Demon Throttle is an 8-bit retro throwback from Gato Robato developer Doinksoft and Devolver Digital that would feel right at home alongside other retro-inspired indie games on any digital game storefront. But Demon Throttle will never be available digitally. Like the NES games it’s inspired by, Demon Throttle is only available physically at launch. And right now, only 10,000 people are getting copies of the game after pre-ordering through Special Reserve Games last June.
Following the removal of lots of digital exclusives from HBO Max, it feels odd to play a game that’s only available physically. It’s the antithesis of the current state of digital media. Instead of letting anyone experience something digitally until it’s gone forever, a limited number of people can treasure a physical experience that won’t go away. I can take pride in having copy 1,651 of 10,000 alongside a well-produced instruction booklet and some stickers. That said, dealing with absolutes is not the best route for media preservation.
Having Demon Throttle’s Nintendo Switch cartridge physically does mean it will never disappear like An American Pickle or The Witches have, but it’s still limiting in its own way. Demon Throttle is an enjoyable retro throwback that I wish more people could play it. While this physical-only game technically circumvents one of the most significant issues facing all kinds of digital media but also negates the benefits of digital releases in the process.
It feels like Doinksoft and Devolver Digital ripped Demon Throttle straight out of an NES cartridge. Especially when playing with the in-game CRT filter and no dynamic backgrounds are on, you’d be forgiven for looking at Demon Throttle and thinking it is actually an NES game. As a result, its story is quite simple, with a Gunslinger and a Vampiress trying to take down a Dragon Lord after he kisses the Gunslinger’s wife and takes the chalices that can turn the Vampiress back into a human.
The little narrative here is irreverent, played for laughs, and vocalized through bitcrushed audio, so it’s quite charming. The soundtrack also features some of my favorite chiptunes of the year. Most importantly, Demon Throttle is also really fun to play, even if it is intentionally super hard. Demon Throttle is like King’s Knight as players continually walk forward through one of four upwards-moving autoscrolling levels, shooting the enemy and destroying the environment in front of them.
It’s part bullethell as players must dodge the barrage of enemy fire constantly coming toward them and part action RPG as the player can defeat enemies to level up and pick up upgrades for each character’s stats. Demon Throttle is a simple game once you learn how to fire, jump, and switch characters consistently, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Each character dies after just a few hits, and you have to start from the beginning after a game over like many games from the NES era. Even after hours of play, I still struggle to get far on most runs. Plus, it’s impossible to get the true ending if you don’t find the secret chalice in each level during a run.
Despite its intentional toughness, Demon Throttle is a really satisfying game to perform well in, and the repeated runs make it feel like a roguelike in the way most difficult retro games without save states do. I’d wholeheartedly recommend Demon Throttle to fans of retro games … if they can ever get their hands on it.
Being a physical-only release is limiting in its own ways. I haven’t seen much discussion online about the game since it rolled out in July, outside of people being frustrated that Devolver Digital will eventually sell it in a non-limited fashion at places like Amazon and Best Buy. It doesn’t feel like it got a physical edition to ensure it never becomes lost media again, like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition. It feels more like a gimmick that limits its availability in a different way than a digital delisted, in turn increasing the game’s value.
There’s no denying that I’ve immensely devalued this game by opening my copy to write this article. But if you don’t play a game because it’s a rare physical release, that’s almost just as bad for interested fans as delisting something from a storefront forever? Being physical means Demon Throttle will never truly go away, but this King’s Knight-inspired experience might also never have the reach it potentially could have with a physical and digital release.
The dangers of an all-digital future for media are clear as HBO Max content’s future is uncertain and Nintendo prepares to shut down the 3DS and Wii U eShops. Demon Throttle could’ve called home had it launched a decade earlier. That said, having a physical-only release feels like an overreaction that’s harmful in its own ways. While I can see myself slowly chipping away at and eventually mastering Demon Throttle throughout the rest of the year, that’s an experience only 10,000 people and I have until that wider release.
While it’s somewhat cool to have a limited, numbered copy of Demon Throttle, in reality, it doesn’t feel like a much different experience than holding off on upgrading or updating a PS4 in fear of losing access to a game like P.T. that is no longer available. Ultimately, the quality of media doesn’t matter when it comes to availability; the intentions of those distributing it do.
Demon Throttle is likely physical-only because the developer and publisher thought it would be a distinct marketing stunt to bring attention to the game in a sea of retro throwback indie games and harken back to the physical-only games that inspire. While Demon Throttle certainly feels like it came out of the NES era, I don’t think the experience is improved because I can’t recommend that you all download it right now.