The developers must be on drugs!” was a phrase uttered by many ‘80s and ‘90s journalists, usually when a game featured a nonsensical plot or an enemy assortment consisting of household objects and whatnot. During the early noughties, it was a phrase seldom seen, with publishers refusing to release anything that would easily confuse the mass market. The occasional offbeat localised title from Japan was as much as we could hope for.

Skip forward to 2019, and here we are playing a demonic pixel-art shooter starring a floating skull – formally a mad scientist – that can mutate into other creatures, including a pulsating sack of flesh and a bipedal rat sporting a pair of headphones. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had to think of an intro for this review, we wouldn’t have even batted an eyelid. And no, we don’t think the developers were on drugs. Too much caffeine and Haribo is likely, however. There’s a tiny bird with a sword.

Hellmut: The Badass from Hell – from Slovakia-based Volcanicc – is the latest contender to randomly generated dungeon crawler throne, favouring twin-stick shooting and plenty of gore. A perfect run takes around 20-30 min, spanning several stages and a handful of boss battles. Before even getting remotely close to the final boss’ domain, though, you’ll need to put the hours in – this is a demanding experience that requires countless practice runs to eventually beat.

A wide choice of unlockable oddball characters act as lifelines, each with own their weapon types and health bars of varying length. They’re gained via one-shot shooting challenges, which have a small entry fee to partake, and if successful your new body is added to the mutation room, ready and waiting to be deployed on the next run.

The more bodies available, the better the chances of success – the ‘mutation wheel’ allows you to swap between a small pool. Keeping an eye on the health bar and mutating into a new character before it gets low is essential. That’s providing you’re able to do so, we should note. Death comes so swiftly that often you’ll bite the bullet before even knowing what hit you.

While Hellmut does have a camera that tracks ahead while aiming, it’s still hard to know what dangers lie in each room, all because enemies don’t spawn until a few seconds after entering. We quickly fell back on the tried-and-tested tactic of retreating to the nearest narrow corridor, allowing us to deal with enemies from afar. But even then, the odds always felt stacked high.

Some enemies have charge attacks but often the warning signs (pre-charge animations) occur off-screen, which lead to a few cheap deaths. Other enemies spew colourful, hypnotic, bullet formations that are tricky to avoid whenever more than a few bullet spewers are in a room. Opening treasure chests – which regularly contain the valuable gems required to reach the next stage – is something to be wary about too, as occasionally a bunch of enemies will leap out. You can say goodbye to half your health bar when this happens. Hellmut pulls no punches at all.

So, how does it keep the playing field fair? (Well, fair enough to keep you coming back). The answers lie within the item shop, available at least once per stage. Here, the sarcastic shopkeepers will happily sell you new weapons, health packs (of which three can be carried), coin-attracting magnets, armour and more. Testing out a new weapon for the first time is quite a buzz, with even small pistols packing a punch. Cash doesn’t flow freely though, so you must think carefully about all purchases.

Health packs and new weapons can also be found in the treasure chests. Being a randomised experience, it’s all down to luck of the draw. We’ve had runs where we avoided taking a hit for two or three entire stages, only to snuff it upon entering the first room on the next stage. In fact, this is something that happened often. If you fail to quickly learn attack patterns when encountering new enemy types, then some messy fates await.

The previously mentioned shop is also where you’ll find a playable arcade cabinet housing a simple Space Invaders-style mini-game. This comical tone is evident elsewhere, with some daft dialogue present. Adding to the warped sense of humour, 17 of the 20 achievements are worth a paltry 1G each. Achievement hunters should take note.

Everybody else should give Hellmut their consideration, especially if you’re hankering for something to dip in and out of. The two additional modes support multi-player too, with the wave-based Gauntlet mode – which entails protecting a mutation tank from swarms of enemies – featuring local two-player co-op, while the Tournament Mode is geared towards party play.

The package as a whole may not be as rewarding as we hoped, and the ability to dash or roll would’ve been incredibly welcome, but it still provides a substantial challenge that’ll test your mettle. Grab a caffeinated beverage and get blasting.

SCORE
7