless fun needs to engage the brain once in awhile.
It doesn’t help that the presentation’s just so unsatisfying. A big honking minigun should have some kick to it, but the magical projectiles just feel floaty, felling enemies without fanfare. The music is repetitive and instantly annoying – I muted the game halfway through world one and started catching up on some podcasts instead. I’ve played through the entire campaign, finished several survival runs, and goaded my roommates into some multiplayer matches, and yet throughout my time with Demon’s Crystals I just felt nothing. In a month I doubt I’ll even be able to remember the name of the game. Even for $4, I can think of vastly better ways to spend your time and money.
Ah, well. At least the port runs smoothly.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed); Publisher: BadLand Games; Developer: Byte4Games; Players: 1-4 ; Released: May 11, 2017 ; MSRP: $3.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Demon’s Crystals given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.