There comes a time, I think, in everyone’s lives, when they must ask themselves “Why am I not playing Enter the Gungeon right now?” – For me, that beautiful moment came to me when I was 2 hours into ‘To Hell with Hell’, a doubtlessly fun top-down shooter by Lazurite Games – Their debut title, no less.
The premise is as follows: you’re the human child of a demon – Not, like, Satan, but instead Satan’s accountant or something. Said Beelzebub-lite is deposed from his role and, in a rage at losing, such a reliable pension scheme, recalls his children to fight back against human resources… But that’s just an excuse for the gameplay really – Which is good, in a sort of Nintendo-esque ‘play comes first’ affair. Which is where we hit the fatal flaw – The problem for me was as follows; the gameplay is… Well, it’s just fine. It’s fun, and I enjoyed my time with it, but I’ll just probably forget about it in a few weeks and never think about it again, you know?
Said gameplay comprises of your character navigating through randomly generated dungeons, with the simple objective of killing every enemy in the room with a variety of weapons. The problem starts when you actually try to do this effectively without being super good at bullet-hell gameplay. See, for someone like me, who has played a lot of games in his time but still isn’t quite up to the high standard some people would expect of a ‘hardcore gamer’, the game devolved very quickly into exploiting the behaviours into giving myself an easier time – For instance, luring one or two enemies away from a crowd at a time so that I could pick them off more easily. Sometimes I’d make use of AI which sometimes tries to ‘hide’ around a corner for an ambush (but still pokes out slightly), sitting a few metres away chipping away at the exposed foot like a long-distance pedicurist. Other times, I’d simply stand dead still in the middle of a room, watching larger enemies fire infinite AOE attacks that never hit me.
That said, the times I did end up getting more stuck into the never-stop-moving, fast-paced combat the game is obviously built around were indeed good fun. The game has some fun ideas, such as a ‘rage’ meter that fills as you do damage, and can then be used to use special abilities- from invisibility to escape a situation, to a massive AOE fire blast that clears a whole group of enemies. These abilities are tied to different masks which one can find dotted around the gamespace- you can hold a few at a time, and you lose them (and therefore access to those powerful abilities) if you take too much damage while wearing one. Lose them all, and you’re back to your default state (which is a woman who is, for some reason, in a bikini? Not sure I get that why ok). The problems come when you realise that your absolute state carries between levels- for the first few levels, I was having a great time, bursting into each level with a special ability or two and having a great time. But then, I passed one level by the skin of my teeth- no masks, just my default state and a sliver of HP that means I’d likely die to a single hit. Brilliant, I thought. That was tense. Then, I spawned in the next level. With no healing done. No healing between levels, it seems.
What followed was 45 minutes of – quite ironically – hell, as I had to suddenly play the level without taking a single hit, and without finding a single mask that entire time. In short, this had gone from a wonderfully enjoyable shooter to the most punishing experience I’ve played. In most games like this, there’s something you can rely on – You respawn with full HP, or have items which heal you, or you’re given a ‘last stand’ when you’re about to die. Nope, I was simply stuck until I could find a (Rare and very ineffective) healing pickup, at which point I was able to give the level a good shot. Then, two goat-men ran out of the next room, surrounded my current position with explosions I had no hope of avoiding, and I died, respawning once again with all the health of a paraplegic with a meth problem. The game markets itself on high difficulty, but the designers don’t seem to understand the difference between difficulty and simply being punishing.
I rage-quit at that point. The game had its peaks and troughs, but definitely needs some tweaking before the final release. If you’re looking for something new (and challenging) in the genre, ‘To Hell with Hell’ might be worth the price of entry. But if you haven’ already, just play ‘Enter the Gungeon’ instead.