Helltaker (vanripper, 2020, PC)
Helltaker is a game about a guy going to hell so he can build himself a harem on anime demon girls. Much to my surprise, given that concept, its actually a well-polished and enjoyable puzzle game, if a bit short. The core gameplay of Helltaker centers around simple yet difficult block puzzles, in which you must move the protagonist through a maze to reach his goal, another anime girl, in a limited number of moves, steering around obstacles including blocks, enemy skeletons, and spikes. The puzzles are complex and difficult, if a bit trial and error based. Fortunately, Helltaker gives the player the option to skip puzzles, something beneficial for those more interested in the dating sim elements.
After beating each puzzle, the player is given a short dialogue scene in which they must choose the correct dialogue prompts to seduce their demon quarry. Some of Helltaker’s best elements, namely its character design and dialogue, are put on full display in these short scenes. I was, admittedly, expecting these scenes to be groan-inducing, filled with the dull characters and over the top fanservice common in games of this type. Much to my pleasant surprise, these scenes were the best part of Helltaker, with well-executed artwork full of emotion, entertaining dialogue, and a heavier focus on characterization and cuteness than sexuality. Still, these scenes are short, each only lasting a few short lines. This is somewhat mitigated by the ability to ask the girls for advice during puzzles and a playable epilogue, but only somewhat. I was left wanting more, perhaps in the form of an actual dating sim.
Shortness is a recurring problem with Helltaker; the game only has eight real puzzles. Perhaps it is foolish to expect more from a free game. I would gladly pay money for a full-length Helltaker game. Helltaker can be beaten in less than twenty-five minutes, although it may take you more than an hour due to the difficulty of later sections.
On the topic of difficulty, the final chapter of Helltaker massively ramps up the difficulty, switching from a turn-based puzzle game to a frustratingly hard bullet hell esque section in which the player must quickly dodge magic chains that strike across the screen. This section is hard, but it is a completely different difficulty than the rest of the game. Worse, the ability to skip levels is removed for this boss fight.
Overall, Helltaker ends up feeling like three very different games stuffed into the same coat of paint. None of these games are bad, but at the same time, none of them are fully fleshed out, constantly fighting for the spotlight in this very short game. Still, Helltaker is free, charming, and doesn’t take itself seriously. If you have an hour to kill, check it out. You have nothing to lose and you may end up having a really good time.
Final Score: 7/10