Retro Game Of The Week: Dragon’s Fury/Devil’s Crush (Mega Drive, PC Engine)

Dragon's Fury

Dragon’s Fury (or Devil’s Crush if you’re talking the PC Engine original) manages a rare feat amongst digital pinball games. It’s a good pinball game AND a great video game too.

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.

Pinball predates video games, but it wasn’t all that long since the birth of video games (let’s go with the 70s for this, argument for another day and all that) before video games tried to actually be pinball.

The attempts were interesting, with some clever ideas and implementations, but they were generally not that great. Ball physics are tricky, it’s true, but equally either in attempting to ape real tables, or just being limited by the technology of the day, they were never going to replicate the real thing.

Honestly, even though today there’s some remarkably close “digital” pinball tables — I own one myself — they’re still not quite like playing an actual honest-to-goodness pinball table.

Dragon’s Fury (originally released as Devil’s Crush for the PC Engine) is a classic pinball table that manages a rare feat, and one that’s surprising more pinball games don’t ape to this day.

Dragon's Fury

You can kind of see why it’s called Devil’s Crush originally, right? Outside of Japan there was some light censorship, mainly of some religious iconography — and of course of the title, because won’t somebody please think of THE CHILDREN??

As a quick aside, while I do own both, the copy of Devil’s Crush I have is a far more recent entry into my collection — read my review of Yokai Dochuki to learn more about why that is — while my copy of Dragon’s Fury is one that I bought while I was at university on a very limited budget indeed. It’s that good, and a game I have truly cherished over the decades.

Why? Because Dragon’s Fury takes the basics of pinball — there’s a ball, there’s gravity, some flippers and targets — and meshes that beautifully with concepts that you could only really get with actual video games.

Dragon's Fury

Wake the sleeping female warrior. Nothing bad will happen. Promise.

Objects move around the screen, bumpers animate and break apart into swarms of demonic insects and items that were shooters can morph into gateways into alternate bonus tables.

Dragon’s Fury/Devil’s Crush wasn’t the first in its line — that’d be Alien Crush — but it’s where Compile really honed its ideas to near perfection. Sure, if I wanted to be picky through a modern lens, the ball physics and animation aren’t quite as good as they could be — but seriously, for a game from the early 1990s, they’re pretty darned spectacular.

Dragon's Fury

Dragon’s Fury’s bonus stages are by themselves better than many digital pinball games I’ve played.

While the core idea of chasing scores is still your key goal, what also keeps me coming back to Dragon’s Fury is the fact that unlike just about any other digital pinball game, there’s nearly always something going on in every single part of the game’s three-part gameplay field.

Dragon's Fury

King Ghidorah pops by for a cameo appearance.

Plenty of pinball games after Dragon’s Fury took up the idea of smaller mini-levels or a degree of animation in some targets, but they still stuck you with smaller goal sets, or tedious repetitive loops or the like.

Dragon's Fury

This is what happens when you don’t moisturise. Also being demon possessed doesn’t help.

It’s really only far more modern fare like Demon’s Tilt that does it the same way — and that’s a game that owes a huge (and to my understanding, admitted) debt to Dragon’s Fury anyway!

I’m going to make a big call here, and I’d welcome whatever feedback you want to throw my way about it.

Dragon's Fury

Dragon’s Fury is totally worth flipping for.

Dragon’s Fury is the best video game pinball title ever produced.

My copy even makes that claim on the box, and for once, I feel that’s not empty hype.

I’d be perfectly happy for counter-examples, but I’m pretty confident that within its retro space, there’s just nothing that’s as well balanced between its pinball ambitions and video game elements as it is.

If you have even a passing desire to play pinball games, it’s an absolute must.

How to play Dragon’s Fury/Devil’s Crush now

Dragon's Fury Mega Drive (Photo: Alex Kidman)
That’s my copy above, well worn but also very well loved. I’ve also got (sigh) the much less impressive sequel, Dragon’s Revenge, but that wasn’t Compile developed and isn’t quite as good.

There’s also Jaki Crush for the Super Famicom and then the much later Alien Crush Returns for the Wii. I’ve not played that — and given what it’s on, I guess I never will, though the idea of matching up Wii motion controls and pinball does not fill me with anticipation.

I bring the Wii up as Dragon’s Fury saw an eShop virtual console release there, as well as for the Wii U, but beyond that, it’s been a rather locked away title — and I think that’s a massive pity, because it’s absolutely one of the more hidden gem titles for the Mega Drive and PC Engine.

Want a copy? You should.

Typical eBay auction prices appear to run about $25 for a cart-only copy, and about double that for a boxed copy. It’s easily worth that, and more.

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