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To Hell with Hell Early Access Review

Lazurite Games’ debut title, To Hell with Hell, is a 2D pixel art roguelike dungeon crawler where you play as Natasias, a bikini-clad ginger who has been summoned to hell by Asmodius, the ruler of hell, in order to release him from his prison. In hell you may not be anything special, but luckily the masks you find can give you the abilities that you need to slaughter the endless waves of demons which await. Just be warned, as once a mask breaks, you’ll have to find another, because that one will be gone forever. Lazurite Games prides itself in the high level of difficulty that they’ve achieved with To Hell with Hell, and warns you constantly of this from within the title itself.

WE NEED MASKS. LOTS OF MASKS

To Hell with Hell operates like most roguelikes, but opts for the more “bullet hell” side of the spectrum. There are always a lot of enemies on-screen, so the developers have equipped you with a large variety of tools to help you dispose of the demon hordes. The mechanic that defines this title is the series of masks that you can find as you progress. Every mask has abilities both active and passive, and some even come with their own weapons. There’s also perk system, which is simple and very straightforward. At the end of every level you are presented with a hand of cards with different benefits which range from carrying more ammo to granting you different companions which will assist you in battle.

The catch is that, while every mask adds a bonus health bar onto your base health, once a mask’s health is depleted, you lose it for good. The masks are a great mechanic because you have to stay conscious of that health at all times, especially if you have a favorite mask that you feel is best for most jobs. It creates a good sense of panic, where you really have to try your hardest, when you’ve got your back up against the wall and nothing except your best mask left.

My main issue with the mask system is not the mechanic behind the system, but rather the masks themselves. There are some original masks (which tend to actually be the most fun), but most are quite generic and offer equally-generic abilities. Most importantly, a lot of the masks are simply useless. The knight mask, for example, offers a considerable amount of power with the sword it requires you to use, but gets immediately torn in half by the endless number of bullets being fired at you the second the deflect ability wears off.

USELESS MASKS, USEFUL PERKS

Considering the rarity of masks and the fact that without specific perks, you are very limited in the number of masks you can carry at once, there’s no room for useless masks that do nothing other than adding a single hit onto your health bar. Not to mention some masks offer abilities that are a bigger liability to you than a help. Sadly, weapons suffer from the same exact issue. Some guns, such as the banana, are fun and gimmicky, but the rest are very standard. There’s an assortment of shotguns, bows, melee weapons, and submachine guns. Most of the weapons available are very basic in design and don’t really attempt to try anything new.

The most frustrating part about the experience is that, while you and your arsenal of masks all die in basically one hit, many enemies will soak up damage from your weapons, unless it’s a charged bow shot or a shotgun shell from two feet away. You’re limited in the number of weapons you can carry unless you have the appropriate perks, so the variety is once again cut short by the game. Ultimately, the perks are the only thing that offer a truly fun sense of variety to the game. My favorite remains the card which allows you to automatically raise a dead enemy into a skeletal minion that shoots arrows at your foes.   

WELCOME TO BULLET HELL IN HELL

One of the most vital mechanics, if not the most vital mechanic behind bullet hell entries, is the handling of movement. To Hell with Hell’s movement on a keyboard is clunky and feels very stiff. I attempted to remedy this by using my controller, but was held back by a glitch that forced my character to always be looking to the left. After this, I accepted my fate, and stuck to a keyboard and mouse for the rest of my time with this title.

Typically, in bullet hell titles, enemies move with a pretty standard pattern of movement and behaviors — yet, in To Hell with Hell,most enemies either charge directly at you (then get confused and stumble when you move from their initial charging point), or run in seemingly random directions and fire vaguely at you. Understanding timing in this game is a pretty difficult task, though it’s really just safe to assume most enemies will simply shoot at you constantly.

LIMITED SAVES

There are no invincibility frames in To Hell with Hell, so expect to be eager to take on a boss with your best weapons and an arsenal of masks, only to then lose every mask and die from one hit. Did you die from that bullet having a catastrophically high amount of damage, you ask? The answer is, “No.” You died because most enemies fire clusters of shots with a tight cone, so if you get hit by one, you’re most likely going to get hit by multiple. When you combine this mechanic with the fact that you have a limited number of saves that you’re allowed, what you are left with is a long grind leading up to a battle that will immediately take you down, sometimes in seconds. If you used one of your limited saves, you’re in the clear, but if you didn’t, have fun going right back to the start.

Considering that we’re dealing with a roguelike, enthusiasts will probably say that most roguelikes feature permadeath anyway, so being able to save at all is a luxury. The issue is that the gameplay, length, and difficulty of levels seem to all be tweaked to compensate for this save-system luxury. The result is not the infuriatingly-fun experience gamers have defined as a “Souls-like” — it’s simply an experience that will cause a fit of rage when you realize that your death was due to a lack of polish, not a lack of practice.

TO HELL WITH HELL EARLY ACCESS

Early Access is a great way for developers to publish early iterations of their title for fans in order to help with QA and gather the feedback needed to keep pushing out content that players are looking for. Since its launch in July, To Hell with Hell hasn’t seen one update, except for a bugfix that was launched a week after release to help tweak the gameplay slightly. The developers have recently stated that they hope to release a hub system next month, but that still does not address the critical issues at hand currently.

As it stands, the only aspect that truly seems finished in To Hell with Hell is its visuals. The environments are extremely well-designed and have a ton of depth. Objects such as chests and miscellaneous destructibles are really expertly designed, and most of the characters look great, too. There is, however, an issue where there’s an odd disconnect between the two. The environments look huge, while most characters seem extremely small and stubby. The hulking, giant enemies in this title are the best as far as scale goes, but all of the other enemies simply look awkward as they fumble around, trying to shoot you.

It’s bittersweet when the developers do seem to be dedicated to updating their entry, but not frequently. If Lazurite Games continues to leave long periods of silence in-between each update, I’m not sure how many will stick around in hopes that the right updates will come along. I certainly believe that this game has potential, but only if the developers can find a way to be consistent in delivering quality updates to smooth over all of the rough edges.

5

The Verdict: Average

To Hell with Hell is a little too proud about how difficult it is, and it frequently comes to a point where the difficulty is more of a hindrance than a motivational factor to play better. Other than the mask system, this indie doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the roguelike genre. For now, To Hell with Hell is a little too rough to deliver anything more than an okay experience.

Stephen Martino
Written by
September 04, 2018
Published in Action

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Stephen is the dedicated game critic of his friend group and always has a new recommendation he just can’t keep to himself.  Whether a AAA release or a hidden indie gem, he’s always the one his friends will consult when thinking of picking up a game.  Stephen started his love for gaming back with Resident Evil : Code Veronica on the Sega Dreamcast.  After dumping way too many hours into it, he moved to the Xbox 360 and then the PC upon realizing just how much he loved modding and customization in games.  If you ever plan on playing a game featuring customizable characters with this Brooklynite critiq, you’d better free up your schedule because you know he’s going to be fine-tuning every last slider and color. 

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