Games for broke people: Helltaker

So I was planning on taking the rest of the month off from the site as I wrote last post. But then the artists I follow on Twitter started filling up my timeline with cute demon girl fanart, and then I couldn’t rest until I found out exactly what that was all about.

And if she’s a cute demon bureaucratic functionary then even better.

That’s how I found Helltaker, a short free puzzle game that tells the story of a guy who wakes up one day and decides he’s going to break into Hell itself to create a harem of demon girls. Forget Dante’s journey through the afterlife: this is the noblest quest someone could possibly have. To do this, our brave protagonist has to solve several block-pushing maze puzzles of increasing difficulty. Each puzzle requires the player to make it to the goal, represented by a demon lady hanging out behind a giant padlock for some reason, within a specified number of steps. Kicking blocks and kicking demon guards to death also count as taking steps, and the addition of spike traps that take extra steps away from you makes things more complicated. Luckily for Helltaker guy, he can regenerate an infinite number of times, so much like Chip from Chip’s Challenge, nothing will stop him from getting the girl(s) no matter how frustrating the maze he’s running might be.

The beginning of level 3. In this case the demon triplets at the top are your goal (mythology fan points if you can guess what they’re a reference to) and the number on the left keeps track of your steps so you know if you’ll hit your limit before reaching them.

Some of these mazes stumped me for a while, particularly numbers 7 and 9 near the end. Fortunately for the impatient, the game lets you skip puzzles if you’re truly stuck, but if you do that you might miss out on finding secrets in certain levels that are required to get the game’s good ending. Anyway, what’s the fun in half-assing a game like this? Every puzzle is solvable, you just have to exercise your brain to discover the solutions.

However, even if you figure out how to reach the goal in time, you’re not done — you still need to convince the demon girl at the end of the puzzle to join your harem and also not to kill you on the spot. Because you’re just a ripped guy in a leisure suit, and while you can kick the regular demon guards in each level to pieces, you’re no match for the girls. If you screw up the negotiation, you’ll get horribly killed and will have to run the maze again.

The right answer is sometimes not the obvious one

There are also a lot of little additions to the game that add some more flavor — as you can see in the game’s main layout, pressing L gets you “life advice.” This gives you a short dialogue with one or more of your newly won over demon wives, who are just as likely to give you tips about how to complete the level you’re on as they are to complain about how long you’re taking or to start arguing with each other. Or to end up getting you killed somehow.

So the main gameplay mechanic of Helltaker is really very simple — it’s a variation on the kind of sliding block puzzle that has existed for over a hundred years. That provides the substance of the game, but there’s a lot of style as well, and that’s what sets Helltaker apart from so much other free and extremely cheap generic-looking stuff. Someone could easily recreate the puzzles that compose each level of Helltaker using white, gray, and black blocks and dots to represent the characters and obstacles, and it would mechanically be the same game. But the distinctive character art and cute dialogues give it that much-needed style. And that’s the reason I discovered it in the first place, after all, so who can say that isn’t important?

9 thoughts on “Games for broke people: Helltaker

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  2. It seems kind of fitting that Hell is full of sliding block maze puzzles. And I’m pretty sure I know several guys who are currently trying to break into Hell to pick up demon chicks, the way they act.

    Here’s a question, how does it end up landing, that whole “if you fail at negotiating you have to redo the puzzle” thing? On the surface, it seems like it might be a bit frustrating, losing the level due to what can seem like random chance.

    • Those guys had better hope they can withstand the demon chicks — they seem like the scariest part in a way.

      The puzzles are small and quick enough that screwing up the negotiation part isn’t so bad, It’s a 50/50 chance at worst anyway, since there are only ever two answers available. As long as you generally remember the path you took, it’s not a big deal.

  3. *Casually downloads on Steam*

    Well it fits the bill with what you were saying on Friday night’s stream, so it sounds like it’ll be a worthy investment of a couple hours. From the included screenshot I can’t get over the art-style though. Lots of hard lines like I enjoy using in my own stuff.

    • Hope you like it! It is pretty simple for the most part — without all the character stuff I wouldn’t have gone for it, but for a free game I can’t complain. With all the attention it’s getting, I hope the makers do a lot more with this style in later games.

      • Well that was a fun way to spend an hour. Reminds me of flash games I used to play as a teen, but way higher production value on display here.

      • Good to hear. Yeah, it does remind me of those old flash games somewhat, only a lot nicer-looking. I still remember when Newgrounds seemed impressive so long ago.

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