It has been over half of a year (!!!) since I've attended PAX East and as games that I've previewed get released, there was one I've had my eyes set on the most. Demon Throttle was one of the many games I've had a hands-on preview with, including meeting the developers at Doinksoft. From the beginning, they were set on their goals to develop the perfect homage to NES-era shoot-em-ups with King's Knight being its main inspiration. Perhaps the biggest draw of Demon Throttle is its physical exclusivity being the only official way to obtain this game, no doubt a throwback to the old-school way to obtain games.
While there are several ways to order the game as is, I highly recommend purchasing it from the Special Reserve Games website as you're guaranteed to get the goodies that come with the game. I pre-ordered the game from Amazon under the pretense that I'd be receiving one of Doinksoft's earlier titles, Gato Roboto, and it would have been a fun side game to cover. Not only did I not receive the bonus game, but none of the extra goodies the game was supposed to come with. I'd imagine the other "retail versions" would have the same features, but if so, I wish Amazon would have made this clear in the description for the item...
Regardless, as this is not the fault of the publisher but of the retailer, I guess I can cut my losses and focus on the packaging it did arrive in. It comes in a Switch case with the description of the game on the back as well as the declaration that it's indeed "Physical Only." I thought the decision to make it physical only was pretty awesome in terms of its reference to how games were originally distributed. I wanted to support the guys at Doinksoft so I was going to purchase a physical copy for myself anyway.
Now comes Demon Throttle's gameplay itself. When I played the hands-on demo, I had the opportunity to try out the game's local co-op. Admittingly, I was carried by the gentleman who was dodging every single bullet I was getting ripped to shreds by. I didn't have a gentleman to help me this time around, or a lady, or a person at all. All I had in front of me was my own wits and hair-triggering reaction to hopefully carry me past the first stage. I remember how much of a dozy that was during the demo. Time to see if I have learned anything.
The solo experience for Demon Throttle was like night and day in comparison to playing co-op. In solo play, the player controls both protagonists, a cowboy, and a vampiress. Both characters have their own reasons for going after the demon; the vampiress wants to reclaim her chalices and the cowboy wants vengeance for the demon kissing his wife "...or something." Both characters play differently from the other, both with their strengths and weaknesses.
In the beginning, the cowboy has one extra life over the vampiress (5 to 4). His main attack utilizes his revolver by firing bullets in a straight line and his "bomb" attack throws sticks of dynamite a short distance. Comparatively, the vampiress fires arrows from her crossbow that don't do as much damage as the cowboy but has a greater spread shot for dispatching multiple enemies. Likewise, her "bomb" attack throws several homing knives that are good for clearing the screen and attacking the boss's weak points.
The player can swap between the two at any given time by pressing the X button, a strategy that is paramount to survival. Each character not only has their own resources but also their own power-ups. Between the two, you have a total of nine hit points (5 + 4) and if one character dies, they are out for the rest of the level. If you're playing as the vampiress and she's at full health, switching to the cowboy and picking up a health power-up would be best if the cowboy had already taken damage.
A more common scenario would be picking up a bomb power-up, yet as the character who doesn't have their bombs to maximum capacity. If the cowboy has nine bombs, which is the max, it's best to switch to the vampiress to increase her stock of bombs as well. Other powerups, such as a shield, an orb, a speed boost, and an increased fire rate are also unique to each character and aren't shared. That means whoever picked up a shield will keep the shield and it's non-transferrable for example.
After the fourth game over, I also realized that enemies and items will always spawn in the same area, making it easier to plot a path and only worry about the essentials. This is not a "roguelike" game. Everything that happens at a level is already pre-determined. It's up to the player to figure out the best course to make it to the boss and survive. The first boss for example is a floating head with two hands that alternate firing patterns. I mentioned before that it's best to make sure both characters are topped off with resources and this is why.
Finding the right time to bombard the boss with bombs will deal insane damage and even skip some phases if you're quick enough. If you've collected nine bombs for each character, when the boss is stunned, you can alternate spamming as many bombs as possible. If done correctly, the boss should go down in two cycles. But remember, that's one stage done. There are less than a handful of stages making it on the short side should everything go according to plan. I failed to mention that you only have one life. Should both characters die, you have to start from the beginning.
Demon Throttle is a byproduct of 1980s NES-era gaming so it rarely comes off as frustrating. In fact, I had let out a chuckle every time this would happen. I would come at each level with a different strategy and whatever works I'd stick with it. Even the best plays can be halted by missing a critical jump by a single frame. Remember, you have nine hit points so every mistake counts. There is a leveling system that increases a character's stats at each level. One thing to note is that you are limited to the number of kills a character has, so if you find the levels are lopsided, chances are you have to even the spread of kills to gain equal exp.
As I was looking up the various goodies I was missing out on (Thanks again, Amazon) one of the biggest ones I was bummed out about was the lack of the manual. In my interview with the developers, I was teased that they would have included a clever secret easter egg in the booklet, much like most easter eggs were hidden at the time. While I don't have the manual, others have, and the "secret easter egg" is actually a charming little cheat code. Fanbyte covered the manual not too long ago which makes me even more jealous, but alas.
Just like how the name of our site references the Konami Code in its logo, Doinksoft has its own special code labeled, ideally, the "Doinksoft Code." By entering Down, Right, Up, Left, Y, A, A, A, +, you begin the game powered up with a shield, maximum bombs, and a second life. While not exactly 99 lives in Contra, this boost is enough to give players that added level of security to see beyond the second boss. As mentioned, everyone has a bit of personality, engaging with the two protagonists in different ways.
The first boss just wants to fight while the second boss, having been frozen in ice forever, just wants to make friends. The third boss is a sexy scorpion lady who uses her assets to trick the cowboy into freeing her, much to the vampiress's distress. This boss shows ample amounts of personality, from her warning screen and her very interesting hurt sounds. Admittingly it would have taken me thrice as long without the Doinksoft Code refreshing my powered-up state in between each level. Yes, Demon Throttle is still difficult enough to render this moot, so be sure to stay sharp!
Demon Throttle is a game layered with secret dungeons, charming characters with voice acting, and multiple ways to clear a level be it efficiently or by the skin of one's teeth. I have played many "retro-inspired" games, some better than others. After playing this for several hours and being reminded that their next big project, Gunbrella is on the way, I can't wait for Doinksoft's big project. Due to the finicky nature of "physical only releases," I wouldn't let this one slip by as it's one of the more honestly fun "8-bit style" titles I've played this year.
Demon Throttle is available on the Nintendo Switch.