Review: Hellmut

Developer: Volcanicc

Publisher: Grindstone

Genre: Roguelike

Platforms: PC, Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch

Rating: Pegi 16

Price: $14.99

I’m a novice when it comes to roguelikes; I tend to prefer story-heavy titles and games with preset gameplay sequences. Upon seeing footage of Hellmut: The Badass from Hell, however, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by its fast-paced combat and explosive action. Could this be the game that breaks me into a genre I had heretofore overlooked?

Content Guide

Violence: In order to dispatch the hordes of demonic beings, you’ll wield all sorts of weapons, including lasers, flamethrowers, hammers, and guns. Blood and bones spray across the ground and will remain on there until you complete the level. Blood and gore can be toggled off in the menu, however.

Spiritual Content: Your foes consist of demonic hordes taking various forms, including skeletons, wizards, lizards, and the more stereotypical horned beasts we envision when we think on demons.

Language: Well, the word “Badass” is literally in the game’s title.

Review

Hellmut is light on storytelling and heavy on action. The cutscene when you boot up the game shows you, a mad scientist, opening up a portal to hell and summoning a great demon in the hope that he will give you eternal life. The demon grants the wish, but not in the way the scientist expects; the scientist is transformed into a floating skull, while lesser demons overrun the laboratory and make their way out into the wider world. Your goal is to fight your way through the hordes of demons in an effort to get your body back. The plot basically serves as zany window dressing for the real meat of the experience: the gameplay.

When you start a new game, you begin in your laboratory as the skull, and can pick one of two creatures to transform into: the Rat King—a giant rat in tighty-whiteys with a gun that shoots bouncing projectiles—or the Stitchmonster, a grotesque mass of flesh that throws huge hammers at its foes. Each comes with its own special move as well, which has a brief cooldown timer after use. The comical character design and flavor text fit with the absurd premise, lending everything a light-hearted feel.

Each run in the game consists of twelve levels, with every third level consisting solely of a boss fight. The regular levels are randomly generated both in terms of room design and enemy placement, although the early levels always have easier enemies than later levels. Enemy types vary through each level. Some enemies charge at you with melee weapons while others fire projectiles from a distance; some spawn adds to attack you, and some burrow underground in order to safely close distance. Enemies appear when you enter a new room, and since they are randomly generated, you have to stay on your toes; you can find yourself in a pickle very quickly if you are not careful. The boss fights are also randomly selected—the boss you fight first in one run may not appear until the end of your next run. With only four bosses total, however, you quickly come to learn what to expect from these foes. If you can make it through a complete run of all twelve levels, a new transformation will be available for you to select when you start a new run.

The beginning of a new game isn’t the only time you can access other transformations, however. Some of the regular levels contain a character named The Eye of Ka-ra, a demon who aids you for their amusement. By collecting special gems called soulstones throughout each level (which drop from monsters and treasure chests), you can trade them to the Eye for a chance to use another transformation during that particular run. There are two kinds of soulstones in the game: blue and red. Blue stones disappear whenever you die or finish a run, but red stones carry over to other runs—the catch is that you can only hold so many red soulstones at a time. Both drop from enemies, and both can be traded to the Eye for a chance at gaining a transformation. The Eye teleports you to a special arena where you must kill all the enemies that spawn within a limited time period; completing this task will add a new transformation to your loadout that you can switch to at any time during your run. Just like the Rat King and Stitchmonster, these other transformations come with their own weapons and special abilities, and perhaps most crucially, full life bars. Surviving the run is much easier when you have multiple transformations at your disposal, so acquiring new ones when possible is highly recommended.

Some levels also hold a portal to a shop, where you can spend coins (also dropped from enemies) and soulstones on various helpful items, including armor, special weapons, and health kits. Here you will also find an arcade cabinet that runs a Space Invaders-style game. Playing this minigame can earn you extra coins and red soulstones, but compared to the slick run-and-gun action of the main game, this diversion proves incredibly dull. Perhaps the single most useful item in the shop is that which increases the total number of red soulstones you can carry.

Hellmut’s action is fast, fluid, and fun. Thanks to the various default weapons and special abilities, each creature transformation feels unique, bearing its own strengths and weaknesses. The controls are buttery smooth, which is important since at times you spend as much mental energy dodging incoming fire as you do laying down fire yourself. Explosions burst frequently, and the excellent sound design gives the weapons that bit of pop needed to make them feel powerful. The special weapons that you can acquire from treasure chests and the shop do a good job of mixing things up and keeping the combat from becoming monotonous. Wasting a string of enemies with a machine gun and seeing the bullet casings lining the hallway is extraordinarily satisfying.

Yet monotony ultimately still sets in due to the formulaic level design: enter a room, fight the enemies that spawn, move on to the next room, and repeat. It gets tiresome repeating the same process over and over, and while the enemies are randomly selected, that isn’t enough to keep the experience interesting, especially since the environment only changes after a boss fight. On top of that, the environments always appear in the same order—the “Castle” theme environment comprises the first regular levels, for example—and each environment comes with a set selection of enemies that can spawn. So every time I died and had to start over from the Castle levels, I knew to expect the same skeletons, knights, and wizards that I had faced every other time.

While the standard mode is strictly single-player, Hellmut includes an optional tournament mode which keeps the level layout and enemy spawns the same, so that you can compete with your friends on who can make it the furthest in a given run. The game also encourages multiplayer action with Gauntlet Mode, where you and your friends fight off waves of enemies while defending a core in the middle of the map. Playing with friends, either in Gauntlet or in tournament mode, seems like the best way to enjoy the game, because despite Hellmut’s rock solid controls and goofy characters, its solo appeal wears out before long.

I appreciate everything that Hellmut does right, which is no small amount; between its slick, fast-paced combat, wacky character design, and wide variety of weapons, the game makes an excellent first impression. But its repetitive, formulaic level structure keeps it from maintaining any real staying power. If there’s a game out there that will make me fall in love with roguelikes, this one isn’t it.

Review copy generously provided by IndieGamesMarketer.

Michael Mendis

Michael Mendis loves to discuss gaming, Christian faith, and how the two interact. In addition to his main hobby of playing video games, he also enjoys watching movies, anime, and baseball.

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