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Killing yourself even gets a secret ending!

Rating: B+

Playing Time: 2 hours

Well, this came out of nowhere. I was doing some internet cruising when I came across a bunch of fanart for this game. I had no idea what it was about, but the style caught my eye enough for me to look into it, and the whole thing sounded like a great mixture of fun and weirdness, so I had to try it.

Helltaker is (mostly) a game about solving block puzzles so that the eponymous protagonist can fulfill his dream of having a harem full of demon girls. The game mechanics are as simple as it gets; use the arrow keys (or WASD) to move around, and moving into blocks or skeletons makes him try to kick them. There are some extra complications (each stage has a limited number of moves before it resets, there are sometimes spikes which take away a move if you step on them, and you sometimes have to find a key to open a final lock), but by and large, that's all there is to it.

It may not sound like much, but as the rating shows, it was pretty fun for what it was. Am I going to have fond memories of solving the block puzzles? No, but it was enjoyable while it lasted.

Besides, what really stands out about Helltaker is all the other stuff around the gameplay.

Most obviously, the art is simple yet fantastic. Unsurprisingly, the game was made by an artist (Łukasz Piskorz, aka vanripper). The whole game was a labor of love, and while it's nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary, the efficiency of how much he does with a limited palette without sacrificing clarity is impressive.

This stage stumped me for a while, but Justice was awesome enough to justify it

The writing manages to strike a nice balance between being brief and having development, all while never taking itself too seriously. Each of the ten demon girls (plus Azazel) has their own distinct personality, with amusing quirks and interactions beyond their simple fetishistic natures. Again, it's nothing that hasn't been done before, but the skill and efficiency with which it was executed puts a lot of major developers to shame.

Something about Helltaker that is remarkable is the music, put together by Mittsies. It literally went head-to-head with DOOM Eternal for "Best Soundtrack" at the 2020 Steam Awards. Although there are only four tracks (plus two in the recent anniversary DLC Examtaker), it managed to always feel engaging and energetic with just enough changes over time to avoid feeling repetitive. Although it was the art that got my interested in Helltaker, the music was a huge part of what kept it fun while playing.

Speaking of playing it, remember how I said it was mostly block puzzles? That's because there are a few levels which are more in line with a shmup (these don't have a limited number of moves, for obvious reasons), including the final (and only) bosses of both the main game and Examtaker. These were a nice change of pace when they showed up, though I did have some issues with how long the hitboxes for the enemies' attacks stayed active (nothing major for most people, I'm sure, but they seemed to linger for a few frames beyond when the visual effect started fading). They weren't particularly difficult (even I was able to pass them, and I'm fairly bad at actual shmups), and I wouldn't argue that they were more fun than the block puzzles, but the variety was appreciated.

There was also the joke of the level for Lucifer, CEO of Hell. It was funny enough that I was laughing all while repeating the level to try all of her dialogue options.

This isn't what it looks like...or is it?

Also, for those who want to enjoy the art/characters without having to solve the puzzles, the pause menu lets you skip doing the puzzle of the level. There's no real penalty for this (you just miss out on getting any Steam achievements associated with beating the level), but really, the game is short and simple enough that I can't imagine people relying on that.

All in all, I had a surprisingly good time with this. It's not something that I'm going to replay endlessly, but it was a fine little time-filler. Considering that it's available for free, I'd encourage anyone to give it a whirl.

Rating: B+

Playing Time: 2 hours


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