Heaven a good time
This review was originally published in November 2014. We're updating and republishing it to mark the game's arrival in the Nintendo Switch Online NES library â and its official debut in North America nearly 40 years after its Japanese launch on Famicom.
As far as obscure releases within the NES library go, Devil World is certainly one of the most interesting. Originally released in Japan in 1984 and in Europe in 1987, this is a title that to this day has never been available to purchase in North America â not even through the wonders of Nintendoâs Virtual Console service. Nintendo of America originally passed on the title at the time of release due to self-imposed rules on the use of religious icons and themes appearing in its games. The subsidiary's stance has evidently relaxed since then, yet Devil World nevertheless remained in the depths of unreleased game hell in the region until its 2023 debut as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.
With that said, the fact that a Nintendo-developed (with Intelligent Systems) game contains such overt religious symbols remains rather surprising even today. Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and then-newcomer Takashi Tezuka, Devil World isn't an in-depth critical work that explores the underworld. Instead, itâs merely a PAC-MAN clone, albeit a rather creative one, that exudes more charm than youâd expect from a game with such a sinister-sounding title.
However, thatâs not to say that Devil World is all lollipops and rainbows. In fact, itâs pretty punishing as far as the gameplay is concerned. The basic premise evokes that of Namcoâs yellow, pellet-gobbling mascot in that the main goal of each standard stage is to collect objects known as Boa-Boa dots scattered across various dungeon mazes. You play as Tamagon, a miniature dragon who is tasked with collecting these dots as a means through which to âattack the Devil World.â
Whereas Pac-Man doesn't hold back when it comes to munching pellets, Tamagon has the good grace to only do so while holding a holy cross, an item of which youâll find plenty in the maze. Once firmly in his grasp, a mystical power compels him to not only eat delicious Boa-Boa dots, but also to shoot flames from his mouth. The latter comes in especially handy given that each stage is littered with enemies, and the only way to temporarily halt their advance is to roast them. Doing so will even turn certain enemies into, naturally, fried eggs. We can't help but think that both Miyamoto and Tezuka were under the influence of something while making this one.
Itâs a premise that sounds straightforward enough, but what sets Devil World apart from its obvious inspiration is the way in which the stages behave. The view of the playing field isn't fixed in place; instead, the level will scroll in one of four directions as chosen by the Devil himself. Those who have played any Super Smash Bros. game since Brawl will likely be already familiar with this chap â heâs that pain in the backside who pushes part of the stage out of view.
In Devil World, heâs doing more or less the same thing, although his primary goal here is to crush poor Tamagon between the edge of the screen and a wall. Naturally, this has a pretty big impact on the way in which you play; how you go about collecting Boa-Boa dots is always influenced by the direction in which the stage is moving, and some foresight is required if you want to avoid inadvertently trapping yourself. The mazes are surprisingly intricate in certain stages, featuring long stretches of wall that will speed up your journey to the afterlife if you don't take care.
There are three different stage types that crop up per round, ensuring variety, albeit in a rather formulaic way. Upon completing the first stage â which revolves around eating Boa-Boa dots â youâre next tasked with collecting four bibles and placing them into the Devilâs seal in order to close it. Bibles dish out the same fire-breathing powers as crosses, so youâre still able to attack enemies in this stage should you need to. Following this, a bonus stage appears in which you have to collect up to six bonus boxes. Here, youâre able to control the direction in which the screen scrolls by walking over arrow panels on the floor; only through the efficient use of these can you acquire everything.
Although it may be a very simple concept, especially when compared to modern games, Devil World is nevertheless very playable and challenging as a result of its unusual gameplay mechanics. The game can be played cooperatively with a second player, which makes it a little bit easier (although you can hinder and even kill each other if not careful) and an ideal choice if you want something simple and easy to understand.
The charming visuals and upbeat soundtrack should be at odds with the theme of the game, but they actually just make it that bit more appealing when played today. The repetitive nature of the gameplay and stage format, however, may prevent Devil World from holding your attention for very long.
Itâs all too easy to label Devil World as a Pac-Man clone given its obvious similarities, yet to view it as only being that would be a huge mistake. This is a game that takes the basic formula of that arcade hit and builds upon it in an inventive and unique way; the scrolling maze mechanic inserts an added layer of challenge that can be remarkably difficult to anticipate and overcome. It does become a bit repetitive over time, as the stages are very similar throughout and always presented in the same order. Despite this, itâs the challenge that will keep you coming back, not to mention the quirky theme thatâs arguably more interesting as a result of it being something you wouldn't typically expect to find in a Nintendo-developed game.