One of the dangers of playing Japanese games without any knowledge of the language is going into a title ignorant and having to trial-and-error everything. Thankfully, most Japanese games feature enough bits of English for those unacquainted with the language to get by, and most players will generally find certain genres to fit like a glove regardless of the style of text thrown on screen. Shooters, fighters, platformers, and puzzle games tend to be safe choices, their design based on well worn concepts and generally simple enough to figure out in a play or two. "Demon Ruins of Hero and Puzzle," the Yahoo! Babel Fish translation of the game's actual title ( 魔物な勇者と謎の遺跡 ) which I'll be using, mostly allows players to subscribe to that line of thinking. Demon Ruins is a simple physics based platform which deviates a bit from Cameltry and its clones in that the player can only tilt the world a bit and that the character in the game is always jumping. Thus, the goal of the game is to tilt the level just enough so that the demon hero blob thing can leap and bound its way to stage exit.
Players can tilt the world using the left analog stick or the analog triggers, and the blue jelly will telegraph which angle its jump will take given the current tilt of the level. I enjoy this kind of indirect control over the character as I love games like Korokoro Post Nin and Touch! Kirby (Kirby Canvas Curse) which offer a more innovative way to play otherwise traditional platform games. It's not all hands off, however, as the player is allowed to initiate a super jump with the A button and short range horizontal warp with the shoulder buttons. Players begin each level with a regenerating blue "magic" meter formed from five hexagons, and each use of the super jump depletes one hexagon while the warp uses up two. (Note that the screenshots are incorrect in their depiction of the magic points and display what appear to be power-ups which aren't present in the game.) The game also uses a hit point meter for a timer; the jelly begins with 9,999 hit points which are swiftly drained so long as it is active in the level. At the end of each level, a granite creature tallies up the score with the remaining hit points and magic left after the blob has reached the exit. The score is carried over from level to level, and the total points at the end of the game is displayed on the title screen.
I mentioned the dangers of importing -- if one can call downloading digitally distributed games in your home territory "importing" -- for a reason, none of which has to do with the game's worth. Demon Ruins is an excellent platformer, but it's only seven levels long. As the ending animation and credits rolled once I reached that seventh exit, I found myself perplexed as a 2009 YouTube video of the game clearly shows a level not found in this version at the 40-second mark. While I can dismiss this as beta footage with NCC perhaps deciding against using switches and level backtracking, I cannot explain its March 2010 video showing off a fancy 3-D version of the game with unseen levels but with the older exit design. Is this a sequel, announced prior to this game's release, or are we just finally getting a delayed XNA title which has been available in Japan for some time? I wish I knew, because while these videos do not detract from the game itself, they did influence my expectations going into Demon Ruins and exacerbated my mild disappointed somewhat when the game ended as shortly as it did. Demon Ruins is another game which ends just as the player is getting into the swing of things, and while I would hate for an arcade-y platformer with no option to save to drag out at length, I still would have liked to see more levels available than the scant offerings here, perhaps via a new difficulty option or some such.
Unfortunately, Demon Ruins is a barebones arcade platformer with no options of which to speak. The game doesn't even pause when the guide button is pressed. I'm at a loss to explain why NCC would bother including an option to continue or exit every time the blob dies when the game offers unlimited lives as it is. Demon Ruins itself as a game experience is excellent, but the framework is definitely lacking, skimpy on options and unnecessarily drawing what should be an instant respawn. At least the background music, a single song fittingly called "Unlucky Day," can be heard at Oto No Happa's website. While more song variety would be welcomed, "Unlucky Day" is long enough at three and a half minutes to never become too repetitive for a game this brief. I do wish Demon Ruins had better graphics, particularly after viewing the video linked above, but what's here is serviceable. I do think the game needs to scale back a bit as the ground tends to disappear when going full tilt ahead, but I suppose that's part of the risk in speeding in a game such as this. The levels could use more detail as well as there is little reason to keep all of these dungeon stages as bland as they are in this game, especially with only seven to display. The blob itself is animated well with nice facial expressions, but the sole enemy, a loosely homing ghoul creature which acts as a mobile bumper in the game, could be made better and on par with our hero.
I find the gameplay of Demon Ruins of Hero and Puzzle to be well worth the purchase, but the amount of content is another story. Given how much of the game is playable during the trial period, I'm not so certain I would have made that purchase had I known what remained. It's the same kind of feeling I had when I plunked down the 80 points for I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1, another title which I'm not so certain I would have bought had I known just how little remained. I enjoyed my time with Demon Ruins and believe that's worth chipping in some money to the developer for support, but I suspect most people will find the demo enough now that the word is out.