There are so many 2D bullet-hell games around that it’s hard to find any that stand out from the pack. Thankfully, developers Volcanicc have made a game which is one such example that caught my eye. Hellmut: The Badass from Hell, to use its full name, is a procedurally generated dungeon-crawler with a lot of personality and gore.
There is an underlying plot to Hellmut which is interesting enough but it’s basically context for you to shoot some demons up. You play as a scientist who opened a portal to hell, releasing demons on to the Earth realm. From this, your character was killed yet revived as nothing but a skull attached to a spine – pretty damn weird. There is a very strange but weirdly effective humour to this game that made me chuckle to myself a good few times while playing. It helps give the game its own personality and makes the short interactions you have very enjoyable. As a newly revived spine, you must journey through hazardous and monster-filled environments to earn back your human form, but there are also some very awesome and deadly surprises along the way.
Once you’re inside the maze to start your journey, then hell (literally) breaks loose. You must shoot, power and dash your way through seemingly never-ending monsters that have many attacks that you must skilfully manoeuvre to reach your goal. The game feels very fun to play and is very responsive. It adopts a twin-stick style of moving and aiming, with shooting assigned to the right trigger. It allows you to quickly turn to dispose of enemies attacking via all directions, testing your reactions as this game will never play the same so cannot be truly learned. Each area is randomly generated so you must quickly learn the patterns of the new enemies because there is no time to mess up. This is very important because you’re likely going to be dying quite a lot. Not only do the procedurally generated stages keep it refreshing, but they also make you want to replay the game a lot to see what else you can find.
The game balances the difficulty with exploration very well. You will have to take risks to find treasure, so you can then visit a shop at the end of each stage to purchase various upgrades and consumables. It’s up to you to decide how risky you want to be as you search the randomised levels. If you find your exit, you can leave immediately or go searching for those few more coins to buy better weapons or armour. Of course, you’re also risking taking more damage, so it’s a balancing act that you must always keep track of, especially as the game has permadeath. While exploring each area is fun and makes the dungeon crawl aspect much more viable, I would also say though that it can be the game’s harsh downfall. While the camera placement is largely very good and central, sometimes as you enter new areas it can be impossible to scout the room to see if you want to explore it before entering, where you can be trapped inside and forced to fight.
This seems overly unfair and removes a bit of the freedom that you have as you move through the environments, sometimes you have to rely on guesswork in order to get by. It would have been good to include an option to shift the camera on an x and y-axis, just to make a decision on whether to enter by having a peek. I would also have liked some sort of dodge mechanic that could potentially be used to defend myself from attacks that are simply unavoidable. It’s very unforgiving and with no choice of difficulty, it means a lot of players could very well give up without experiencing the game fully.
As well as the shop, there is a treasure to collect which you can offer to the Eye of Ka-Ra, a mystical creature whom you must prove your worth too. If you do, you can take on different transformations. This is where the game really comes into its own. There are some brilliantly unique and fun transformation designs, The Rat King is a favourite of mine. You can collect forms to choose from by paying a fee to enter a challenge, pass and you will earn another form to rotate between which is crucial to your overall success.
Each form has its own abilities and health bars which you must balance between as you progress through the hellish dungeons. There is so much variety in terms of the characters that make for a fun experience every time you play; made even better by the fact you can unlock other wacky and powerful forms every time you complete the game. There is a ton of replayability in Hellmut that makes it addictive and a game you can jump into if you need to shoot stuff.
As well as the normal mode, there are two other modes you can opt to play. These are tournament mode and a local co-op mode called gauntlet. There’s even a little arcade machine in the shop where you play a Hellmut style version of Space Invaders which can earn you some coins, so long as you have coins to play in the first place. It’s a novel and mostly pointless feature but one I admittedly spent a fair bit of time on, it’s just something about Space Invaders that means you have to play it.
Tournament mode is a mode that allows you to compete with your friends locally to see how well you can do, which is certainly a nice addition however one that I don’t think many will take advantage of because you could potentially be waiting for a very long time to get a go. Gauntlet is much more fun and is a mode that removes the progression and story and just pits you and a friend against endless waves of demons. It’s a little repetitive but having a friend play with you is definitely recommended and could give you hours of shooty gun fun.
It would have been great to play through the main game in co-op mode but I imagine the developers were sadistic enough to want you to suffer alone. In fact, I’m convinced of their cruel nature because most of the achievements only give you 1 gamerscore, yes one! This isn’t for the achievement hunters then.
Hellmut has very gory and attractively retro pixel-art visuals that are a joy to play through. The environments are dark and atmospheric, made possible with some very ominous lighting. The colours of flames are a dimmed and dangerous red, or in the sewer sections, there is a very hazardously toxic looking green that spews through grates and tunnels. The bullets and other projectiles that fill the screen are very pretty and colourful and make for a very nice looking game when coupled with the dark environments. There are some vivid yellows, blues and greens that light up the arena and make them easier to see, but also just makes the game so much more aesthetically pleasing: Hell shouldn’t look this pretty but it does in Hellmut thanks to some great art from the studio’s 2D artist Ratislav Polenkovic.
The enemies also look gruesomely cool. There are witch-looking enemies, weird slug type creatures and even creatures that kind of look like an evil Mr Hanky from South Park. Those are just a few examples and there are many different types. That’s without even mentioning the bosses who are hulking monstrosities and look awesome.
Whether it’s some kind of weird issue in me I’m not sure but I particularly enjoy the option to leave the gore on the screen. You can choose to keep all of the bones and blood from enemies you’ve slaughtered to remain on-screen which adds pleasingly violent images to your playthrough. It’s satisfying to see all of the remains on the floor from all of your crazy fights just to see just how much carnage you’ve caused. It’s not an eyesore either, as there is never so much that the screen becomes cluttered and therefore hard to explore.
Moving on to sound, there’s something about retro games and their nostalgia-inducing sound effects that just add so much to the games in the shmup genre. Hellmut, in particular, has some of my favourite sound effects in this genre because every weapon sounds different and therefore feels unique. Machine guns sound rapid and powerful, bazookas give a lovely rumble and explosive sound while the guns unique to the lore of the game are also satisfying and sound exciting to shoot. There are so many it would be impossible to fit them all here but they sound great. So too does picking up treasure, any noise that involves a high “ding” noise when collecting gets a plus from me because it’s been ingrained in our psyche to recognise that as a positive and rewarding noise, it’s no different here.
Enemies also have some interesting and sometimes funny sounds. Most of them emit a sort of death rattle when you defeat them which definitely adds some fun factor to mowing down legions of demons and the like. Even their movements have sound effects, such as flying bats that flap rhythmically as they approach.
In terms of soundtrack, while it sounds fun enough, it just doesn’t really fit in with the overall tone of the game. You can choose between “modern crap”, “old school” or decide to mix it up as your theme for your journey through Hell, both sound fine but I’d rather a more doom-esque soundtrack to fit its dark and demonic style – but that’s just my personal preference.
*Just as a quick note, while the game largely runs smoothly, I did experience a game-breaking bug playing this game. When I reached a boss at the halfway stage of the game, for some reason it would not attack me and I could not attack it. I was left with no option but to quit which then crashed the game. Thankfully, I was able to turn the console back on and pick up directly from the boss fight so it wasn’t too much trouble in the end.*
HELLMUT: The Badass from Hell is a wonderfully crazy and exciting 2D bullet-hell dungeon crawler with an eclectic mix of weapons and upgrades or transformations to play as. It’s hellish in its design but heaven to play, especially when you nail sections without taking damage or timing your powers just right. There is a surprising amount of depth here, with the balance between exploring for treasure and killing to reach your goal, or the choices you make in the store, all adding layers to what makes a very addictive and fulfilling shooter.
A co-op mode for the main game or a difficulty setting would have been a good addition to get more players involved, rather than only targeting the more hardcore of gamers, but the game is still very appealing. I would definitely recommend it though if you are a fan of the genre as there is a lot that separates this ‘Mut from the pack. It’s reasonably priced at £12.49 and can give you hours upon hours of fun.
Hell shouldn’t be this appealing but I can’t help it, there are always more demons to kill.