The original title of this one is Majyuuou, and I remember playing it back before Aeon Genesis released their translation patch of it when I was just picking through random Japanese ROMs looking for obscure gems. It seemed a very dark and morbid action game, heavily inspired by many of the Badass Platformer classics -- Castlevania in the slow methodical gameplay and level design, a touch of Ninja Gaiden as well perhaps, some Splatterhouse, even a little Altered Beast (though that's a dubious "classic") in the creatures that you can transform into. Anyway, the game is pretty much pure action and the translation really isn't necessary to play, but we now have a better bead on the story with it.
You play as a young Bruce Springsteen, apparently in some alternate timeline where instead of entertaining millions with heartfelt rock Bruce has instead become a pistol-wielding warrior in a world torn apart by some sort of apocalypse. At the outset your old friend Bayer flies up to show off his demonic new body, which he apparently sold his soul to get. He's also helping to revive the King of Demons by kidnapping Bruce's wife and daughter and sacrificing the wife. Bayer kills Bruce handily in a short battle, but then the spirit of Bruce's wife revives him and gives him some sort of super gun that tears Bayer up and forces him to retreat. Bruce's wife now accompanies him as a fairy of some sort that attacks enemies and shields you from projectiles, and also revives you once (at the cost of her own life) when you die.
I've seen some other websites claiming that the journey of the game is through Hell but that doesn't seem quite right to me. It looks more like an Earth that's been devastated and depopulated. You start the game out working your way through a cave full of humanoid zombie enemies, with people (?) in cages in the background waving for help. This takes you up to a modern city that resembles Midgar from the end of FF7, skyscrapers and office buildings all smashed and covered in various growing plants. You next hop a train that seems at least a bit inspired by Ninja Gaiden 2, which takes you to the palatial lair of the Demon King. I'd really like to see a translation of the original instruction manual for this game as it might clear some of this stuff up, also some of the nagging questions like who are Bruce and Bayer anyway? How was Bayer's soul worth enough to make him some major demon, and what's his problem with Bruce anyway? And why is it that Bruce's wife's sacrifice has the power to revive the Demon King? Just little points of curiosity.
Anyway, the gameplay is a sort of Castlevania but with projectile weapons. The game is actually a bit ahead of its time, as Bruce has a couple of moves that wouldn't be implemented in the Castlevania series until years after this one. He's got a double jump, and a quick forward roll. His weapon is just a pistol that is kinda small potatoes, but at the end of the first, second and fourth level you get the option of transforming into one of three demons with enhanced firepower. There's a sort of insect mutant that throws an energy sickle, a wizard with a laser cannon, and a blue dragon that spits fireballs. All of these creatures retain the double jump, though some are slightly slower and jump less high than others. The insect mutant isn't bad, his attack is pretty wide ranged and he seems to be the quickest and the highest jumper of the three. I think the wizard roundly sucks - his weapon is pretty powerful but it fires only in a very narrow beam, he's slow, and instead of a forward roll he's got this slow short range teleport that is really bogus because you can be hit even while invisible. The blue dragon is the biggest target, but he also seems to have the best firepower and also a really killer charge attack, and instead of rolling or teleporting forward he flies a short distance very quickly.
The game apparently has a "good ending" and a "bad ending" depending on how you handle the transformations. Different websites out there say different things about how it works, I can verify from experience that if you pick the orange, then the green, then the blue gem you'll get the final Archangel transformation at the fourth gem that gives you the "good ending". If you don't get that transformation, you get the "bad ending". However, if you pick the same transformation three times in a row, you get an upgraded version of it (the character turns black and gains more powerful attacks) though this still leads to the bad ending. Also, I think you can not transform at all and stay as Bruce if you shoot the gem down and then just don't pick it up for long enough - I managed to go on from level 1 to level 2 this way though I didn't have the patience to test this theory all the way through the game and see if it effects the ending.
Games released in Japan weren't subject to the same strict censorship policies that Nintendo of America applied to releases over here, so it's always a little shocking for us to see a Super Nintendo game that's dark and grim. Majyuuou isn't really a particularly bloody or graphically gruesome game, but it is considerably more bleak than the usual console game. First of all the whole world appears to have been ravaged and people killed off en masse. An apparently trusted old friend of the main character sells his soul for demonic powers, then kidnaps the main character's wife and child and kills the wife to revive some sort of demon lord before the game even begins. To save his daughter and get revenge, the main character willfully transforms himself into various twisted beasts that there is no apparent means of turning back from. You fight your way through gruesome creatures, most of whom are humanoid in some way and are probably either victims of the demons or others who sold their souls for strange powers and twisted forms. You only encounter one fellow human along your quest, and that's a chained-up girl who gets beaten to death by two minotaurs before your eyes. When you finally face off against your betraying friend, *he uses your wife's frozen carcass as a weapon against you* - I think that's about the coldest shit I've seen since that Gary Busey movie where they dug the guy's wife's corpse up and left it on his front lawn. Then the King of Demons leaves your daughter alive until you get to him, where he spitefully fuses her and her pet cat into some sort of weird demon creature and sends her to attack you. Then you end up gunning her down, unless you got the "good" ending, in which case she comes to her senses but you both still appear to be stuck as gruesome demons for the rest of your lives (so I don't really know how "good" it actually is). This is all pretty damn dark for a Super NES game.
So it's a pretty short game, with only five levels that aren't all that long, but there's a touch of replayability with the two endings and the multiple transformations. Odds are it'll be a one-off, maybe you'll pick it up again two or three years later for another run-through. It's a very good action game though, fans of Castlevania will enjoy the pace and the art style most definitely. The soundtrack is a bit so-so, some of the tunes are very fitting but others (like the mini-boss battle theme) are generic synth-rock that sound out of place. It seems like a game that didn't have much of a budget, yet the designers had an interesting idea and really knew what they were doing in terms of level design. An interesting obscurity for those who like a somewhat curious and morbid game, definetly worth a download and a look.