A Look At IGS, Demon Front. A 1UP Classic...
IGS had developed a handful of memorable titles only a few of which were ever released outside of the arcade. The best titles featured on their PGM arcade system never saw home release. That would be one of the biggest tragedies in all of gaming. The one featured today was easily one of the best titles they ever produced. Like Martial Masters, the first title featured was copying the artistic style and mechanics of a rival studio. In this case they would be copying SNK and Nazca's masterful Metal Slug series. The perpetrator in question was Demon Front. The game came out in 2000, around the time of Metal Slug 3. The pictures featured here are courtesy of NGGames.
Artistically and design wise the games were so similar that arcade visitors were likely to overlook the title. Just like Martial Masters though players often did a double take when they realized this was a completely different studio. This curiosity would cause them to take a closer look. As they dug in they realized that the game had slightly different mechanics and a slightly different take on the genre, which was actually refreshing for fans of the Metal Slug series. The game took place on the alien planet Andres, some 20 light years away from Earth. Every three years the planet had a lunar eclipse. According to legend during the eclipse the inhabitants could become demons. This was just a myth as none of the inhabitants had turned to demons during the previous eclipses. That was until one eclipse lasted for 3 months causing most of the population to mutate into horrible creatures. Few escaped before going mad. One of the main characters, Maya, had survived his mutation and was drawn back home to clean out the demons. That was where the adventure began for players.
The game featured four main characters, each highly stylized and with the familiar Metal Slug proportions. Two were humans from Earth, Jack and Sara. The bearded humanoid Dr. J from the planet Loukai and Maya from Andres. What separated these characters from the MS ones were the additions of tiny pets. Each character was accompanied by a small avatar that could form a protective shield around their owner but also possessed a special attack power. Jack had a red ghost-looking creature called Rage. He could perform middle distance attacks. Sara had an alien-rabbit type creature called Bunny which had long range attacks. Dr. J had a one-eyed robot called Chip that had a powerful close range attack and Maya had a bat-like creature called Flip which could perform middle-distance shots.
These pets closely followed the players through the levels and were always available to use. The addition of pets actually improved upon the Metal Slug mechanics.
In Metal Slug players had to carefully manage their weapons and ammunition There were ways in which to unlock unlimited ammo in the game, however these techniques were not common knowledge to players. Most gamers would just run from location to location hoping that more powerful ammo would be available. In Demon Front players could get different ammo types, but they could also supplement a lack of a weapon upgrade by using the special attacks from the pets. More important, the pets could form a protective shield around their masters. This shield energy could be replenished or deactivated by the player during the course of any level. Anybody that has ever played Metal Slug could say how much they wish characters could have had some sort of defensive or energy absorbing mechanism. Players also had backpacks that formed energy wings, allowing them to glide for short moments and clear massive gaps.
The characters and pets could all be leveled up, depending on how many opponents were defeated and which player did the most damage to the boss. A player could have more tiers on their health bar and the pets could have stronger attacks or have their shield last longer. In fact the pets themselves would physically change and become larger and more aggressive-looking as they leveled up. This leveling system was unique among run-and-gun titles.
The world of Andres was fun and fanciful. Because it was based in part science fiction, part alien and part demonic incursion, the artists were able to design levels and vehicles that were unlike those featured in other run-and-gun titles. The balance between animated humor, action and monsters was well struck. None of the bosses or monsters was ever too gross or visceral. None of the five stages poached those featured in Metal Slug. The game offered a sixth and final stage against a demon boss named Flame if players could collect the demon claws hidden in each level. Otherwise they would just get to enter their initials on the leaderboard and it would be Game Over.
The game was great but the differences between it and Metal Slug were obvious as players went through it. The opponents were not as diverse or as numerous as they would have been in a Metal Slug game. Nazca and SNK would go out of their way to pack every level with scores of enemies. Some even riding in tanks or other vehicles, all raining gunfire, mortar shells and grenades down onto players. During the most hectic battles in Metal Slug there was actually very little breathing room for players. Of course the same thing could be said of most shoot-em-up titles. They catered to a certain type of player that thrived on nonstop action.
In Demon Front players could select which order they were going to do the levels in. This allowed players to save themselves for the harder stages, especially once the pets and characters had increased statistics. By comparison Metal Slug had always been a linear experience.
Demon Front had great themes, details and solid art direction but it was by no stretch of the imagination as hyper detailed as any Metal Slug game. The difference between level designs, details and the enemy types between the two games was not apparent the first time I played the title. It was not until I looked at a side-by-side comparison of it with Metal Slug that I realized Demon Front was slightly anemic. Not that it was a bad thing. The game certainly had more polish and work put into it than Martial Masters did when it was compared to Street Fighter III. While Demon Front didn’t have the diversity or details from the SNK series it more than made up for those elements by adding a winged backpack, pets, and a level up system.
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