Last November, my son and I attended a pinball convention. I’ve been hooked ever since, so was extremely happy to get to the opportunity to look at the retro-inspired pinball game Demon’s Tilt.
The graphics and music both take heavy influence from the 16-bit era of gaming and fans of the retro scene will feel right at home. The graphics are crisp and clear, yet still contain just enough pixelation. The music sounds like it could easily be found in an SNES game.
Much like older virtual pinball, the table in Demon’s Tilt is split into three parts. Each contains numerous obstacles, bumpers, and ramps to hit. Flippers are present in each section to keep the ball contained — miss a key hit and the ball falls to the level below, but remains in play unless it hits the drain on the lowest level. The game only features one table, but there’s also a hardcore mode where players are given a single ball, less forgiving drains, and slightly smaller flippers. After about two hours of play, I still haven’t seen everything it has to offer, so there’s plenty for players to experience.
Much of Demon’s Tilt is influenced by the occult. While I’m not an expert on the subject, the table is littered with spikes, blood-bats, a possibly robotic priestess, and a gigantic viper-lion-scorpion in the top section. Each level sees a progression of battles against the larger objects on the table, so keep defeating gruesome monsters to rack up the points. Many of the larger table objects (and some of the smaller) shoot projectiles to create a bullet-hell effect like that found in many shmup games. These bullets slow the player’s ball down, but also count towards the final score. Unlike shmups, these bullets aren’t something that need to be avoided, but they do change the ball’s trajectory and make it more difficult to hit key objects. I found these to be implemented well, and a unique take on both pinball and shmups.
A notable aspect of Demon’s Tilt is how much it relies on nudging. Nudging occurs when a player bumps the table just enough to impact the path of the ball. Nudge the table too much and it may cause a tilt, ending the game. However, Demon’s Tilt takes this in stride and has a very liberal nudge mechanism. In fact, the only gameplay tip given on the load screen is to nudge the ball! Nudge is designated to the left joystick (or WASD keyboard buttons) and impacts the direction of the ball much like bumping a pinball table does in real life. This is important, especially to keep the ball at the top of the table since the center drain between the flippers is quite spacious. Spamming nudge too much, too quickly will still result in a tilt, but fortunately the game warns players by creating a blood red frame around the table. After a couple minutes, these nudges became second nature and I could clearly see why “tilt” was part of the title.
As much as I enjoyed my time with Demon’s Tilt so far, I did come across a few minor issues. For one, I wasn’t always sure where I should be aiming to hit a ramp. As great as the graphics are, the layers aren’t always clear — every ramp blends into one another with no clear distinction about which one is the top and how they overlap. Slightly confusing, but not a huge deal.
Also, an achievement popped up and would not disappear until I reset the game. Being in the corner, it didn’t impact the gameplay, but some of the menu options were blocked from view. I also had difficulty selecting the options with my controller. The cursor could be moved to highlight many of the choices, but I found it was simpler and quicker to just use my keyboard for these items. Even though selecting certain options still needs a little polish, Demon’s Tilt does appear to allow for full controller and keyboard customization, so that’s good to see.
Fans of virtual pinball, especially the retro variety, will want to keep an eye on this game. There are still some small issues that need to be fixed, but overall, Demon’s Tilt is a blast to play. It is currently in open beta and can be purchased on Steam.