Wednesday, May 27, 2020


Helltaker, developed by vanripper, flew under my radar when it launched on May 11, 2020, but my general browsing habits eventually led me to it. When I found out soon after that it was free, with the only DLC consisting of an art book and pancake recipe, I immediately added it to my Steam library and considered when to play it. Once I learned of its length, I jumped right into playing and now I’m glad I did.

You wake up one morning from a dream about having a harem of demon girls, so you go to hell to get the girls. That’s the extent of the premise, but the simplicity of the premise works well in favor of the game’s comedic tone. The story goes at just the right pace to not bore the player while also having just enough depth in the world and characters to keep them invested. There are also a few genuinely surprising story twists that still fit within the context of the game. I also appreciated that each of the demon girls has a unique personality that helps them stand out from each other, with just enough depth to make them memorable.

The gameplay for Helltaker revolves around block puzzles. Each puzzle must be completed within a certain number of steps, representing your willpower. Every step or kick consumes one willpower and spikes consume two willpower. Once you reach the girl at the end, you get to add a new girl to your harem, but only if you select the right response to them in a visual novel-style interaction. Otherwise, you’ll die and have to complete the puzzle again.

The first puzzle. It gets harder from here.

Over the hour I spent completing the game, I found the puzzles increasingly difficult, but still fair. Since the game goes out of its way to present the tools for completing a puzzle without holding your hand, every failure feels like your own fault and every success feels earned. You can ask your growing harem for life advice, but all of the hints are just enough to point you in the right direction and you still have to figure out the solution on your own.

This game also has an interesting way of handling its own puzzles. If you feel too stuck, you can skip them from the pause menu and go straight to the girl to try and add them to your harem. However, I went through the puzzles anyway, as going through the game properly gave me a greater sense of satisfaction. I’ll admit that the only puzzle I ever felt tempted to skip was Level IX, but I instead looked up the solution online, the only time I did so in my entire playthrough.

Part of the game’s charm is in its art style, with hand-drawn sprites created by the developer himself. Every obstacle is very clearly defined while still fitting one cohesive vision of the world. During puzzles, every character is rendered in more of a super-deformed style that’s fun to look at, partly due to how the sprites move to the rhythm of the background music. In cutscenes, everyone has a fuller appearance with unique sprites that show off their personalities.

Justice, the Awesome Demon, the
friendliest girl in the harem.

One thing I appreciate is how the developer takes the idea of “demon girls in sharp suits” and runs with it. The girls all look like they had thought put into their designs and, with the exception of the Cerberus triplets, no two demons look alike. Their designs also compliment their personalities well without resorting to stereotypes to get the point across. Although they use a limited color palette, I can glean from the art book that this choice came from the developer’s partial color blindness and spared the headache of color choices. Though this choice came from necessity, it does give the game a more uniform look and everyone is still identifiable by their silhouette.

Helltaker also has a great soundtrack of four songs composed by Mittsies, “Apropos,” “Vitality,” “Epitomize” and “Luminescent”. Of these, you’ll hear “Vitality” the most, though fortunately it loops very well and has an infectious beat. Similarly, the game also has great sound design that greatly helps the immersion. I also noticed a lack of voice acting, but this is the kind of game that doesn’t really need it.

If you’re looking for a fun, quick game to play and you don’t mind solving puzzles, then Helltaker is the game for you. In spite of its simplicity and near lack of replay value, there’s a lot to appreciate about a game that very clearly knows what it wants to do and focuses on doing it well. As an extra incentive, if you go out of your way to see everything the game has to offer, you could get a chocolate pancake recipe.

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