Doom may be the most famous shooter released in 2016, but the year was also home to another excellent one: Devil Daggers. Focusing on the most essential features of a shooter, Devil Daggers shined with its extreme difficulty and extremely high skill ceiling, inviting run after run for endless hours. In many ways, Hyper Demon, the next game from developer Sorath, is the logical next step in this formula. It’s equal parts grueling and exciting, with even more mechanics to wrap your head around during its intense but short runs. It’s also much more accessible than Devil Daggers ever was, making its thrilling action all the more appealing.
While Devil Daggers was all about survival, Hyper Demon is all about aggression. Each round starts with a timer at 10 seconds, which immediately starts ticking down. Each enemy kill increases the timer by three seconds, encouraging you to elegantly string together kills to keep the action flowing. The game does not end when the timer reaches zero. Instead, your score is determined by the time on the clock when you die (or manage to reach the end of the game). Passive play, while technically much safer, won’t improve your ranking on the leaderboard, so much so that some of your shorter, more comfortable runs may yield better scores than ones that lasted twice as long.
An expanded repertoire of mechanics, compared to Devil Daggers, helps increase the pace of the action to match the new objective as well. Each round still plays out in a limited floor space that you can easily fall through, but you can move around it much faster thanks to air dashes and chained bunnies, the latter of which can be done indefinitely if set correctly. Being able to get close to enemies to take them out is half the challenge, the other is determining the best way to get them out quickly. Like Devil Daggers, you can hold down the fire button for a steady barrage of bullets, or hit it for a deadlier shotgun blast at close range. These are boosted by a laser attack that you can fire if you stop firing long enough to manually absorb the crystals dropped by enemies when they die, offering an accurate, long-range option for your trouble.
All of these options are easy to understand individually, but Hyper Demon requires them to be used in harmony to really start climbing the leaderboards. Locating efficient paths between enemies and predicting where new ones will spawn is just as important as high accuracy, while understanding each enemy’s behavior will help you dispatch them faster. For example, the first enemy you’ll encounter during each run is a floating well that shoots smaller skull enemies while alive. It’s easy enough to dispatch with regular fire from your hand, but it’s usually not fast enough to ensure it doesn’t spawn any more annoying enemies. Instead, you can target the crystal at its core with a precise laser shot (if you have one) to dispatch it instantly. The downside to this is that it no longer drops the same crystal on death, which you can otherwise break to get a whole new laser charge.
Each of the Hyper Demon enemies have these little decisions you’ll have to make when facing them, which is more difficult when you’re running around the arena while trying to stay alive and stay aggressive. At first it may seem odd that Hyper Demon only has four main enemy types, but it’s usually rewarding to discover new movesets that allow you to gracefully bounce from one kill to the next, exploiting every weakness you find to speed up the process . The faster you kill enemies, the faster new ones enter the arena, allowing you to determine the order in which new enemies are introduced to try and find an efficient path through them.
Hyper Demon’s ethereal graphics can initially be a hindrance to this. The start of each run is tame enough that analyzing what’s happening on screen is simple, but as each one progresses, the number of enemies and all their glowing attachments and flashing attacks becomes overwhelming. Combine that with the way light warps and matter bends when you make last-second dodges (which come with a momentary slowdown) and it’s easy to initially lose track of what you’re looking at. But the more you play with Hyper Demon, the more you start to realize how its visual design is a language you haven’t learned yet. Its volume also contains many important details to recognize, such as brief flashes of an enemy’s eyes as they are about to launch an attack, or the eerie red outline of another out of sight but about to strike from behind. Just as you learn to move efficiently, you’ll quickly begin to understand each new layer of Hyper Demon’s visuals, adjusting to how ridiculous it can be the closer you get to the end of a run.
While many of Hyper Demon’s intricacies are revealed through time spent running, a robust training mode does a great job of introducing you to the mechanics of the game. Each one is a small, self-contained puzzle that introduces a mechanic before tasking you with proving you’ve got it. This cuts down on any confusion about how to play Hyper Demon, allowing you to focus instead on perfecting your technique from the get-go rather than scrambling to understand how to pull off some of its key tricks. Partnering with the training is the fantastic replay system, which allows you to see full runs from anyone on the leaderboard. It’s humbling to watch the best time in the world (which can often feel like a whole different game the way it plays out), but it’s helpful to learn from other players and pick up new strategies that you can try to implement on your next run. . Although the sole objective of Hyper Demon is to climb higher and higher on the leaderboard, the replays almost make it feel like a collaborative effort where everyone playing is also helping you get better in the process.
With its training stages and multiple player iterations to help, Hyper Demon feels much more accessible than Devil Daggers ever did, despite being a much more mechanically complex shooter. It’s still something that will take a while to wrap your head around, and even longer to start mastering, but this path seems much more rewarding when you’re working on knowing all of its systems and just improving your skills with each new route. It’s incredibly satisfying to add milliseconds to your best time, tempting run after run to try and nail a new route you’ve just discovered through the game’s rich enemy types. Like Devil Daggers, Hyper Demon is an incredibly satisfying mech shooter that’s extremely well balanced and will be hard to put down once you start.