This article was written as part of the Make a Wish Week Amigathon. Donations are now being accepted to help fulfil the dying wishes of terminally ill children.
He’s blue, he’s a demon, he’s ‘Demon Blue’, just like it says on the tin… unless of course, you’re looking at the C64’s title screen. In any case, this isn’t the ‘demon blues’; a game revolving around a melancholy demon, or one who sings harmonies emanating from African Americans who colonised the Deep South of the United States towards the tail end of the 19th century, although that certainly would have added some sorely lacking depth to the proceedings.
MicroValue’s novel, budget platformer, released in 1992 for the Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST and DOS, stars a sort of devilish imp Furby creature devised six years before the electronic robo-toys were invented. The creative crew behind the curtain were coders Bill Thorburn and David Mowbray, graphicians David Mowbray and Phillip Nixon, and musician, Phillip Nixon.
On the whole, it’s a forgettable footnote in the history of home computer gaming that wouldn’t deserve a mention at all save for the unorthodox decision not to arm him with a traditional, aimable weapon or even head-bouncing manoeuvre as is typically the next best alternative.
Instead, you brandish a self-orbiting star that can be spiralled in the general vicinity of your opponents to dispatch them, assuming the timing of your jumps is spot on. Obviously the problem is, it only goes where you do, so you’re always going to be throwing yourself in the line of fire, which strikes me as somewhat counterproductive. As an Achilles heel it’s colossally inconvenient, tripping us up at every turn.
In effect, Demon Blue becomes a kind of avoid ’em up where dodging enemies proves far more effective than tackling them head-on, especially given that you’re only granted a single life and no continues. This becomes even more apparent in the DOS iteration where it appears that MicroValue forgot to include the twirling star gizmo.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. How can we possibly get stuck in without being aware of our motivation? Who are we, and why are we here? Stephen Hawking is out to lunch at the moment so we may have to wait a while for the answers to those questions. In the meantime, we may as well take a peek at the game’s plot.
We’ve come to expect some pretty throwaway premises in our time together so it won’t come as much of a shock to discover that this one is proportionately ‘whatever’…
“Demon Blue is the re-incarnation of Harrison, a mischievous schoolboy who was born in a small town in Northern Scotland. Harrison decided one day that school lessons were just that little bit boring, so he gathered his fishing tackle together and headed for the local pond. Whilst he was sitting on the bankside he saw a big fish jump out in the middle, where the deeper water was. He decided that he would try to catch this fish and then boast to his friends just how clever he had been. Unfortunately, he slipped on a wet stone and that was the last that we saw of poor Harrison.
If only he had gone to school that day as he was supposed to, or been able to swim he would have lived to tell the tale, but alas young Harrison now finds himself in a fantasy world with more than a hint of Greek scenery. Hidden energy pots for food and eight scattered keys will help to unlock Harrison’s detention and bring him back to earth as an older and wiser person.”
Hmm, there’s a lesson in there somewhere kids. Anyway, it really is as simple as that. Grab the keys, get to the exit. Cue congratulatory screen of pseudo-English text.
You actually begin at the end so the locked way out you see in the first two seconds of the game getting underway is your final destination. Bit of an anti-climax, no? Everything takes place on the one ancient Greece themed level via a series of connected flick-screens that can be explored in all four directions. 100+ according to the box.
Jump up at the top of the screen and you push the focus into the one above, and then straight back down again if there’s no ledge there to support you. In this regard, it’s reminiscent of the early 8-bit Dizzy games, and no doubt it will do that to you. Possibly the allusion is deliberate – there are a lot of trampolining Dizzy-esque characters in Demon Blue after all.
Aside from the useless star gimmick that many enemies are immune to anyway, another trick up your sleeve is the rollerskate Heelys technique described by Zzap! as “the ability to slide like lightning”. This can be activated by pulling diagonally down on the joystick in either direction and deployed to scoot past assailants at double the usual speed.
“It’s a visually attractive game, with plenty of pretty platforms to explore. Introduction music is equally as pretty and the in-game FX are excellent. Demon Blue himself is a very nicely animated sprite, with some great little mannerisms.
So what went wrong? Sadly the gameplay was lost somewhere in the great vortex of production. All that remains is the requirement for pixel-perfect jumping around thicko enemies – not exactly fascinating, and very frustrating.
It’s a great shame as everything else about the game points towards a classic platform adventure.”
64% – Zzap!64 (Claire, April 1992)
Control is all taken care of via the joystick, and with no projectiles to unleash your fire button is free for executing jumps, so that will please the console fans. At least it would if you had some semblance of jurisdiction over your mobilisation. Firstly you have to be facing in the direction in which you intend to leap before pressing fire, making split-second reactions awkward. Once in mid-air your fixed arc jumps are beyond your influence – there’s no fine-tuning, it’s either all or nothing causing you to over-leap platforms more often than not. You do have the option to jump straight up, however.
Gems can be snapped up for points, whilst energy vials do the obvious, except they replenish a split, mirror-image bar on either side of the screen that bafflingly depletes in synchrony. Is this to cater for left as well as right-eyed players?
Enemies move in set patterns with little evidence of artificial intelligence, and respawn whenever you exit and re-enter the screen. Amongst the cast are constipated crouching gargoyles, fallen angels (this being the underworld), wasps, walking M&M ‘spokescandies’ (well just the cynical and sardonic Red one to be precise), dancing tongues, and featureless ghosts. There’s also a mega-wasp boss that can be totally ignored if you’re not in the mood for a confrontation.
Music plays over the title screen, yet only sound effects are offered in-game. For instance FX such as ‘eh!’ when you jump, sometimes. I can’t fathom why Harry yawps on some occasions and not others, it may be totally random, who knows.
“Demon Blue is a game that looks far better than it plays. In this day and age, you want more than unintelligent baddies that just trundle back and forth along a set route all day long, while you jump around them or lose energy – this genre was done to death eight years ago, and Demon Blue offers nothing really new.
The cassette inlay boasts a hundred screens to explore. If Micro Value had cut down on quantity and paid more attention to depth of gameplay, it could’ve been a good game – the graphics and sound are excellent! As it stands, though, it’s not much cop.”
69% – Zzap!64 (Ian, April 1992)
It’s the end of the road when you bound through the doorway back to your own world, hopefully having grown intellectually and spiritually in the aftermath of your journey of discovery.
Which is more than can be said for the person who wrote these parting words of wisdom in a mixed-case font. How is it possible to cram in this many spelling, punctuation and grammatical mistakes into such a short piece of text? Surely it must have been part of a Guinness record-breaking attempt? That or it was Take Your Kids to Work Day, and one of the little cherubs got to leave their indelible stamp on daddy’s work to keep them out of mischief.
I think I prefer the conclusion of the Commodore 64 version…
“Thats all folks
With no apostrophe of course. I suppose either way they do neatly align with the degree of effort that went into making Demon Blue a fun, playable platformer. It’s a shame the experience turned out to be so hollow because the protagonist is quirky enough to be endearing and the graphics and animation polished to a professional standard. Bolt on a game of some sort and it might have been a winning formula!