PAX East: Demon Throttle
By: Roberto Nieves
In all my years of life on Earth and playing video games, I never would have imagined a time when games became a truly global phenomenon, where games are being released every day by many people from all walks of life. In this age of cutting-edge technology, the most popular games harken back to earlier generations in video game history, games with simpler graphics and more limited gameplay options. For some, it's a homage to the earlier times, when gameplay was everything in a game. For others, it's a love letter to the memories made, defeating monsters with their best friends and siblings in their childhood homes. For Doinksoft, it's a combination of both meanings, as their newest game, Demon Throttle, looks and feels like a blast from the past but has the modern player in mind. At PAX East, I had the opportunity to play Demon Throttle at the Devolver Digital booth, and I came away greatly enjoying what I played in all of its 8-bit glory.
Demon Throttle is a top-down rail shooter where the level is always moving, but players are free to move around the level. In this zany, crazy Wild West adventure, a Demon is summoned, one that steals chalices from a slumbering female vampire and tries to kiss a wife of a passing outlaw. This Demon is a menace, and in an unexpected way, the Outlaw and The Vampire pair up to fight monsters, get the chalices back and save the world.
What drew me into Demon Throttle was how faithful the game is to recreating the look, feel, and even sound of an NES game. Most games today mimic such senses, and for the most part, they work well enough to itch that old-fashioned nostalgic feeling of playing games on a wood-paneled CRT. For Demon Throttle is as meticulously, intentionally, and painstakingly tuned to be an old-fashioned NES game, to the point that it almost felt like time went backward, and it was 1988 all over again. I even mistook the game for a homebrew, or a game using NES hardware to be made. While the team used retro hardware for certain aspects of the game, Demon Throttle isn't one.
Visually, it achieves the nostalgic feeling, and it's something that you have to see with your own eyes, as trailers and streams may not fully capture the littlest of details. Demon Throttle has this intentional fuzziness, evoking the CRT effect, and the sounds are bass blasting and simple. Other aspects of Demon Throttle, such as scrolling, movement, and the voices used, are all extremely well done in evoking that classic 80s sensation. Presentation can only go so far, and with Demon Throttle, it's the gameplay that counts.
Demon Throttle is closest to Capcom's Commando, a vertical run'n'gun shooter from 1985 that became a huge success, plopping players straight into a Vietnam-styled jungle to fight enemy soldiers with ridiculously powerful weapons. In Demon Throttle, the gameplay mechanic is similar. Fight enemies, collect power-ups and defeat monsters. The Outlaw has a fast shooting revolver, and The Vampire has a fast-shooting crossbow. Power-ups include shields and life pickups, but most notably, building ammunition for the special ability. The Outlaw can throw sticks of dynamite, which create large, damaging explosions as one would expect. The Vampire's special ability is using homing arrows that lock onto the nearest enemy for a guaranteed hit.
During my demo, I played the first two games with the developer, who showed me the ropes. The enemies come from many forward directions, though none appeared from behind for the demo. The enemies come in the dozens, and placing shots wisely increases the chances of survival. The enemies' numbers and limited movement are challenging, but fortunately, Doinksoft isn't making anything too challenging. Each player has a health bar, and there is no friendly fire, though knocking into each other in 2-player mode temporarily stuns each player for a brief but vulnerable moment. I was also introduced to lite RPG mechanics, leveling up each character for more attributes, such as health and damage.
During my demo with Doinksoft, it was revealed that the key to successfully beating Demon Throttle is repeat gameplay. Scattered throughout the game's several levels are secret bosses. The secret bosses contain The Vampire's chalices. The chalices will be the key to defeating the final Demon General. We defeated two secret demons during the demo, then two Demon Generals. The Demon General put up a hell of a fight, moving wildly and filling the screen with bullets. We smartly stored our special abilities to the point that we could make short work of the Generals, but still, it was a significant fight that required skill, dodging, and an endless supply of bullets.
Overall, I had a great time with Demon Throttle, but I came away with it differently than I did the other demos at PAX. It felt wholesome, as if Doinksoft wanted to create an original experience as close as possible to the decade it represents. I've played all sorts of games emulating the look and feel of classic retro games, but Demon Throttle is perhaps the most genuine and authentic game I've ever played. I'm still astonished by the overall synergy of Demon Throttle. The look, feel, and gameplay evokes those days when my sister and I played Super Mario Bros and Contra on that old CRT growing up in Long Branch. I believe that Demon Throttle could be the beginning of a newly revitalized moment in indie games development, where more developers look to not simply emulate a past generation of gaming but create an experience to almost relive it again.
On a final note, Demon Throttle is embracing its roots all the way from manufacturing to distribution. Demon Throttle is a Nintendo Switch exclusive, but it will not be made available on the Nintendo Switch eShop. The only way to acquire the game will be physically through Devolver Digital's Special Reserve games. Fortunately, this will not be the common case where only a set number of games are made and then gone forever once sold. Demon Throttle will be made available physically and on a rolling basis.
Demon Throttle is slated for launch on Nintendo Switch physically through Special Reserve Games in the Summer of 2022.