Demon Throttle

Demon Throttle was a weird prospect. Instead of just launching like any regular game, this one got a limited-time, physical-only release on Nintendo Switch. According to the back of the box, there were only 10,000 copies made. (It sounds like there will be a second run coming to retail outlets at some point in the future.)

This was announced way back during the Devolver Digital E3 2021 presentation, and pre-orders went live immediately (a second round of pre-orders opened up in April of 2022). I am in the fortunate position to have secured one of these 10,000 copies in the initial pre-order window, and weirdly enough, I was less stressed over this than I was over Super Mario 3D All-Stars. In my defense, Nintendo was handling Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and they almost always screw up exclusive or time-limited items.

Anyway, my copy of Demon Throttle has arrived, and I have to say, this is everything I could have asked for from a retro-inspired throwback title with one of the most bizarre marketing strategies since the 1990s.

Demon Throttle

Now, there’s a physical product here, and it’s great. I don’t normally talk about the physical goods when I review a video game (I do, however, when reviewing collected-edition comic books). But in this case, we simply need to talk about Demon Throttle‘s stuff.

This comes with a case and a cartridge, as you’d expect, but it also comes with a booklet that reminds me of the good old days, when a game manual was just part of the package.

Demon Throttle - instruction manual

Is it necessary? Not really. But it is chock full of game tips, and there’s even a page where you can put your thumb on an icon and a secret code will appear. This is the kind of thing that I want to see from these throwback game manuals.

So how about the game itself? Well, Demon Throttle is a top-down auto-scrolling shooter. There are some bullet-hell elements to it, for sure, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s its main genre. It’s not a super long game (just four main levels, each with its own Demon General boss), but it’s really difficult, and it’s loaded with tons of secrets.

Demon Throttle

For example, there is a chalice hidden in every stage. In order to find one, you have to locate the hidden stairway in that stage, which takes you to a secret bonus section of that stage where you’ll fight a miniboss. The thing is, the location of this stairway changes every time you play the game (more accurately, the game randomly cycles through a handful of predetermined locations for the stairway each time it loads a stage).

On top of that, there are a bunch of unlocks, which you’ll earn by killing a certain number of enemies, replay a level a certain amount of times, collect a certain amount of coins, etc. Sometimes, these just change the border (the game is presented in a square format, with detailed borders on the left and right sides of the screen), but other times, you’ll unlock variants of the stages. For example, you can unlock a version of the first level where it’s storming, and a version of the second level where there’s a blizzard. These variations do make each level a little bit harder — the first adds more water to the stage layout, while the second comes with wind that pushes your character to the left or right. Once you unlock a stage variant, there’s a random chance it will appear each time you play that stage.

Demon Throttle - Act 2

There’s also a bestiary that you can unlock, which will then let you “tame” enemies in special events so you can add them to the pages of your bestiary.

Runs are generally super short, with you trying to see how far you can get before you die. This does give Demon Throttle a little bit of a roguelike feel, but stage layouts are static and not randomized (locations of secrets and frequency of stage variants, however, are randomized). I think it’s more accurate to say this mimics the old-school arcade feel, where games were fast-paced and brutally difficult in an attempt at leaching quarters from arcade visitors.

One element that I need to mention is that there are chunks of ground that can be “mined” out by shooting at them. This is a really satisfying element from a gameplay perspective, but it’s also a fantastic way to hide the game’s secrets. This keeps you shooting out as much of the ground as you possibly can in hopes of finding absolutely everything that each stage offers.

Demon Throttle

The sound design here is excellent, with its (as-to-be-expected) chiptune soundtrack. However, the thing that really makes this pop is the low-fi, distorted voice lines that happen occasionally throughout the game. Additionally, there’s a weird use of language that reminds me of the era in which games were just expected to be badly translated. The first stage, for example, is called “Never Belong to Evil,” which may not be as meme-worthy as “All your base are belong to us,” but it certainly falls into that same camp.

Demon Throttle is a simple game on the surface, but it’s also really deep. I think it balances these two concepts really well — it’s simple enough to pick up and play, but there’s enough depth to it that it continues to feel compelling even after dozens of runs. That’s a balance that’s critical to these sorts of games, and far too few developers are able to handle it as well as Doinksoft did with Demon Throttle (or Berzerk Studio did with Infernax earlier this year).

This had the potential to be a kitchy little marketing ploy, but developer Doinksoft really took this seriously, cramming in way more good ideas than you’d expect from a game this seemingly tiny. Demon Throttle nails absolutely everything it attempts to do, and Doinksoft has a really deep understanding of what makes a retro throwback title work. This is a nostalgia overload for anyone who played games in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, but it doesn’t use that nostalgia as a crutch, instead providing a genuinely compelling experience.

Demon Throttle - Chalice Get

I’m happy that I managed to get a copy of Demon Throttle, because it really is something special. If you missed the initial release of this incredible game, definitely keep your eyes peeled for an update on the next round of physical copies.

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