Release Date: June 12, 2020
Rating: T (Teen)
Platform: PlayStation 4, Vita (Cross-Buy)
What’s It About?
Demon’s Tier+ is a top-down dungeon crawler developed by Diabolical Mind (Xenon Valkyrie, Riddled Corpses) in which you take control of a medieval adventurer and hack, slash, and burn your way through randomized, monster-filled levels in your quest to take revenge upon an ancient demon. In an age when the term “dungeon crawler” is increasingly synonymous with loot-centered Diablo clones, it’s refreshing to get something that feels a bit more arcade-like that seems to draw inspiration from the early ‘90s Dungeon Explorer series. You are encouraged to run through sections of the dungeon over and over to earn currency, which can be spent to buy useful items and unlock additional characters.
Whether playing alone or with a friend (local multiplayer only), Demon’s Tier+ provides plenty of frantic action. All eight characters (only one of which is initially playable, and two of which are unlocked after finishing the game) have rapid-fire ranged attacks with power and range that vary from character to character. Other statistics, such as health and defense vary as well, but you can spend gold in between levels to improve any stat. This adds a lot of flexibility to the roster, as you can start with the “glass cannon” wizard and focus on improving her maximum health to make her an unstoppable fire-blasting force.
Each floor of the dungeon has a specific visual style/theme (crystal mines, fire caverns, etc.), but the placement of enemies, treasure chests, and exits is all randomized. Objectives are randomized as well, and range from “defeat all enemies” to “open all chests.” You might feel like you’ve lucked out when you get an objective that can be more easily completed, but you’ll absolutely want to spend as much time collecting gold on each floor as possible before descending to the next one so that you can improve your stats. Just don’t take too long, or, in one of several nods to Gauntlet, the undefeatable Reaper will begin stalking you throughout the level.
After every second or third level, you’ll encounter a gigantic boss. While the game can already feel like more of a shooter than a hack-and-slash action game due to its ranged combat, boss battles take this a step further and can sometimes even delve into the dreaded “bullet hell” territory. Fortunately, every character is equipped with an “evade” ability that allows them to deflect or nullify enemy attacks. This ability has a cooldown mechanic, however, so you’ll have to be strategic and save it for when it’s most needed.
Demon’s Tier+ has a simple pixel art style that conveys a lot of charm. The playable characters themselves are very tiny and lacking in detail, but their bouncy animations have more than enough personality. Scale is also used to great effect, with towering bosses and large, detailed character portraits. The more detailed art is very anime-influenced, with brooding, spiky-haired male characters and, um… “well-endowed” female characters. Music and sound effects sound straight out of a Super NES game, and while most of the music is meant to be more on the atmospheric side, a couple tunes are downright catchy.
Demon’s Tier+ is a difficult game with an unforgiving nature. “Rogue-likes,” a subgenre in which defeat often results in little-to-nothing gained, are more popular than ever these days, but having to start the entire dungeon over with base-level stats after each death can feel a little too punishing. You can use a magic rope item to escape the dungeon at any time in order to use D-tokens (a separate currency from gold) to purchase characters or items in the hub town, but death can come so quickly and unexpectedly – especially for characters with lower health – that you’ll often find yourself staring at a game over screen in bewilderment before you have a chance to escape.
If you die, you lose any stat improvements purchased since entering the dungeon, along with all of your gold and D-tokens. You have one opportunity to reach the point where you perished to recover your D-tokens, but if you happened to die on the last level, you might not want to spend an hour getting back to that point only to feel obligated to warp back to town to spend the tokens. Oh, and did I mention that using magic rope also causes your stats to revert to their base level?
The game is divided into three tiers of difficulty, but you have to finish a tier to unlock the next. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the hidden character who is unlocked after finishing Tier 1 is laughably overpowered due to her excellent attack power and range, along with the ability to heal herself regularly. I didn’t feel particularly motivated to build up a weaker character while playing a more difficult version of the dungeon when I could play as a god-like character from the get-go, so much of the replay value was diminished.
The sheer number of tiny pixelated sprites on screen can make things feel chaotic very quickly. Especially with a second player, it’s all too easy to lose track of your character and end up running directly into a spike trap or explosive barrel. Factor in the debris from destroyed objects and some muddy textures (especially in the fire caverns) and you often have an indiscernible mess of an environment that will leave you squinting at the monitor.
All of this leads to my biggest complaint about the game, which is that its difficulty balance is inconsistent. Some common enemies (I’m looking at you, blue wizard!) are significantly more difficult than others, and they tend to roam the floor in packs. You might feel like you’re unstoppable one moment, but the next you’re surrounded by fast-moving, flanking enemies while trying to kill a bullet sponge that spawns even more enemies. This game is certainly not for those lacking in patience.
Demon’s Tier+ can be frustratingly difficult at times, but it’s worth the effort for those looking for a more arcade-inspired dungeon crawler. Charming retro-inspired aesthetics and fast-paced gameplay make for a fun weekend’s worth of dungeon-diving. Your mileage may vary in terms of how much content you get out of it, but it’s a fun experience once you wrap your mind around its quirks. Just be sure to put out the swear jar before starting it up.