Demon’s Crystal’s plotline is conveyed via a three-paragraph text crawl which proceeds the first level. Undoubtedly, it could have been condensed even further, as four color-coded, but functionally identical Urican Demons defeat the undead across a succession of levels. As proceeding twin-stick shooters like Robotron: 2084, Smash TV, and Geometry Wars have adeptly demonstrated, the genre doesn’t need exposition as much as it needs a never-ending caravan of enemies. Undoubtedly, Demon’s Crystals has plenty of those.
After selecting your starting demon, you’ll make your way across twenty-seven levels and a trio of boss battles in hopes of halting the encroaching undead. Play takes place across several horror-themed environments, from a graveyard, a castle, as well as a forest. Just don’t expect expansive layouts. In order to keep the action tense, the navigational spaces are rather narrow and the choke points are numerous. And while some of the environments can be destroyed and even yield some experience points, they don’t change the pathing of each stage.
Some levels require you to kill a specific number of foes before a timer expires. Others need you to collect a certain number of white glowing crystals before advancing. Periodically, you’ll have to do both. The former is accomplished by using one of the Switch’s sticks to move to the other to shoot, without the need for holding down another button. In execution that means you could play Demon’s Crystals for longer play sessions with hand cramps. But undoubtedly, mental fatigue is a factor.
Sure, there’s variation. Large red power-ups modify your basic rapid-fire weapon into launching multiple streams or even producing a pattern of whirly shot that hits almost everything in front of you. Smaller pick-ups can do things like trigger explosives, return a bit of health, or turn you into giant so you can temporarily trample adversaries. There’s even a leveling system, another the only benefit from advancing is more hit points.
By the time you reach Demon’s Crystals mid-point, you’re seen a majority of what the game has to offer. Locations begin to recycle, and while there’s the occasional new foe encountered as you progress, far too many opponents are reused. The type of missions (called ‘hordes’) don’t introduce any variety. Whether your collecting crystals or killing enemies, you’ll obey the same strategy. Carefully dodging the incessant barrage of projectiles while firing in the general direction of adversity becomes the route of advancement, and before long it becomes all too routine.
And while it can grow monotonous, there’s no disputing Demon’s Crystals’ technical prowess. Even with a horde of enemies and a plethora of projectiles on-screen, the title’s framerate doesn’t deviate from a sixty frame-per-second delivery. In handheld mode, some aspects of the user interface can be hard to read on the diminutive 6.2inch screen. But squint, and you’ll see exactly how many crystals are required, enemies that need killing, or the endurance of your power-ups. While the soundtrack isn’t memorable, it helps establish a quick cadence for the on-screen action.
Although Demon’s Crystals performs well, the game lacks longevity. If technical competence is your core criteria, then certainly give the game a go, since the PC port runs flawless on Nintendo’s hybrid. But if you’re seeking something that exhibits a bit more variation, then titles like Enter the Gungeon, Neurovoider, and The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ should be considered first.
Demon’s Crystals was played on the Switch with review code provided by the publisher.