Majyūō: King of Demons for the Super Famicom starts you off as a John Rambo-looking guy with a gun shooting demons. Almost immediately, you are thrown into a boss fight and technically killed. Fortunately, the encouragement from the disembodied spirits of your wife and daughter cause you to resurrect and keep fighting. OKAY! Let’s back up a bit.
Recently, we looked at the origins of survival horror on the Nintendo Famicom with Sweet Home. In that review, we talked about the prevalence of horror-theming in games. While the biggest example from the retro age would be Castlevania, there are plenty of relatively unknown horror titles, most of which never received a Western release. What many consider as an example of one of the best is Majyūō: King of Demons.
Released only in Japan, Majyūō: King of Demons certainly begins with a bang. It was developed by KSS, a company mostly known for producing Japanese animation. However, during the Famicom and Super Famicom era, they produced a few video games that were only ever released in Japan.
Majyūō is one of those late era games for the Super Famicom that never stood a chance at getting a Western release for the SNES. This one had quite a few other strikes against it besides just being released fairly late into the lifecycle of the console. The demonic storyline, guns, and grotesque monster designs were all elements that weren’t winning any favors with Nintendo of America for a release on the SNES.
As mentioned before, you play as a tank-top and bandana-wearing muscle dude with a gun. Your pistol is handy enough and takes out most enemies with one shot. As for agility, you have the ability to double jump and a dodge roll comes in handy against the boss you meet midway through the first level. A little fairy familiar also hovers around you and helps damage enemies.
The controls feel pretty tight for the most part. The main character moves smoothly with no input lag or sluggishness. There’s also no ammo to worry about, so you can keep jumping and shooting to your heart’s content.
Things change up at the end of the first stage, though. At its core, Majyūō remains a jump-and-shoot style action game, but you gain the power to transform into a demon. Each stage boss gives you a different demon form, which adds up to 4 different transformations throughout the course of the game.
Some of the demon forms are more fun to play than others, and unfortunately there’s no way to switch between them. You’re stuck with the one given to you for each stage. However, this keeps things from getting stale.
The stages play on familiar tropes like a forest stage, fire stage, and ice stage, but they each add enough visual flair to help them stand apart from similarly themed stages in countless other games. For example, the forest stage is actually a ruined city that mother nature has taken back and the ice stage takes place within a palace. The design and art direction hold things together with the incredibly detailed backgrounds.
The enemies and traps that you face within each stage are equally as well designed, and the bosses are large and foreboding. It’s a satisfying experience all around as far as gameplay and design go.
The music on the other hand is not one of the Super Famicom’s finest. It gets the job done, but you won’t be humming any of these after you shut the game off. The only stand out track is in the second half stage 4, the fire stage. It’s an upbeat tune that excels where the other tracks only do the bare minimum.
As far as the obscurity meter goes, an official Japanese cartridge version of Majyūō will run you around $300 USD. A boxed copy is well into the $1000 USD range. There are several bootleg English cartridges under the name King of Demons on eBay as well.
Still, if you’re looking for a good example of a late era Super Famicom run-and-gun style game, then Majyūō should scratch that itch. It has a detailed aesthetic and incredibly satisfying gameplay.