Enter the Gungeon is a game I’ve been playing a lot of recently: creative and varied ideas, tight responsive controls, intelligent design throughout – it really is an almost perfect twin-stick shooter. But there’s more than one way to be perfect, and perfection already existing doesn’t mean the genre is done with; before Gungeon, Binding of Isaac was an “almost perfect twin-stick shooter” and I’m sure people would make an argument for Nuclear Throne as well, and that’s just within the penny-pinching indie sphere. I include this preface because, as I bash Demon’s Crystals like a Nun bashes bibles and compare all the things it does wrong to things Gungeon does right, it’s important to understand that Demon’s Crystals isn’t bad just because it isn’t Gungeon, but bad in it’s own right and the comparison is the best way to highlight that. There’s lot of perfect twin-stick shooters, but Demon’s Crystals really isn’t one.
So let’s start with, and I’m going to blow your minds with this, the start. Demon’s Crystals plot is all of confusing, underwhelming, and does nothing to explain where these underdressed anime demon-people got quite such heavy firearms from, like if the Heavy from Team Fortress 2 wrote Sailor Moon fanfiction. Whereas Gungeon (and get used to the expression “whereas gungeon,” you’re going to see it plenty) has a simple opening cutscene to give players just enough to reel them in, and then tells a story naturally through it’s characters and worldbuilding, Crystals does the complete opposite and gives you a text crawl over some art assets, like if Star Wars was a finger-puppet show. From what I can gather the aforementioned, probably a bit chilly, demon protagonists (who are actually a race called “Uricans,” which isn’t fanfiction-y at all) were minding their own business, discussing politics or playing Mario Kart or whatever demons do, when three nasty fantasy lads rocked up and turned the world’s entire population into zombies. The Uricans need their titular crystals to live or something (have to be careful using the world “titular” with cover-art like that), so have to go smite some blighters and restore peace to the realm. It’s a combination of completely unnecessary and completely half-arsed, to the point where you can’t help but just laugh.
In regards to presentation, this is probably Demon’s Crystals strongest trait, though that isn’t perhaps saying much – very much the “participation award” sticker among the Olympic medals. The graphics, outside of the previously discussed slightly gag-inducing character renders, are pretty serviceable all things considered; they have a faint whiff of a mid-budget PS2 game about them – in that they remind me really specifically of Crash Twinsanity and I don’t know why. There is, however, absolutely no variety in the theming whatsoever, so I hope you really like the same vaguely ethereal floating graveyard island for the rest of time. In a similar vein, the music is, fine: it sounds very much like a cheesy b-list action movie soundtrack with not enough self-awareness, so this triumphant orchestral-ish riff swells to accompany your weeaboy or weeagirl ploughing down the undead like the aforementioned Heavy ploughs down sandwiches. It’s all a bit odd, but it gets the job done.
What’s not quite so passable is the gameplay itself. While for the most part, it’s very standard twin-stick shooter affair, controlling quite nicely albeit, on smaller, more restrictive maps than what’s come to be expected from other comparable games, there are a few significant flaws holding it back from being anything greater than that. For one, we need to talk about particle effects; most of the time the screen looks like a mantis shrimp watching an explosion at the fireworks factory, and while it’s good for spectacle it’s pretty abhorrent for gameplay, particularly in a game where you have to, y’know, aim. It’s very easy to lose both your character and enemies in the mess, and this goes from mildly irksome to fully irritating once said enemies start throwing their own projectiles back, which are almost impossible to see. Equally, while the crystals are a good idea on paper, encouraging the player to move around in a genre where it’s often a good idea to curl up in the corner like a confused roomba, in practice they just get lost in the visual mess too, making them feel like a chore. The balance feels pretty off, moreover, going from “a joke” to “hordes like Black Friday crowds” in the space of just a couple levels, which is the final nail in the coffin. The game also offers multiplayer – but on PvE the issue with particle effects is several-fold worse, and on PvP is very much just “whoever gets a power-up first wins” and it’s inclusion feels like an afterthought.
Finally, and while I don’t usually bring this up very much, there needs to be a significant discussion about the price this game is retailing at. On Steam, this game is £3.99 – it’s currently in a Black Friday sale for £1.59, but full price, £3.99 – and at that price point, sure, this is fairly competitive, a fairly appealing option that I could sort-of half recommend. On Switch, Demon’s Crystals costs £13.49! That’s 338% more, maths nerds, just for the privilege of being able to play it on the bog! We all joke about “Switch Tax,” but this is utterly ludicrous and completely prices the game out of any relevance it could of have – costing a good portion more than Enter the Gungeon does while offering a fraction of the content is not a good look, and that’s, unfortunately, the bottom line on the subject. Avoid like the girl on the cover avoids sensible garment choices.