Games come out on Steam at a frightening pace. Blink, and you’ll be bombarded with lifeless platformers, anime girl visual novels and low effort RPG maker games. Helltaker, hidden amongst a sea of less than stellar titles, was released 3 weeks ago as of the time of writing, is free to play, and is a delightful little gem that’s worth playing. Developed by vanripper, who also worked on animations for Ronin and Immortal Planet, Helltaker is a puzzle game with an interesting premise. The player character wakes up one morning, filled with determination to gather a demon girl harem. A mighty goal. To gather the girls and live his dream, he must first dive headfirst into hell. Devilish trials, sliding block puzzles and demon girls await.
To complete a puzzle you must get to the demon girl within that level’s move limit. Failing to do so will have you, the Helltaker, smote by white-hot light. Navigating Hell is hard work, who’d have thought? New mechanics are drip-fed in from puzzle to puzzle, giving the player a lot to consider by the end. Generally, there are few solutions to each puzzle, requiring trial and error. Some later puzzles can be mildly frustrating but satisfying when a solution is found. Accessibility options are becoming more commonplace in games these days; this is something that vanripper has clearly taken note of. Being able to skip a stage you are stuck on with no negative effects will be a blessing to gamers who get stuck. Of course, this is a free to play game with only 10 stages. You can only do this so many times before you’ve gamed yourself and missed out on a significant portion of the experience. Stage 10 shifts from puzzle to a reflex/memorisation boss fight which could be a deal-breaker to those who grew used to the laid-back puzzle environment established throughout the game previously. As someone who dies repeatedly in Spelunky for fun, I personally enjoyed the boss fight.
To most, the striking art style will be the attribute that draws them to Helltaker. That and the cute demon girls. For a free game, there has clearly been a lot of love and care poured into the design of the characters, and the environment. As a puzzle game it’s important to effectively communicate what an object is, how it’s distinct from other objects and what properties it may have. The puzzles are presented in a grid-like fashion, and it’s easy to see the consequences of any moves you may make. Help is available at any time, simply press L or LB to consult any demon girls you’ve accumulated thus far. They’re not always helpful though, some just outright telling you to off yourself, some giving vague clues. The girls themselves are charming, distinct characters, each more entertaining than the last. There is already a vibrant community churning out fan art like it’s nobody’s business, which is refreshing for such a new game.
All in all, Helltaker is a great game. For the grand old price of £0, you get puzzles, incredibly entertaining flavour text, appealing visuals, and a pumping soundtrack by Mittsies (who might I add has the soundtrack on bandcamp.) In particular, the song that plays during puzzle-solving is an earworm, repeating endlessly as your character bops back and forth, taunting you for being unable to find a solution. If you’re inclined to spend additional money, you get concept art, developer commentary and a recipe for pancakes. Whether that is worth it is up to you. My only gripe with the game is that it is short, and by nature of it being a puzzle game with designed puzzles, replay value is limited once you know the solutions. I consider my two hours playing well spent, and recommend Helltaker to all that have the time to try it.