Hellsinker. (PC) Review

By Gabriel Jones 03.08.2019 1

Review for Hellsinker. on PC

Survivors of a lost civilization attempt to piece together the mystery behind the destruction of their world. However, in doing so, they've become trapped in the endless cycle of death and rebirth. If they are to escape their fate, then they must stand against the PRAYERs, embodiments of an ancient being's will to protect the cycle. In Hellsinker., life and death, good and evil, these are mere concepts designed to serve a much larger purpose. In order to piece together the full story, you'll have to overcome trials that defy description.

Though many are liable to disagree, there is no videogame that defines someone as well as the shmup. Only in this endless sea of hostility and bullets can they find themselves… or find themselves lacking. Decades have been spent unravelling its mysteries, its reasons for driving players everywhere to push themselves beyond their human limits. Undoubtedly, the struggle to win isn't without heartache. There have been times where this critic failed to accomplish his goals, such as beating a particular STG without continuing. It's like going on a journey, but never reaching the destination. Still, to overcome challenges previously thought impossible creates a euphoric feeling, one that the most addictive and expensive drugs have failed to match.

On the surface, Hellsinker. is an incomprehensible nightmare, an inexplicable odyssey of madness. This cruel siren lures hapless gamers in and then buries them beneath complicated subsystems. Even its name is inexplicable. Why does it have a period? What purpose does that period serve? These and many other mindboggling questions will run through your head at a rapid-fire pace, as you attempt to survive 8+ segments of mystery and danger. Note that this game operates by its own rules, even when it comes to terminology. Rank, the scaling of difficulty determined by one's skill-level, is known as Stella. To 'discharge' is to unleash a bullet-clearing bomb. Oh, and segments are stages, or levels, whichever you prefer.

Screenshot for Hellsinker. on PC

For dedicated shmup fans, this title probably isn't new to them. It was originally released in 2007 at the biannual doujin convention Comiket. Since then, it's been available at a number of import shops. The Steam release, which arrives courtesy of Henteko Doujin, is the first attempt at reaching a wider audience. From programming to music composition, everything here is the work of Ruminant's Whimper, a one-man developer. His previous effort, Radio Zonde, was a fascinating and incredibly difficult danmaku. For this STG, apparently the focus was to make something complex and hard to explain, but also surprisingly accessible. Indeed, if you can find a way through all of its confounding intricacies, you'll discover that it's really quite approachable. There is a sense of accomplishment in even the most minor of successes, and it's all paced in a way that both amateurs and masters can appreciate. However, in accordance with the genre, you won't get far without patience.

Now then, it's time to take on the first seemingly insurmountable obstacle, the option screen. Before starting a play-through, players first have to familiarize themselves with its many variables. There aren't any traditional settings like an Easy or Hard difficulty. Instead, they choose from a variety of parameters, such as shield-type and the maximum number of lives they're able to hold. Shielding protects the hero or heroine from an attack, though not without cost. One of the settings allows up to three hits to be taken per segment, provided that there's enough meter to discharge (read: bomb). Also, go ahead and crank up that maximum life stock. In the world of Hellsinker, extends are very easy to come by. It's nice to have a lot on hand, at least until you get some experience.

Next up, we have to decide on which character to play as. At first, there are three to choose from: Dead Liar, Fossil Maiden, and Minogame. Kagura, the fourth character, is unlocked by clearing the first four segments without continuing. Also note that Kagura has four weapons to choose from, which are selected by pressing 'start' button at the options screen. That's seven choices in total. Mastering them all is practically a game within itself. First off, the differences between them are quite significant. Each has their own main-shot, sub-weapon, and discharge. Secondly, everyone can slow themselves down to make dodging tight bullet spreads a little easier, except for Fossil Maiden. Last and certainly not least, they all have their own life fragment requirements. Life fragments are dropped by most enemies. Collecting enough of them awards an extend. When starting out, you might want to avoid choosing someone who requires a lot of life fragments, because it'll have a serious effect on your survival.

Screenshot for Hellsinker. on PC

If you're still feeling a little lost, then consider checking out the manual. Alternatively, go ahead and just dive in, feel your way through, and experiment. An exemplary tutorial is also available, as well as a dedicated practice chamber. Take some time to explore how each character works. This might not be enough to prepare you for every possible situation, but having some idea of what to do is better than none. Thankfully, this title is more forgiving than others of its ilk, mainly due to the generous life and bomb systems. Up to seven extends can be held at a time, and bombs can be discharged at a fairly constant rate.

However, just because the game is forgiving, doesn't mean it won't put up a fight. Each segment is filled with enemy ships, all of whom have a propensity for ruining the lives of anything in their immediate area. Even the first segment has foes that don't shy away from covering the screen in bullets. Thankfully, navigating around or through their firepower is pretty easy. Later segments feature an appropriate uptick in intensity, as well as a host of surprises. For example, the fifth features two routes through a multi-scrolling maze. Turrets are everywhere, and they drop plenty of life fragments. Be wary, however, as the full stock of lives you'll accrue could be wiped out by the boss-rush that follows. After enough progress, alternate paths are unlocked. They might be better suited for certain characters and play-styles than the others, so feel free to experiment some more.

One of Hellsinker.'s most notable tests is the Shrine of Farewell. At first, it seems like a bizarre inclusion. For this segment, you have an infinite amount of lives, and the goal is to defeat eight tough bosses before time runs out. Unless you're concerned about attaining a high-score, there are no penalties for running out the clock and dying constantly. However, this is essentially both you and this game's defining point. Just how far are you willing to go for that high-score? An otherwise forgiving and welcoming shmup becomes something much fiercer when points are on the line. A masterful performance in the Shrine of Farewell will double the player's score, but only if they can avoid losing more than a couple lives.

Screenshot for Hellsinker. on PC

Understanding every minor detail of this game's scoring system may require sifting through manuals and strategy guides, but there is one easily-memorized constant. If the player wants the best score possible, then they aren't allowed to die. Naturally, the waves of enemies and bosses they face represent a massive hurdle, but that's just how it goes. Further driving this point home is the immortality bonus. Once you have a full stock of lives, collecting the requisite number of life fragments will instead result in a slew of bonus points. Staying alive and playing aggressively will also raise the Stella, increasing one's high-score potential. There are other factors to consider when playing for points, but mostly it's a matter of learning by doing.

Ultimately, it's in the player's best interest to set their own expectations, and focus on meeting them. The obstacles they struggle with are all a part of their own journey, and are unlikely to be shared by their peers. In some cases, it might help to know attack patterns, or what to do in a particular situation, but everything beyond that must be experienced first-hand. Maybe the same could be said of all shmups, but this one isn't as rigid as what's commonly found in the arcades. Again, this is attributed to both the generous supply of easily-replenished lives, as well as the extremely diverse and complex playable characters. Altogether, they make for a game that's meant to be explored. If it wasn't for the constant threat of instantaneous death, this could almost be considered relaxing.

Given enough time, you're sure to discover just how brilliant Hellsinker. truly is. Through constant battles more enthralling than the last, it weaves a narrative that captures its player's emotions. The bosses are especially fun to contend with, thanks to their plethora of attacks and abilities. The spiralling intensity leads to some of the most memorable encounters the genre has ever produced. When combined with the wonderful soundtrack, there's little else to say except that it's all excellent.

Screenshot for Hellsinker. on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Hellsinker. is a showcase for the richness found in the heart of the STG genre. It's boundless creativity and complex subsystems offer a level of engagement that's rarely seen. There's joy in exploring its every aspect, figuring out what works and what doesn't. It'll take an untold number of hours to master each segment. Not to mention there's an incredibly-realized cast of playable characters, all of whom have unique weapon sets worth exploring. Beyond all of that, the simple nature of destroying enemies and dodging bullets is effortlessly executed. All in all, this experience is one that can't be missed.

Developer

Ruminant's Whimper

Publisher

Henteko Doujin

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Andrew (guest) 21.08.2019#1

Excellent review! I am slowly uncovering the joys of this intriguing and expertly crafted title. I just wanted to say it is refreshing to see a stg review that doesn't just compare the game to 1942, Gradius, or Ikaruga, throw in "blowing stuff up" and "high score" and call it a day. 

I've reached stage 5 boss on a single credit thus far using Minogame. There is a rewarding sense of progression and I really dig the cryptic story text as well. Anyways, thank you for a very well written review. It is great to see.

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