“I feel the demons rage, I must clean them all away.”
Y’know what Pinball reminds me of? Blackpool piers, with that bloody Who song playing in the background. The way the chiming guitars clash with the florescent lights the town is known for. The smell of last week’s vomit on the trodden carpet lurking in the enhanced nostrils that the deaf, dumb, and blind boy Tommy possesses. It’s a feeling that was bought back from repressed childhoods that came up during my playthrough’s of Demon’s Tilt.
This is the debut title from Wiznwar, otherwise known as Adam Ferrando, who released this on Steam Early Access at the beginning of 2019. Collaborations were also made with FLARB, a publisher/developer who has meddled in all types of gaming mediums. AR, VR, and video gaming itself, with Demons Tilt being their first known standard video game project. Other than that, FLARB has worked on the title for the Gear VR, and the Oculus Go, a feat in and of itself.
The plot of Demons Tilt? Uhh, devilry, a table made of brimstone! Corruption oozes from the craftmanship, a fire like no other burning inside. Walking up to the table, you see the discolored and vague portrait of a sleeping mistress, and her name? Lilith. Compelled by her hypnotic beauty, you pop a pinball in and wake the lass up, with the table hosting several a cosmic horror. Good luck, I guess.
Now, you can consider this a sin to the Hawaiian shirt-wearing, beer gut-having, Lynx Africa-spraying god of tilting tables, but I cannot stand pinball. It’s the very definition of “delusions of grandeur,” with its stupid overblown scores, hidden bonuses that rely entirely on luck, and just the general idea that something so banal has reached a cultural high-point in tie-ins.
Recently, however, there’s been an uptick in these games that are “Pinball meets X!” Yoku’s Island Express winning the TGA award against a slew of Nintendo titles, Creature in the Well being a weird underground hit, etc. Demon’s Tilt is the next in line of the new style. The result?
Instead of the other two aforementioned titles fully welding an entire genre onto the concept of Pinball, Demon’s Tilt is heavily on the Pinball side, with a few doohickeys attached. For one, some of the sub-tables contain enemies that shoot projectiles that can impact the path of the pinball, and for two, these enemies can be destroyed by you simply smashing your ball into them.
It’s a simple trip at first, and there’s not a lot of substantial mechanics added on top of it. As with these silly tables, there are special ramps that commit a challenge to the player, requiring you to destroy some of the enemies or hit a specific ramp X amount of times. It’s stuff that’s easy, almost devilishly so, if you can grasp the concept of this game being an absolute tease.
Demon’s Tilt’s main gimmick is something usually forbidden in every type of Pinball game, and that’s tilting the table. While it isn’t actually a table—it’s a three-story cathedral filled with Joe Mad sketches—you can still alter the path of the ball with a little nudge, which never fails to seem inane.
It’s not that it’s a bad mechanic, it’s that it’s under-utilized. The nudge is quite literally the tiniest of pokes that never seem to save you from mistakes or errors. Whether it’s the quite-honestly-bullshit alternate holes at the bottom of the table or trying to inch further in order to hit some random enemy, that tilting does nothing. Even if you somehow get the ball stuck anywhere, a simple flick of the flippers usually moves it out of the way.
Part of the problem comes down to perspective. At this junction, you realize you’re essentially playing a much more homogenized version of Yoku’s Island Express, except the hitboxes are less visible yet more volatile. Everything’s on one plane, which is expected and fine, but there’s too much going on each path, and the depth doesn’t show off why what happens when and how it happens easily enough.
Credit where credit’s due, however. I appreciate that a lot of the table in Demon’s Tilt is signposted. Specific ramps you have to go up in order to initiate challenges, the arbitrary bonuses you get for placing the pinball on that pixel as opposed to this pixel, etc. Most of it is explained, for better or worse. The only problem is that a lot of it is bundled into the bottom left corner, along with the score.
Look, I’m gonna be honest, the score of a Pinball game is artificial. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the millions or billions. It’s a silly little thing that you’re obviously not going to focus on. What you always are going to focus on is where the pinball is going, and wondering why the fuck the pinball didn’t go through the path that time when it did last time.
The perspective on Demon’s Tilt is a mess, there’s no two ways about it. Despite an admittedly beautiful aesthetic and vibrant hug of hellish colors, there’s no explanation as to why your pinball will simply fail to cross certain paths. There are no visible indicators as to why or how your ball fell down a particular path, you’re just supposed to accept it.
The sh’m’up element of Demon’s Tilt occupies a confusing space also. Hit an enemy on the table enough, and you’re given a barrage of bullets you’re supposed to… I don’t know, dodge? It’s hard to dodge something I have no control over, can’t you see it’s all flown out of my hands? To put it bluntly, it’s just more bright purple shit that gets in the way of an already hectic game of Pinball.
The Hack ‘N’ Slash elements are also non-existent, or rather, they’re not technically elements. Enemies around the table will be replaced should you smack into them enough, with their only retorts being a swarm of bullets, or taking the ball and throwing it somewhere else, which… no.
Don’t wrestle what little control I have from me, especially if it results in cheap game overs. The Hermit is especially bad for this, considering he’s on the bottom of the table, but the main lass Lilith in the middle really likes throwing your ball straight into the hole without a chance to react. It’s not fair in the slightest, and with the already-insane amount of bullets and enemies on screen to “dodge,” it’s just the cherry on top of this rather tasteless cake.
Demon’s Tilt isn’t a bad pinball game, by any means. It’s great that a lot of it is explained clearly, the paths are straightforward, and the bonuses and jackpots are clear. It’s a beginner’s guide to Pinball, but in terms of its additions and mutations? It’s a bit of a mess.
The claustrophobic playing field doesn’t encourage a standard sh’m’up environment, dubbing it a “hack ‘n’ slash” is a bit pretentious, and paying 20-odd dollars for a Pinball game possessing one table with no real add-ons is a bit dicey. It’s not you, it’s me, etc.
That being said, the game is available for free should you be subscribed to Xbox Game Pass, at the time of writing. That does eliminate the problem of a risk purchase, but that’s only on one platform, and even then, the replayability of Demon’s Tilt is tough to gauge.
There are bonus tables present in Demon’s Tilt, but I’ve only been able to find them in Ex-Mode, which is the same table as before, with a bit more bullshit on the bottom tier. Knock into something at the right time, and you’ll be met with small minibosses, along with Bowling… no, seriously. They’re not too hidden away (bar the game mode they’re sectioned in), and that’s great. Just put them in the main game everyone would rather play.
In the end, Demon’s Tilt is a title that tries too much to justify some unknown endgame. It’s a sh’m’up theoretically, it’s a hack ‘n’ slash theoretically, and the pinball aspect is okay, with the price point being more than a bitter pill to swallow, should you not have Xbox Game Pass. You can’t knock it for trying, though.
This Review of Demon’s Tilt was based upon the Xbox One version of the game.
An all-too-ambitious project, combining way too many things together, until it results in an amalgamation that's too bulky to truly enjoy in bursts, and too eclectic in its density.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.