When publisher Playtonic Friends was founded and one of the first titles revealed to be released under its banner was Demon Turf, it was clear the company saw something in it. After spending the last few weeks with it, it's clear the game is a fine-tuned platformer, inspired by genre classics such as Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64. But while its running and jumping are as polished as expected, it falls into some hurdles when it comes to combat and performance.
From a plot standpoint, there's not much to Demon Turf - and that's fine! No one is here for an Oscar-winning story. Instead, players want solid, tight platforming across a variety of stages, inspired by the 90s renaissance of the genre. If that's what you want, you're in luck, as the game prioritises its gameplay above anything else and is complemented by some stellar level design. A hub world breaks off into smaller, bite-sized stages and your complex move set makes traversal an absolute blast.
Each stage has a few collectables to find - which can be easily spotted with an in-game arrow if you wish to use it - and a par time to beat. Competing against these is extremely challenging and will force you to use the entire move set in ways you didn't think was possible. This difficulty extends into some of the later levels and optional stages you can partake in. The latter features a 'one life' mechanic, forcing you to tackle some brutal stages in one run. Luckily, if you're looking for something easier to jump into, there are side objectives such as taking photographs to break up some of the more challenging segments.
Where the game falters massively is with its combat, which feels like an absolute chore within its opening moments. Unfortunately, the game often falls back on these combat arenas when it feels as though the player needs a change of pace. That switch-up brings the game to halt, as you're forced to use moves that push enemies into the environment to hurt them - you don't have any direct moves to take them down. It gets easier as you venture onwards, but it always feels as though it's fighting against you, ruining the momentum of the game.
Demon Turf's performance is also a bit of a mixed bag. There are two settings in the Xbox Series X version and we settled on prioritising performance. For such a fluid platformer, having a smooth frame rate is a priority, but it feels a bit poorly optimised at present. In the hub worlds especially, there are noticeable frame drops - even when prioritising the frame rate - creating very little difference between the two settings. While we expect further patches will smoothen things out, it's still disappointing to see.
Despite these flaws, Demon Turf is still an incredible platformer - one of the best in years. It's easy to learn but hard to master and is filled with content ranging from easy challenges to devilishly challenging gauntlets. With such a fine-tuned platforming experience, it's easy to overlook the boring combat and performance hiccups. While the latter will most likely be ironed out, the combat is here to stay, but if you can get past that hurdle, Demon Turf is a joyous throwback to the platformers of old.