Majyuuou, or King of Demons in English, is a SNES action game that features my favourite kind of twist (sorry, Chubby Checker): a horror twist. Yep, it's got gore, mutants, a hero who can't stick to one body shape and sado-masochistic horse-men, all of which adds up to a really rather fun little romp through the darkest regions of the Netherworld.
Of course, you need a good reason to venture into Hell, be it following a dead poet and trying to meet up with some girl you fancy or exterminating demons after a Mars-based transporter accident, and Majyuuou gives you your motivation right off the bat.
You play as Abel, the guy on the left wearing the natty sleeveless-shirt-and-bandanna combo. The other fella that looks like something Godzilla might have fought is Bayer, a former friend of Abel's and current holder of the "World's Most Robot-Pterodactyl Looking Man" title. The gist is that Bayer took Abel's wife and daughter and sacrificed them to the King of Demons that he might live again, which is bound to put a strain on any friendship. Next time you're upset because your friends didn't invite you to the cinema or stiffed you on the petrol money, just think yourself lucky they didn't kill your family in a ritual murder.
After Bayer slaps you around a bit, you get a pep talk from your deceased family that gives you the get-up-and-go required to fight Bayer mano-a-mano.
Well, handguno-a-wingo, at least. Thus, the game throws you into your first fight, giving you a chance to try out the controls. Abel's got a decent set of moves at his disposal; aside from the standard jumping and shooting, he can somersault, double-jump, perform a diving kick and shoot a big ol' hadoken thing if you hold down the fire button. So, smooth moves all around, and Bayer doesn't stand much of a chance. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that he shows up again later looking for revenge, but for know he's out of the way and you can go and have a chat with your wife's ghost.
It turns out being sacrificed to a dark god isn't as fatal as it used to be, and your daughter Iria is still alive somewhere. Your wife joins you in the form of a useful little fairy that acts as a sort of Gradius-style Option, floating around and bashing into enemies. Solid. Right, onwards to the caves of despair!
Alright then, I'll just head along this tunnel shooting these little imp things and oh crap there's something following me ruuuun!
Dead end, huh? I guess I'll just have to fight this giant demon maggot like a man!
Well, that's lucky. See ya later, loser!
After the short tunnel section, you fall into the first decently-sized area, a sewer with a gruesomely-rendered background to kick the horror mood off right. You've got prisoners rattling the bars of their cells, hanging corpse-bags, evil frogs and, best of all, mini-skirted zombie women with shotguns. Well done, Majyuuou, I'm sold already. What's that? You've also got little zombie dudes and I can blow their tiny pixelly heads off and they keep on coming? Well, that's just the icing on the cake, isn't it?
There's an elevator, and you know what that means: a constant stream of enemies will pour in while y... what do you mean, that's not what happens? My entire world-view has been knocked askew. Eschewing such predicability, this lift is home to the first real boss of the game; a giant spider with the head of an angry baby. Still, it could be worse - it could be a giant baby with the head of an angry spider. I'll take spider-silk over soiled nappies any day.
After the lift comes a vein-encrusted industrial area. The demon maggot makes his reappearance. This time you do have to fight him, but it's really not that difficult. He's a maggot! Sure he's a maggot the size of a double-decker bus, but he's still just a maggot. A few hadokens in the mouth, he goes down and you can continue...
...past some big beasties that look a bit like the Goons from Popeye after a heavy dose of the T-Virus...
...And onto another boss. That's four bosses already, and we're still on the first stage. As you may have gathered, Majyuuou is full of bosses, which makes sense on several levels. I'm heading into hell, so it seems reasonable that there'd be hideous, powerful beasts at every turn, right? Also, it's just solid villain strategy to have as many bosses as possible. "Why would I just want one boss at the end of the stage?" says the Demon King. "I've got hundreds of the bloody things! Stick 'me all in there. This Abel guy could be the rainy day that I've been saving them for!"
This boss is a harpy, which you can tell by the fact that its top half is a beautiful woman and its bottom half looks like something you'd find clogging the drains around the back of a dodgy kebab shop. Forget the harpy, though: look at that background! Very nice indeed. Skulls are hardly the cheapest flooring option available (it's not like you can just nip down to B&Q for them), and I appreciated the extra effort the King of Demons has gone to to make the place look nice.
When the Harpy is killed (here's a tip: fireballs to the face), she leaves behind a crystal that cycles through three colours. Now, here's where Majyuuou gets interesting. Depending on what colour the crystal is when you pick it up, you'll change into one of three different demons, each with different powers. For the first crystal, I chose green. Crystal collected, it's off to the next stage to try out my new powers!
The green crystal has turned Abel into some sort of half-robot half-insect thing, which I guess is a step up from "man in a vest". Abel retains the same basic moveset, but the specifics are different with each demonic form he takes on. For example, he ditches his piddly handgun and replaces it with a laser arm cannon, and his hadokens now look different and are a little bigger.
The stage keeps up Majyuuou's high standards when it comes to backgrounds, with our hero now battling his through an abandoned city that has been consumed by the jungle. There are evil, human-faced plants to deal with, as well as tiny fairies that you can kill and eat to regain your health. Other videogame heroes may think that they'll do anything to complete their mission, but very few of them are committed enough to turn into a demon and devour their fallen opponents.
The first boss of the stage is this critter here, an undulating arthropod that appears to be based on an Anomalocaris. His only attack is to slowly move around the screen, bumping into you. He's... not a very good boss.
A better boss follows, as you face off against this giant eyeball. Can he shoot laser beams at you? Of course he can, he's a disembodied eyeball. What else is he going to do, stare at you with disturbing intensity? Cry at you? Summon a swarm of eyelash mites to attack you? Actually, that last one sounds pretty effective.
There's no respite for Abel, and as soon as the eyeball is dead it's on to the next boss. She's some sort of Flower Queen, and she can attack with her vine whip or with a laser beam. This game has more laser beams than Gradius! Still, no matter how big a plant she is or how many laser beams it can shoot, it's still just a plant. Once she's dead, you can collect your next crystal, and I decided to take the calming blue one.
So, I'm a wyvern now. Okay, let's assess this situation calmly. Pros: Look like a dragon, powerful breath attack, body now a soothing shade of blue. Cons: loss of arms, hands and opposable thumbs: opening cans and jars without destroying the contents now almost impossible. Huge dragon body is a big target. Wings are useless for flight. No longer has the stylish cape that the green demon sported. Conclusion: blue crystal can fuck right off.
After making your way across the carriages of the Train of Pain for a while, the midboss appears. His arms are scythes, which is probably an even less useful mutation than Abel's big lizard wings. He reminds me of the first of Mazinger Z's villainous Mechanical Beasts, Garada K7:
However, Garada K7 is much cooler because his scythes are ears. Pressing onwards along the train, you're attacked by even more laser beams, cannons shaped like skeletal torsos and these little homunculi:
As these tiny men attacked me, a much larger dragon-man-thing, with their miniature clubs, hurling themselves at me one after the other even as I incinerated their brethren before their very eyes, I gained a new-found insight into the villains of games like Golden Axe.
Majyuuou has clearly decided that this stage was the one to ramp up the darker aspects of the game; I mean, some of the carriages on the train have the word "fuck" written on them. Right on the actual carriage, where anybody could read them! Well, as long as they squinted and weren't too distracted by the rather hectic gameplay.
More legitimately odd is the scene pictured above. At around the mid-point of the stage, apropos of nothing other than the overall demonic atmosphere, you run across two horse-headed men in their pants beating a crucified woman to death. You can't save her, and you can't hurt the horse-men until she's dead, so I assume the scene is there just to ram home how evil demons are, in case you hadn't figured that out yet. Perhaps the horse-men are related to the horse-headed boss in Ghost Sweeper Mikami.
While I was sure that this demonic train wasn't going to be powered by a normal engine, I was expecting something more like the mutated-but-still-identifiably-a-locomotive "Iron Horse, Iron Terror" background from Vampire Savior. Instead, the train is being pulled by this very cool insectoid creature. He's not up to much as an opponent: along with Resident Evil's Tyrant, he suffers from the unfortunate condition of having his heart on the outside. Presenting a pulsating red weak-point to your enemies is not the ideal form of defence, but I like to think the boss has done his part for the demon army by hauling this train. Deep down, he's not a fighter; he just wants to do his job. Locomotor the Insect Mass-Transit System is quickly defeated, but you don't get a crystal for your troubles. Instead, his body skids along the train-tracks and smashes into the gates of the demon city, breaking them down and giving you access to the next stage.
It's an ice stage; it looks nice, and it's free enough of all the usual ice stage cliches to get a thumbs-up from me. The King of Demons has obviously realised that his previous tactic of trying to smother me with huge amounts of boss fights wasn't working, because this stage is mostly about platforming, making your way across collapsing bridges and dodging the up-and-down motion of the huge invincible demon whose head is pictured above.
Bayer is back, though, given a second chance to defeat you. He tries to make the most of it by transforming into a new, tougher form.
His new form may look like a Lady Gaga costume, but don't get complacent because he's got a brand-new weapon to throw at you: a naked woman encased in an icicle. Novel, sure, but it's quite easy to dodge. He's probably the toughest battle so far, and it doesn't help that I'm stuck in Wyvern mode, but once you've killed him you get access to the another crystal and the next stage. The red crystal is the last one remaining, so Abel snaps it up and moves on.
What do you get after an ice stage? Why, a fire stage, or course. Unlike the ice stage, this one is full of the more obvious components of a fire stage. Fireballs, exploding rocks and a section where you run from an advancing wall of lava all feature, but it's still fun to play. It helps that it's got some good music, too:
What also helps is my freedom from the dragon form, as the red crystal allowed our hero to slip into something a little more comfortable. This time he's gargoyle-ish in shape, he throws crescent energy blades that have a nice wide radius, and he can backflip around like nobody's business.
Bosses are back in vogue for this stage: there's a very Castlevania-esque zombie dragon and the boss pictured above, a relentless mechanical golem that needs to be kept pushed back with repeated hits to the face. After the unreliability of demon stonemasons is once more demonstrated with another escape-the-crumbling-bridges section, the stage's final boss appears.
Like the cover of an 80's metal album come to life, the boss tries to fry you with his lightning fingers, and he's pretty good at it too. He's much tougher than everything you've previously faced, but once you've got your positioning down and you can time your attacks to hit the giant eyeball that appears in his chest, you'll eventually be able to beat him. And what's this? Another crystal? Our hero contemplates opening some kind of alternative medicine crystal-healing centre for a moment, but instead he absorbs the new, black, crystal. If you previously chose to take a different colour crystal each time, resulting in you playing as each of the demon forms, the final crystal transforms you into a special "Dark Angel" demon. How exciting! With your new and improved form, it's on to the final stage and a battle with the King of Demons.
Before you get to him, though, there's even more bosses. Sadly these ones are simply recoloured versions of ones you fought previously, so all there really is to see is the fantastically fleshy background.
And here is the King. After safely storing your daughter in a disturbingly vaginal-looking opening in his forehead, it's down to battle. Your new form's charge attack can come in very useful here if you can time it correctly: it creates a pillar of fire that spreads out across the floor, although its usefulness is somewhat diminished by the fact you can't do it in the air. Once you have fired enough magical energy in his claws and eyeballs to kill the entire cast of Harry Potter, the Demon King falls and you are victorious. Oh, no, wait. Not yet you aren't!
The true final boss is your daughter Iria, who has been transformed into some kind of cat-demon. Well, you can't expect to spend time trapped inside the brain of the Demon King and not suffer any side-effects.
She comes at you with everything she's got which, being a cat and all, mainly involves dashing at you with her claws out and trying to scratch your face off. Oh, and she's got a projectile attack. I don't think cats can do that, but I'm not sure. I'm not a cat person.
Once you've given her enough parental discipline, the game really is over. Now, depending on what crystals you chose to take, you get two different endings.
If you took one of each crystal and gained to secret "dark angel", you get the good ending where Abel and Iria are reunited and Abel takes the admittedly bad-ass step of proclaiming himself the new King of Demons. It would seem it isn't a hereditary title but works more like a boxing belt. Although, I do wonder just how "good" an ending it is when they've both lost their humanity.
On the other hand, if you keep taking the same colour crystal, that demon form becomes more powerful, such as the gargoyle form gaining bigger projectiles, etcetera etcetera. However, you don't get the "dark angel" form and the game ends with Abel shooting his daughter in the face. Oops. On the plus side, he looks like a character from Metal Slug while he does it. And he gets to keep his humanity! I guess the moral of Majyuuou is that if you're ever in need of power you should give up your soul as fast as possible and really embrace your new demonhood.
Majyuuou is good, and I like it a lot. It's fun to play, challenging without being boringly hard, and the different demon forms give it that little extra twist. The graphics, especially the backgrounds, are very nice, detailed without being overly fussy, and the music is good too. I've seen Majyuuou described as "Castlevania with guns", and while it does have similarities with (particularly the handheld versions of) everyone's favourite vampire-slaying franchise, the game it reminds me of the most is Capcom's excellent Demon's Crest. So, if you're looking for a good, solid action-platforming title then you could do a lot worse than this, especially if you like a horror element. Just make sure no-one's going to walk in while you're at that bit with the horse men, otherwise you're going to have some explaining to do about you taste in videogames.
BONUS: Here's a collection of all the Abel, boss and enemy sprites in the game courtesy of Bogleech.com, a great site that you should look at with your face.