Majyuuou, or "King of Demons" is a pretty standard action game released by KSS for the Super Famicom in 1995. It involves a young man named Abel, who is betrayed by his friend Bayer. This Bayer guy had sacrificed Abel's family in order to revive Lucifer and become a demon - a pleasant fellow all around. During the prologue, Abel is granted power from his deceased wife in order to defeat Bayer, and go into hell to save his daughter.
The action of Majyuuou is most often as described as "Castlevania with a gun", and at least in the early stages, that's true. The opening melody of the intro stage sounds a bit like a classic Castlevania theme, and your character - a fairly generic muscular dude with a red bandanna, jeans and a white t-shirt - walks and controls like any number of the Belmont clan, although can double jump, execute jump kicks, and slightly change direction mid-air a la Dracula X. You start off with a gun, which has both unlimited range and unlimited ammo - it does not shoot any projectiles, so whatever you're aiming at will take damage when you pull the trigger. You can also hold down the button for a super Hadoken-esque blast.
At the end of each level, the boss leaves a jewel, which cycles amongst three different colors. The color you choose will determine the type of demon you play in the next stage. This aspect is a bit like the Sega classic Altered Beast - the title Majyuuou is even similar to that game's Japanese name, Jyuuouki.
The red jewel will transform you into a harpy, which attacks with wide range boomerangs. The green jewel will turn you into a lizard creature which can shoot thin laser beams out of its arms. The blue jewel will turn you into a dragon, which has a powerful breath attack. Like the human character, each demon has their own special move, activated by charging the attack button. It may seem straightforward, but there are some neat catches to this system too. If you choose the same demon three times in a row, you morph into a super powered up version. Alternatively, if you choose a new demon each level, and control each of them at least once, then you'll obtain the ultimate form at the end of the game.
Compared to Castlevania, Majyuuou is a bit on the easy side. However, you can make it harder by electing to stay in human form. Since the human's gun can only fire straight forward, it can be tough to hit enemies in the air, while demons can hit targets much easier. Since it's more difficult, it would've been nice if there were a third ending for those who elected to take on this challenge, but that's a wasted opportunity on the game's part.
The demon transformations are cool, but the grim overtones help make Majyuuou stand out from the crowd When you are granted power from your wife at the beginning, a fairy flies around with you and protects you from enemies, lunging forward at enemies every time you attack. If you die, the fairy - or rather your wife - sacrifices herself in order to revive you. This gives one a sense of urgency to save your daughter even more so since the powerup that gives you the fairy is very rare. It's also a bit creepy that you're given the choice to sell your humanity in order to increase your power, or elect to keep your human soul? It seems like a no win situation, especially since you have to turn into a demon in order to get the best ending.
The sprites in Majyuuou are pretty small, especially for a late Super Famicom game, but at least they're well animated. However, the graphic designers compensated for this with some completely outstanding background design. Many areas in this game exude a tremendous amount of atmosphere, and the levels are quite to toss you into creepy - and memorable - set pieces. In the first stage, you're chased by a gigantic multi-eyed worm, complete with extendable teeth, before running into a dead end. Just as it seems like it's all over, the floor crashes, and you fight throw the sewers. Amongst the zombies - which fall apart piece by piece as you fill their body with lead - there are faint figures in the background of tortured souls. You climb back up and face the worm again, only to be tossed into a elevator, complete with a man-eating spider.
The second stage is a ruined city, completely desolate except for some monsters and man eating plants. - some of the flowers even have creepy faces on them. This boss of this stage is a gigantic bloodshot eyeball - which rotates courtesy of the usual Mode 7 fanciness - and fires lasers from its pupil. Later on, you board a train made of bones, against the background of a blood red sunset,with all of the skull cars traveling at suicidal speed. There's even a scene of a girl in chains being flailed by evil horsemen, whom you are utter incapable of saving. In Japan, Konami dubs the Castlevania series as part of the "horror action" genre, but they're actually pretty clean compared to this. Altogether, the whole experience is visceral and bloody and mildly disturbing, especially for a Super Famicom game, a system that was generally pigeonholed as being more family oriented than its competitors.
The music was composed by Tomohiro Endo (Ys IV) and Hiroshi Iizuka (Langrisser III). While the music in isn't spectacular, some tracks are pretty catchy. This is especially true of the prologue and fire stages. It doesn't always fit the action. The only tracks that lend to the atmosphere are the train and final stage tracks, which elicits a sense urgency compared to the fire stage, which just seems too blissful.
Majyuuou is a bit on the easy side - disappointing, considering how it could've potentially been a good companion game to the Castlevania series - but the designers' portrait of hell is fascinating, especially for a 16-bit title, and it's a pretty fun game too boot. It has also been completely translated by Aeon Genesis, even though it is still totally playable in Japanese without a translation.