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Friday, October 10, 2014

NES Replay: Devil World

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: July 1987

Shigeru Miyamoto has made a lot of his games in his storied career, and the most amazing thing about his career is how consistent his games are. He’s arguably only ever had one unmitigated stinker (Stunt Race FX), and every other game has some redeeming quality to it. We’re lucky he’s still around, and we should hope that he's around for a long, long time.

However, there’s one Miyamoto game that those of us who live in the United States have never had a chance to play. Why didn't it get to our shores? Was it too hard to translate? Was it too complicated for audiences in the US? Was it just not cost-effective to bring it here?

Well, try this one on for size: The game that never made it over here was called Devil World. It was a game where the main character picked up crosses to shoot enemies and pick up pellets, and picked up bibles to close up portals where demons would come out of. A demon at the top of the screen directed the gameplay.

A game like this would have made US audiences lose their minds. In the 1980’s, people were terrified of “ritual satanic abuse,” something that totally wasn’t a thing but freaked people out anyway. As we discussed in a prior review for Astyanax, Nintendo forced every company to scrub religious symbols out of their games lest audiences freak out and get the games banned.

Here’s the funny thing: There’s no reason that Devil World had to be full of crosses and bibles. It was just a Pac-Man variant. It wouldn't have taken much to make Devil World into a Mario game or something similar. They could have easily replaced everything with fire flowers and Goombas and put Bowser at the top of the screen and the game would have functionally stayed the same. Yet, they didn’t, and Devil World ended up a footnote in Miyamoto’s career.

Since we didn’t get Devil World, we need to ask, “Were American audiences missing out on some amazing experience?” Well, Devil World is fun. It’s a little confusing at first, but way easier to understand than, say, Clu Clu Land. It’s pretty much Pac-Man, except the ghosts aren't the main threat. Instead, you're constantly on guard against getting squished by a wall. It’s a solidly made game, and the music and sound are catchy.

In my humble opinion, Nintendo saw two options with Devil World: Spend lots of time and money to fundamentally rewrite a game that was just “pretty good” and may or may not make money, or instead polish the games they knew were going to be amazing. Frankly, they made the right choice.

While it would be nice if Nintendo acknowledged the existence of Devil World beyond just including the Devil as an assist trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, no one’s lives are fundamentally altered just because they couldn’t play Devil World. It’s a good game, as you would expect from the great Miyamoto, but you’re not missing anything if you don’t play it.

Final Rating: