It’s Rogue-like month here during June for absolutely no reason whatsoever, so I’m going to be looking at four different lesser-known games with Rogue elements that you may or may not have heard of.
But before that, if you’re not familiar with Rogue-likes, they’re games that are, well, like Rogue, and old RPG game in which everything was random and death really was the end. Modern Rogue-likes take a lot of these elements, often featuring randomly generated levels, random weapons and powerups, and a single life that, if lost, sends you right back to the start of the game with little, if anything to show for it. There are some modern things added into many of these games, such as some progression after death (new weapons to find, perks to equip, characters to unlock) and these are more often referred to as Rogue-lites, but for the purposes of this month, I’ll stick with Rogue-like. You know, for simplicity.
This week we begin with Hellmut: The Badass From Hell, a game that I received an Xbox One review code for.
Hellmut is a twin-stick shooter in which you can swap bodies on the go as you mow down hordes of demonic beasties. You, a scientist, begin the game by summoning a demon with the intention of having it granting you eternal life. Obviously, that doesn’t go to plan and the demon kills you, but grants you infinite lives so you can die over and over. The demon and his buddies then set about destroying your lab and doing demon things. Then another demon, The Eye of Ka-Ra, arrives and grants you the ability to inhabit the bodies of the monstrous creation that I assume you were working on. You’re then sent out kill the baddies!
Upon starting a game, you can select one of two bodies to inhabit. You’re given a little explanation of each, so you aren’t going in blind. Each one is significantly different, and more bodies can be acquired through gameplay. Once you’ve made your choice, it’s off into the maelstrom of monsters to do or die.
Standard twin-stick gameplay applies here, with left stick for movement and right stick for aiming. Right trigger fires your weapon, with the left for your special attack, whilst Y and X are used for healing and swapping bodies and left bumper can be used to swap weapons. I’ll point out that there is a tutorial, but it does a poor job of explaining most of the controls. It just tells you to press X to change body, but you actually need to use the right stick to highlight one before pressing A as well. There was no explanation of healing whatsoever, nor that you could change weapons. The absolute basics are there, but there was quite a bit of detail missing. I realise that this is a Rogue-like, and there’s a large element of learning as you play with games in the genre but making sure the controls are fully explained is something essential to any game.
Once you’re into the action though, Hellmut plays very well. Regardless of which character you pick, everything feels very solid. There’s good feedback to hitting enemies, and your special attacks feel powerful. I found the Rat King special attack very satisfying as it fires out a shotgun burst of bouncy bullets that was very useful for taking out groups of enemies quickly. And there are plenty of enemies to take out. It’s not at the levels of something like Tesla vs. Lovecraft, but there are lots of big, powerful foes to face in every single room. They’re all incredibly distinct too. Basic skeletons give way to magic-blasting corpses, whilst knights charge in to attack you and demons teleport around the room. You’ll never be short of things to blast, and you’ll need to take them out as you can be killed very quickly, especially if things get up close. This leads to the teleporting enemies feeling very cheap at times, as you can get swarmed and destroyed with no chance to destroy them in time. It’s very frustrating to have a run end suddenly due to something like that.
There are plenty of ways to gain additional power though, giving yourself a better chance. You pick up coins that can be spent in shops found in each level for medkits, armour, new weapons, and such. Then there are soul stones which are needed to buy more powerful items and access challenges to earn new bodies. The body you choose at the beginning isn’t the only one you’ll have. You can revert to your skull form, with its super basic attacks, but you can gain so many more through the challenge rooms. In each stage there is a book to be found, where you can trade soul stones for access to a challenge. Defeat all the enemies in this challenge and you’ll be awarded a new body for your run, with their own skills and attacks. Essentially, you’re earning extra lives, as each body has its own health pool, and when it runs out, it’s gone (unless you gain a resurrection stone that brings back your most recently lost body). This means you can swap to a more body with a better special attack or one with more health when you need them.
This is what brings Hellmut out as being something a bit different to other twin-stick Rogue-likes. The shooting, fighting, and collecting is pretty standard stuff, but the body swapping silliness gives this game its own identity and makes it something worth picking up for fans of the genre. It’s a lot of fun once you’ve figured out what’s going on and how to play effectively.
You’ll get plenty of chances to figure these things out of course, as you’ll tend to die quite a bit — standard for this type of game. The game is split into a number of areas, which are in turn split into two stages and a boss level. The stages are a randomly generated series of rooms that task you with simply finding the exit. The boss you face is also a randomly selected one and must be beaten to move to the next area. The bosses are really varied and great to look at but aren’t really that hard. You’ll die far more in the stages than you will against the bosses, which seems a touch odd. Still, they’re very enjoyable to fight.
Visually, Hellmut has that pixel art style you’ll see in a lot of games. It does look good here and reminds me very much of the look of Enter the Gungeon. That’s not to say it’s derivative though, as this game has a great deal of its own personality, particularly in the opening cutscene. The sound is great too, with everything sounding clear and powerful, and a fun soundtrack that plays into Hellmut’s lighthearted and silly tone.
Hellmut: The Badass From Hell is a very enjoyable Rogue-like that’s worth a look if you have any love for the genre. You’ll almost certainly have a fun time playing through it and discovering all the different forms you can take. It’s out now on Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and PC.