Hellmut: The Badass from Hell is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
A scientist has summoned a portal to hell in order to harness the power of Beelzebub (probably). Beelzebub isn’t having it, so instead of forfeiting any control, he unleashes a demonic army unto the world and reduces the scientist to a cracked skull and spine. Fortunately (maybe) for him, The Eye of Ka-ra was feeling extra frisky that day, so he decided to grant the once-dead scientist immortality to take back what’s his: the body. Of course, this isn’t as easy as asking politely, so Mr. Ka-ra gives the scientist (who is basically you, so I’ll start saying “you”) two starting transformations to help in your quest for your old body. Climb the castle without having your weakest form—leaking spinal fluid as it floats around—explode into a million pieces! Hellmut likes to keep things clean.
It really doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. Fight to take back what’s yours; it’s been done to death and back, but still it finds its way into the lore of video gaming. In this case, it isn’t so unreasonable, because the tone of the “plot” is as aloof as one would expect from a game with “Badass” in its title. Get a quick tutorial, get insulted by Ka-ra every other sentence, choose your fighter and proceed through the portal to Beelzebub’s castle, where hordes of demons await to randomly appear in every new room you travel in. Expect to be insulted a lot as witty dialogue descriptions of other creatures or transformations run across the screen like the blood of the scattered carcasses of demon spawn. And rewinds.
Eventually my “Story isn’t that important, but gameplay makes up for it!” spiel will get old, but until then, I’ll keep doing it. The story of Hellmut isn’t all that important, for it’s the gameplay that really determines what the player will get out of it. Think Doom meets The Binding of Isaac: an all-out demonic killing spree combined with dungeon-crawling aspects, without any complicated upgrades to one’s arsenal. Basic upgrades, however, are pretty handily available. With each transformation, one has a standard weapon, a special ability, and (I think) various stat differences dependent on the transformation. The big, tank-worthy Stitchmonster is fairly slow with a mediocre rate of fire, but packs a good amount of HP. The Rat King has a similar firing rate, but is faster and more agile, while sacrificing some health. Different transformations provide different scenarios. Hopefully one can “git gud” enough to unlock some of them at the start.
Two collectables at play drastically improve one’s chances in making it through the castle: coins and soulstones. Coins can be spent at the shop conveniently placed in a random room on each floor. Soulstones are used to summon Ka-ra in another randomly generated area of a floor. Shops can provide different weapons and items to upgrade one’s stats cumulatively, such as weapon damage, total HP, and movement speed. Summoning Ka-ra will give the player a chance at obtaining a new transformation specifically for that run, but one must prove themselves by killing typically between 39 and 44 baddies within (again, typically) 100 and 160 seconds. If one runs out of HP while as a certain transformation, it will immediately revert back to the scientist’s weakest form—losing that will end the game and the run. If this sounds mean, know that if one has multiple transformations available, they can switch to another transformation before the weakest form has to do any praying. Switching between transformations doesn’t completely pause time, however, so choose quickly, compadre.
Now that the technical jargon is established, let me just say upfront that Hellmut is a really fun game. It’s among the most fun dungeon-crawlers I’ve played that doesn’t rely on luck-based tactics to increase difficulty or stress. What matters is the player’s own ability to experiment and learn how to get better at the game. At the same time, there’s some concern of mine that this game may be a tad too simple. Floors, despite the level, are designed almost exactly the same with very little differentiation. Very occasionally there are death traps one has to traverse, but that doesn’t quite drown out any repetition players may have going through this game over and over again. You walk into a room, monsters come out and play. Kill ’em all and move on. Repeat over and over again, avoiding explosive barrels and smashing household furniture for one or two extra coins in the meantime. Every run is about 90% the same as the last, whether enemy variety, complexity of floor design, or boss fights. By the way, there are boss fights in this game. Did I forget to mention?
Even with the large quantity of transformations one can get through each run, it’s more efficient to simply stick with one and upgrade it to the point where the gameplay is not excruciatingly one-sided by the end. This is another setback to combating repetition in repeated playthroughs; using other transformations to go against different enemies would be a splendid idea, yet most enemies can be defeated handily with every transformation, no matter the weapon—doubly so for transformations with gatling gun-like mechanics. While initially a little difficult to get the hang of, there becomes a risk of the game becoming too easy to veterans. I’ve gone through about nine or so runs since starting Hellmut. I didn’t end up completing a run until my fifth (I think) try. After failing the next two runs through transformation experimentation, I easily handled my last two runs with transformations I know I’m good with. Also note: a few of those runs ended when I accidentally triggered an explosive barrel through weapon fire.
That which can be improved comes from a desire for more than the basics. Should one be okay with only the basics, Hellmut is more than worth the price it’s going for. And again, despite these flaws, it is still a game I find to be a hell of a time. What it lacks in nuance it makes up for in style… which brings me to my next topic:
Graphics & Audio
If the writing doesn’t rope you in, the fantastic pixel art will. Not since Card Quest have I been so entranced by a game’s quality of pixel design and animation. And the colors just pop, too! Like the most succulent treats put out on display, with vivid reds and greens and blues abound, one can’t resist at least a glance. It’s smooth as chocolate silk, wavy as caramel, messy as a small-town buffet. Am I making you hungry? I’m making me hungry. What’s nicest of all is that there’s so much to look at and so much detail within the design of transformations to death triggers to explosions. The developers went all out in ensuring Hellmut looks as bombastic as possible, without the slightest hint of loathing. It does a great amount of embellishment this type of game thrives on, and I’m all for it in this game and in any other game. I’m far more keen on rainbows and bright hues than gray, gray, and gray.
Sound-wise, it doesn’t do nearly as much as its more visual qualities, but it’s enough to commend it for sticking to the tone of the game. Admittedly, while playing the game I tend to not listen to the music as much as others may be. When I’m in “the zone,”™ everything else kind of filters to the back of my mind. Notable pieces of music include the starting area/main menu screen, blasting with trumpet-like anthems of continued bombast. Sound effects are far more within my memory, as the constant explosions, demonic screams of terror, and Ka-ra’s demented voice shouting the names of new transformations make for a nicely immersive experience. Not that I believe I could have my skull and spine fly around shooting glowing purple pellets at sentient skeletons trying to grind me into dust, but I digress. Sound implementation is neither a selling point or a stalling point.