Demon’s Tilt

Authors Note: Demon’s Tilt has ridiculous number of flashing lights and graphical elements. My friends described it as “making their eyes bleed”. So, photosensitivity warning: if you’re photosensitive, don’t play this game. This writeup doesn’t contain any of those flashing images, but the Steam page likely does.

I generally like Demon’s Tilt. That’s not to say that I don’t have a bunch of complaints about it. But the more I play it, the less some of the minor issues bother me. It also might be because I’m writing this on an endorphin high from finally getting a Wizard Mode start, after playing for 8 hours.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. Demon’s Tilt is a digital pinball table for PC. Pinball has become something of my comfort food game for me over the last several months. My pinball obsessions was kicked off by a friend bringing me to hang out at an arcade bar that had several pinball machines. (You know who you are. I very much appreciate the visit.) Pinball has served to distract me significantly from the mild dumpster fire my life has been over the last few months.

I’m not going to go too heavily into explaining pinball as a game. I think it would take too long, and I wouldn’t necessarily do a good job of it. That said, I want to cover the basics and define a few words so I can use them later.

Pinball Basics

First off, basics. Pinball is a game where you try to keep a small ball in play, usually by hitting it with a pair of flippers on a large board (the table) of obstacles that the ball can interact with. Flippers are controlled with buttons, and control is typically binary; the buttons can only be pressed or released.

Letting the ball drop down between these flippers results in losing or “sinking” the ball. Losing all your balls results in losing the game, but you can usually earn a limited number of extra balls during play.

Finally, a few more general notes. It’s often possible to catch the ball by holding down a button, and letting a ball come to standstill in the clutched area between the lane and the flipper. This is called cradling. In addition, it’s often possible to smack the table, and force the ball to move in ways that it otherwise wouldn’t. This is called titling. If you tilt or mess with the table too much, too rapidly, the table will shut down, turn off your control of the flippers, and sink your ball. This is called tilting out.

Anyway, back to Demon’s Tilt

The big difference between Demon’s Tilt and most pinball is that Demon’s Tilt commits to being a truly “digital” pinball, as opposed to a digital simulation of a physical pinball table. It has a bunch of mechanics and designs that simply could not physically fit, or work in any reasonable way on a physical pinball table.

I respect the effort to create and implement these mechanics. Some of them are interesting and work well, and some do not.

The first big difference between Demon’s Tilt and a physical pinball table is it consists of what would traditionally be three separate tables linked together, and you can shoot the ball between them. Only losing the ball on the lowest set of flippers actually drops the ball from play.

Each of the three subsections has its own set of missions that can be completed for score, and to ultimately advance to Wizard mode. I found each sub-table a bit plain. It usually only has one main interactable element outside of the primary missions. There are plenty of interactable objects, but none of them felt meaningful unless they had a jackpot active, or were part of the currently active mission.

This isn’t helped by the fact that as far as I can tell, missions aren’t dynamic, and will always be started in the same order. This means that unless you’re moving between sub-tables rapidly or by mistake, you’ll complete all missions in the same order.

There are two other main digital elements in Demon’s Tilt that wouldn’t be possible in a physical table. The first is a wide variety of small pack minions and mobs that swarm and float across the table. You can remove some of these just by tapping them. Others actively interact with or block the ball. These are generally fine, but don’t feel hugely impactful.

The other is the bullet system.

Demon’s Tilt’s bullets are probably the most unique digital-only mechanic in the game, but they’re also my least favorite. Some table elements can emit bullets, usually in two colors: pink and gold. When the ball hits a pink bullet, it counts as hitting any other physics object, and the bullet disappears. Hitting a gold bullet does the same, except then all existing pink bullets are cleared.

I don’t think the idea of moving temporary obstacles is a bad thing. It’s an innovation that could only work in digital pinball. But the implementation here follows more of a shoot-em-up or bullet hell pattern. That doesn’t’ work because those games are based on having exact and precise control at all times of the player, which is almost the exact opposite of pinball. For many of these patterns, it’s best to just wait them out, rather than to try to push through them.

As a result, I end up just cradling the ball, and waiting for bullets to pass. Waiting like this felt bad. It didn’t feel as bad as hitting the ball into a set of bullets I didn’t see, and having the ball sink because of that. But still bad!

Some quick thoughts before I wrap this up.

Demon’s Tilt has a ridiculous amount of visual clutter. My friends described it as making their eyes bleed. Between flashing lights, effects, bullets, and other junk, it can be easy to lose track of the ball. And that’s with the screen shake turned off, and the table zoomed out. In multi-ball modes, it’s effectively impossible to keep track of balls on different tables.

The ball’s bounces and physics behavior are a bit unusual. The physics isn’t inconsistent, but the ball often behaves in ways that didn’t feel intuitive, at least for the first several hours. The top-down 2D view also requires learning the table a bit, as it’s not clear where certain lanes will go on first glance.

The music is quite good. I think there are only 3-4 songs, but I still enjoyed them.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Demon’s Tilt, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t already into pinball, and who isn’t also willing to experience some weird shit. The attempts at implementing digital-only mechanics are respectable, but don’t always pan out. There’s a lot of visual clutter to the point of impairing gameplay, and the game’s physics model can feel janky.

Demon’s Tilt is $20 on Steam. There are some interesting mechanics worth experiencing, but the price is a bit steep for a single table. Still, if you’re looking for an interesting pinball experience, it might be worth checking out.