Nostalgia is a powerful tool, and Swedish indie studio Cuddle Monster Games are aiming to harness that with their first game, Hell is Other Demons. With a retro 8-bit style and Bulletstorm gameplay, it fits in well with the Switch’s library of NES and other retro titles.
What is clear from the start is that the game looks great. 8-bit pixel art has rarely looked better, the simplicity of the neon colours against the darker backgrounds making for some striking visuals. Different colour schemes are unlocked as you progress, and you can choose which is displayed from the menu. Some of these palette swaps work better than others, and you’ll quickly choose your favourites. The range of demon designs are also impressive, particularly the screen-filling bosses. The aesthetic works in tandem with a synthwave soundtrack seemingly straight out of the 1980s, reinforcing the retro feel and brooding atmosphere of the game.
Like most 8-bit games, the story is basic and the gameplay is simple. Each stage has your character attempting to survive waves of demons, armed only with a single gun. Movement is versatile, with a double jump, dash and glide all available to you. Bouncing on a demon’s head not only damages them but resets your double jump, allowing skilled players to bounce indefinitely around the screen. This verticality is hugely important since most guns can only fire directly left or right; a limitation the demons do not have. As you progress further the level design becomes more complex, adding additional obstacles such as spikes or poisonous slime. Later on, you get levels with no floor at all, meaning you are forced to bounce from one enemy to the next. Ultimate attacks are also available for those times when you become overwhelmed.
And you certainly will be overwhelmed, because with 8-bit style comes 8-bit difficulty, and the game certainly has a steep learning curve. I say a curve, but it is actually a bit more up and down than that, so you might struggle to beat one stage only to breeze through the next. Help is available though, and the loading screen tips are often really useful. There are also multiple different weapons available, and you can gain upgrades or buffs using gems collected from defeated demons. Gems don’t stick around on screen forever though, and there were a number of times demons got the drop on me because I was distracted by chasing gems. You can always replay earlier levels to grind for gems though.
Different weapons require a differing amount of skill; for example, some weapons have recoil, which can be both a blessing and a curse depending on how you use it. Not all weapons are created equally, so you’ll want to try out different options. Buffs come in all shapes and sizes, from extra health to a longer dash, to firing lasers out of your feet when you jump.
Fast reflexes are essential, but, unfortunately, blind luck can play a part as well. Demons appear at random on screen, so if you happen to be where they arrive, you’re going to be hit. This is especially annoying as there is a bonus available for taking no damage. It’s a fairly minor negative, but one that can become frustrating, particularly if you’re low on health. Luckily that’s my only real criticism of the gameplay.
The game includes two modes, campaign and arcade. Campaign features set stages to work your way through, with bosses sprinkled throughout. Before each stage you select your loadout, and can replay earlier levels. Bonuses are available for completing stages without taking a hit, not using your ultimate, or not using a weapon at all and instead killing demons by bouncing on them. Weapons, upgrades and buffs are purchased at shops scattered throughout. You’ll want to change your loadout to suit the level, so if there is no floor you’ll want something like triple jump or a longer glide.
Arcade mode is essentially an endless mode, where you attempt to clear as many randomly generated stages as possible. Online leaderboards are available for you to compare high scores. In arcade mode defeated demons drop weapons, but you don’t know what weapon you’re picking up and you have no choice but to use it. Upgrades also work differently: once you’ve earned enough gems you will be offered a choice from a set of random upgrades. These add a further element of luck (and possibly frustration) to arcade mode, as opposed to the more tactical nature of upgrades in the campaign.
The simple gameplay, art style and grinding naturally leads to a feeling of repetition, but there is enough variety there to keep you coming back. For me, it’s not the sort of game I’ll sit and play for hours on end, but it’s definitely a good pick up and play title when I have a spare 10-20 minutes. If you enjoy retro pixel art and Bulletstorm gameplay, Hell is Other Demons is a must buy. It is definitely a challenge, and frustrating at times, but you’ll find plenty there to enjoy. For everyone else, the little frustrations and repetitions might add up to too much of a negative.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*