To be clear, that’s the title of the game, and not just my exclamation – after a gruelling week of ploughing through crappy games – at having found something worth writing about. But oh boy, is it ever worth writing about. Bloody Hell is utterly splendid.
This is a top-down twin-stick shooter with the sensibilities of a Metroid-like, all set in that age-old plot of a bird-angel being sent by God from Heaven to Hell to murder Satan. And it’s gloriously gory.
Part bullet hell (which would have been another good name for the game), part explore-me-do, this is a game Devolver should be kicking themselves for not having published. Bloody Hell has all the sensibilities of Devolver’s catalogue, alongside the finesse, and they could have merchandised the hell out of it. Pun intended, the developers, have burst out with an incredibly strong debut title, and this is the best sentence I’ll write all week.
So yes, you’re Azrael, a bird-angel from what might well be Bird Heaven, sent by God to go kill that pesky Satan. And on the way, there are many creatures of Hell to kill (pigs, frogs, floating eyes), so many that for the majority of the game your footsteps are the squelching sounds of tramping through a thick layer of viscera and blood.
As you fight you build up Rage, which fills a meter that when at max lets you unleash a bonkers attack, or otherwise can be drained from in order to heal. Along the way you’ll pick up new abilities (a grapple, double-dash, that sort of thing), alongside weirdly-shaped potions that can be swapped in and out on alchemy tables, giving you chosen bonuses. (You also pick up new slots for the table, which you need to assign to match the shapes of the potions… it’s a whole thing.)
From then on, it’s all about making your way through the various biomes of Hell, killing the increasingly tricky enemies while dodging screens packed with enemy fire. You’ll also meet boss fights that are… scrupulously fair?! Wait, what?! But no, pick yourself up – it’s entirely true. They’re challenging! Mad bullet hell craziness, but with fair patterns to learn, and a realistic chance of success.
Death is very well handled by the game. It’ll cost you half of the bones you’re carrying – the game’s currency – which is enough of a bummer to want to avoid it, but then restarts you at the most recent respawn point. This, and saving at such points, refills the levels with their original contingent of enemies, but often you’ll want that just for restocking on bones. It’s never a crushing loss of progress, even if I’ve had to walk away from the screen a couple of times in frustration at my own failure.
Exploration is great, too. As you unlock new abilities, older areas are worth re-exploring, both for caches of bones, and for the 20 or so baby chickens (no, they’re not chicks, they’re baby chickens) you’re also optionally rescuing. Zipping on the grapple, then dashing to reach a far platform, is a great entrance to a new arena of battle, all making for a far more involved twin-stick shooter than I’m used to. A really splendid thing.
It’s then all the more impressive that I can reveal to you this astoundingly competent and complete game is the work of three students, a Dutch group who I assume are going to absolutely nail their degree. Student games are almost never this good – it genuinely feels like something that’s positively been through the process of working alongside an indie publisher from day one.
Oh, and it’s FREE. Presumably a requirement of being a student project, but damn, these devs need to be making money from this fantastic game. It’s so great, so smartly put together, and also the St Peter pigeon has a moustache.
- Pun Intended