Devil World is a 1984 Famicom puzzle game that supports up to two players. It casts you as a green dragon (or a red dragon if you’re player two) named Tamagon who must “attack the devil’s world.” The basic gameplay sees you try to collect all of the magic dots scattered throughout each level. Standing in your way are various…demons, I suppose, that can kill you by touching you. The only way to defend yourself is to collect crosses that allow you to breathe fire. Once you’ve collected all the dots in a level, you’ll be asked to locate four Bibles (yes, you read that right) that allow you to reach the “Devil Caves.” Manage to drop the Bibles off in the right areas in that challenging stage, and you’ll move on to a bonus stage. The game pretty much repeats that basic stage progression pattern after you’ve finished that section.
Presiding over the action is none other than The Devil. While the blue, dragon-like monster that the game identifies as The Devil doesn’t necessarily resemble the traditional incarnations of the Prince of Darkness that we all know and love, he soon proves to be quite the nuisance. Not only does he direct his various minions from the top of the screen (via dancing, just as the townsfolk in Footloose warned us would happen), but he occasionally forces the walls of a level to literally close in on you. When the walls start to close in, the game actually becomes a rather unique kind of “auto-scroller” puzzle game. I’ve never really seen anything quite like it, especially in a game that supports two players. It’s certainly the title’s best gameplay gimmick.
Of course, it’s kind of hard to talk about the gameplay in Devil World for too long without eventually needing to field the question “Why was Shigeru Miyamoto’s first console game a religious-themed puzzle title where you battle The Devil with help from crosses and Bibles?”
So far as that goes, the most honest answer I can give you to that question is “I genuinely don’t know.” Miyamoto has rarely talked about Devil World. One of the only interviews I could find with him where he addresses the game in-depth comes from the book “Bits and Pieces: A History of Chiptunes,” in which he talks about the game’s soundtrack (which was crafted by none other than famous Nintendo composer, Koji Kondo). He certainly doesn’t seem to have ever shed any significant light on the inspirations for the game’s somewhat bizarrely overt religious imagery. The lack of any official information (at least from Miyamoto himself) on that subject is just one of the things that makes the whole project so fascinating.
In fact, one of the only other notable interviews I can find regarding the game’s development comes from Takashi Tezuka: the legendary Nintendo designer and director who first collaborated with Miyamoto while working with him on Devil World. Even then, Tezuka didn’t really talk much about the game’s religious elements. Instead, he mentioned that he’d never even heard of Pac-Man when he started working on the game (which even the late Satoru Iwata calls him out on) and notes that Miyamoto had a “strong basic idea of the image he was after” for that game. However, he doesn’t go into greater detail about the inspiration for, or thought process behind, those images.
To be fair, there were quite a few Japanese games at that time that featured religious imagery. We’ve talked about a few of them in our looks at notably censored NES and SNES titles. There have always been cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. when it comes to such imagery in video games (especially at that time), though Japanese games from that era rarely used religious imagery and concepts in any kind of overtly offensive way. Traditional religious symbols were typically used as thematic window dressing in games of that era or as a way to sell/enhance certain aspects of some titles’ lore. Even the original version of The Legend of Zelda allowed players to equip a Bible.