This randomised dungeon-crawling RPG is drenched in arcade sensibilities, including combat centred around twin-stick shooting, simplified menus, and a two-player mode. Comparisons with the classic coin-op Gauntlet aren’t far off the mark, a fact helped by the appearance of enemy generators later on. A gravelly-voiced narrator telling us not to shoot food would have sealed the deal.
A good example of its streamlined nature is the fact that the quaint village hub is laid out on a single screen, featuring the dungeon entrance, item shop, blacksmith, and inn – a haven for recruits – mere feet apart. Most actions, be it consuming a healing potion or levelling up at the end of a dungeon, require no more than a single button press either. There’s no filler whatsoever.
The plot – told using 16-bit style pixel art cut-scenes – entails a callous King making a pact with a demon, the consequences of which affect our merry band of heroes. The only way to restore balance is to progress through a multi-tiered randomised underground dungeon, tackling brief missions with tight time limits.
Quests are all of the seek and destroy variety – destroy all enemies, open all chests, blow up all explosives, etc – and after every couple of floors there’s a monstrous boss to beat along with a story-expanding cut-scene once a milestone is reached. Take too long on a mission and the Grim Reaper will stalk you until reaching the hatch to the next level. Thankfully, not only can they be repelled with ease, but helpful guide arrows track the location of quest items, helping keep aimless wandering to a minimum. Don’t fear the reaper.
The focus is on working towards a perfect run: i.e. clearing all floors and bosses without dying or having to return to the surface to purchase new items. In typical Souls-like fashion, it’s possible to reobtain gold and ‘D tokens’ by heading back to where you died and destroying the gravestone.
Initially, our average game time was around 15-20 minutes, usually coming a cropper at an early boss or as soon as things became hectic. Enemies quickly grow in strength and number, and pesky explosive enemy types turn up surprisingly early. After learning boss attack patterns, unlocking a few new weapons, and experimenting with temporary upgrades, that average playtime soon doubled, eventually tripling.
The aforementioned ‘D Tokens’ pave the way to eventual (potential?) success, used to purchase new weapons (requiring blueprints dropped by bosses) and also to recruit new characters, including a fire-ball spewing mage, an archer, and a hulking knight. Gold meanwhile is used to purchase health potions, which greatly assist in reaching lower floors, as well as single-use prison keys.
It’s well worth searching for prisoners within the dungeons, as they fight alongside and increase firepower. If you head out of the dungeon – which requires a consumable escape rope – more health potions and keys can be purchased, but all upgrades and progress are lost. It takes an hour or two to get into the swing of things as the means of making significant progress aren’t immediately obvious. Forget to spend ‘D Tokens’ – or ignore them altogether – and you’ll likely hit a brick wall.
The set-up allows for grinding runs – it’s possible to upgrade the ‘D Token’ multiplier, which in turn adds those fresh faces to the roster sooner. It also takes time to learn which aspects are worth upgrading. The projectile-spewing, bullet hell-style, bosses can often be defeated with relative ease by upgrading attack damage, while upgrading health and defence is vital for staying alive on the lower floors. After just a few floors enemies begin to swarm to your location, overwhelming quickly.
In terms of presentation, Demon’s Tier is a somewhat mixed bag. It favours tiny sprites with basic animation, and as a result, characters are lacking in personality and expression. Most of the enemy types simply fall into the category of non-descript monsters and demons, with only a few – such as giant maggots and flying eyeballs – standing out. The hellish fire world is visually unappealing too, being a mess of heat haze and lighting bloom. The synth-heavy musical score helps to lighten the mood, both here and in general, evoking fond memories of the Super Nintendo’s finest.
As an experience centred around instant gratification, Demon’s Tier is best enjoyed in short bursts. Jump in, clear a few floors, jump out. Some of the more typical RPG elements feel a little too light, but as a more arcade-like approach to the genre it is hard to dislike. The controls are fluid and responsive, and the shooting – whether you’re flinging fireballs or translucent ghost swords – always feels precise. Tiny but mighty, this is an ideal casual dungeon crawler for anybody unwilling to commit to a 50+ hour opus.