Demon's Tilt is an insane '80s metal album cover x bullet hell x pinball crossover

Lilith's eyes are bleeding as a pentagram pulses behind her. I've smashed the manticore's lion head free from his iron muzzle while the serpent beside him hisses, ready to snap at anything that comes close. Below, three mewling, fleshy demons writhe and shoot pink bullets out of their eyes. I smash a ball into a gaping hellmouth for a SUPER JACKPOT. Satan would be pleased. This is his kind of pinball.

I do not know what the hell is going on in Demon's Tilt 90 percent of the time, but I do know now that "Occult Pinball Action" is a tragically underutilized genre. As far as I know Demon's Tilt is only the second game in the genre, period, and is a blatant spiritual successor to 1990's Devil's Crush. That's a lot of pent-up satanic mayhem.

And it shows: every time you hit the ball in Demon's Tilt, something insane happens on screen. There are constantly pink bullets radiating across the table in classic Japanese SHMUP bullet hell patterns, spat out by Lilith and the manticore. Sometimes my ball travels through a portal, lands on an altar, and is smashed by a hammer for 10 seconds as points fly out of it.

There are enemies you can "fight" as they spew bullets, and hitting them enough rewards you with a kill (points) and a new type of baddie. I've battled through that cloaked warlock, an army of skeletons, those fleshy demons, and a ferocious wolf. They're like SHMUP minibosses, and their bullets will subtly slow down or redirect your ball as you try to shoot around them to reach other parts of the table. Bullets aren't likely to send your ball into the gutter, but they're enough of a nuisance to complicate your shots and give you a good reason to go demon slaying. The best and bloodiest path up is through.

Demon's Tilt straddles the line between feeling like a real pinball table and a totally videogamey one: it's super tall, with three sections of flippers, but there are physical pinball tables out there with designs just as wild. The physics can't quite replicate the weight of a real pinball, but when you mash the flippers the ball bounces in a way that feels right—at least until it smacks into a pink bullet or disappears into a portal and teleports across the board. 

It's hard for me to keep track of what's going on in Demon's Tilt, with so many sprites on screen and effects popping off and its synthy, slightly garbled voice lines. But I'm also not good enough at real pinball to shoot the right ramp at the right time to intentionally progress in the game, so I don't really mind. Demon's Tilt could probably do a better job of highlighting your objectives and signaling that you're progressing, but it's already so visually busy that might be a lost cause.

That's okay—this isn't just pinball, after all. It's Occult Pinball Action. And Satan as my witness, it's fucking cool. I mean, even if you don't care about pinball, just listen to this music.

Demon's Tilt is in ongoing development, and just released in Early Access on Steam a couple weeks ago. I like that right now, one of its problems is that Steam literally can't handle the scores some players are getting: "Steam only supports 32-bit integers in the leaderboards. So if you're breaking 2.5 billion, you'll only see 2.5 billion as your score on the leaderboards. We're working on a solution that at least lets people know how many times you wrapped."

The final game could use some polish, but it already supports vertical "tate" mode, and it's absolutely worth rotating your monitor for.

This is what videogame pinball should be. Why replicate real pinball tables when the physics will never be the same? Embrace the physics-defying, genre-bending weirdness you can get up to with a demonic digital table. In 2018 Stern put out an Iron Maiden-licensed pinball machine, and AC/DC got one back in 2012, but Demon's Tilt is easily the most metal table of the decade.

When he's not 50 hours into a JRPG or an opaque ASCII roguelike, Wes is probably playing the hottest games of three years ago. He oversees features, seeking out personal stories from PC gaming's niche communities. 50% pizza by volume.