One of the hardest aspects of game development is standing out from other games of the same genre. This is further compounded when you are heavily inspired by a particular style of game. Enter Hellmut: The Badass from Hell. A twin-stick shooter like Enter the Gungeon with a style roughly based on a more light-hearted classic Doom. Comparisons to both those games quickly end once you start to play. Does Hellmut evolve from other games in the genre, or is it a mutation better off being sterile?
HELLMUT: The Badass from Hell
Publisher: Grindstone, 2Tainment (Nintendo Switch)
Platform: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 27th (Windows PC) May 3rd (Nintendo Switch)
Price: $14.99 (Windows PC) $ 29.99 (Nintendo Switch, Review Copy Received)
Aside from the opening cut-scene and a few loading screen tid-bits, the story really is just a framing device. A scientist (Hellmut) opens a portal to hell to become immortal, only for its denizens to pour out and one of the demons to obliterate him- leaving only his skull and brain.
A roaming beholder then revives him, granting him the power to mutate himself into monstrous versions of himself to get his real body back and kill every monster between him and that goal. The eponymous Hellmut becomes the Hell Mutant.
The humor is nothing stand-out, but you might get the odd smirk out of it. From homing grenades in the form of small round animals, your new transformations being irreverently described by the Elder God giving them to you, to some enemies being demon’s rights activists called Redpeace.
Nearly everything is geared towards getting you back into pure twin-stick shooting as quickly as possible. As mentioned, you are a floating skull with a rather puny default shot. Even if you can move fast, you can gain access to new transformations with their own weapons, special shots, and stats.
For example, the Rat King fires ricocheting rats doused in liquid rubber. The “Stitchmonster” is a bit slow, but it has a large pool of health, all the better to use your hammer toss point-blank, or charge into enemies. Others include a dual machine-gun wielding viking that can call down lightning, a robot that can create a force-field, a flamethrower wielding skeleton, and more.
They all feel fairly distinct in their play-styles with their own pros and cons. On top of being able to gain more via challenge rooms on each floor, each also has their own health. These transformations can die, but your default skull form’s death ends your run. Though you can revive the last mutation that died, the cost is fair considering it is a life-line.
While there are additional weapons, they feel more like power-ups. With no way to refill the ammo, but plenty of ways to increase the power and fire-rate, you have the option of saving them to make a boss easier, or to clear-out a tough room.
In addition, they come frequently enough to be useful, but this is far from an Enter the Gungeon knock-off as the guns are far fewer in number and not nearly as wild. Despite Hellmut having randomly generated levels and random weapons, power-ups, and boss attack patterns (based on their body and name), there is less RNG here. It’s a shorter experience, but augmented by a fair difficulty curve.
If you charge into rooms blindly, you will probably get torn-up in seconds. Most attacks kill your average-health transformation in three to four hits. Kiting your enemies is certainly the better option, while trying to stay close enough to money and gems that drop very quickly (or buy a magnet to pick them all up automatically).
There are a few times enemies can spawn right behind you in the previous room or surround you if you are too near a wall, making it a little unfair. This is made worse by how you have no dodge roll, next-to-no immunity frames after taking damage, and how you cannot push enemies out of the way without knock-back abilities of specific transformation special abilities and weapons.
You do have several mechanics to make life easier however. You can collect blue Soul Gems that are spent on more powerful purchases from the shop such as revives and unlocking challenge rooms. However, you can also gain red Soul Gems that are carried over in each run. These can be used when you do not have enough blue Gems, but the conversion rate is not 1:1 (though it is very generous).
You can also pick up and store up to three health packs rather than use them straight away. The heal is a decent chunk, and there is a small cool-down to prevent them being abused. Even though they are cheap, there are only two to buy per-shop per-floor. This ties brilliantly into a fantastic system to make some spare change.
Within the shop on each floor there is a Space Invader-esque minigame. You spend your coins to play it, and shooting down enemies sometimes causes more coins to drop. There is an interesting addition when you pick-up or shoot the coin (which still nets you it), it creates a fast moving shot that rockets up the screen. It is a small thing, but it is great for getting those last few coins you need, or until you get bored of it.
There are some other surprising additions as well. Along with a log of your best run, you can lock the random generation of levels so your local friends can try and best your score (or if you just really want to master a run). There is also Gauntlet mode, where you defend a vat from hordes of enemies pouring through portals for as long as possible.
One thing that bares emphasis is that a run can be short, even if you are successful. Six floors with a boss after every two means this is a bit-sized experience. Thankfully the difficulty mastering it and the price tag seems fair, though depending how quickly you can master it, this may be different for you. Beating the final boss with each mutation nets you something special though.
Further, the Switch version seems very cut down. Along with being unable to rebind controls (and no instruction on how to use healthpacks- the Y button), there is no crosshair to help you aim. In addition, you seemingly cannot check the stats of weapons you pick up. This results in you having no idea what a weapon will do unless you bought it, and having no way to check what weapons and mutations you have been powering up.
Even though weapons can be quickly swapped with the shoulder buttons, you have no such luxury with mutations. While the radial menu is still quite quick to use, it does feel slow when changing in the heat of a fire-fight due to the extra button presses.
Despite the short amount of gameplay time on offer when compared to its peers, there is certainly a decent amount in this “cheap-and-cheerful” package. This is supported by a surprising level of difficulty that tries its best to avoid being too reliant on RNG.
Pixels strike again for the game’s graphics and art-style. Clearly not attempting to mirror the limitation of a retro console, the simple design works in its favor. Though there were some inexplicable frame-rate drops when leaving the arcade machine and going back to the store, thankfully there were no performance issues during gameplay beyond this.
The art-style does have some care put into it. Each of the mutations has features that resemble the original doctor’s form- be it his lab-coat, eye-piece, or protruding green head-vial. Enemies are also distinctive and you can easily tell them apart, so you can recognize how they will fight quickly. They include the likes of skeletons, zombies, robots, mutants, sorcerers, demons, and small chicks carrying comparatively large swords.
While there will be no award for graphics, the game looks good and follows the basic tenants of design to make sure the player is not hindered during gameplay. In a sea of faux retro games with poor animation and style, this did not screw up.
The soundtrack can be changed mid-game. From “modern crap” (a mild rock affair), “old school” for a chiptune remix, and “Mix it up” to combine elements of both tracks at once. As a game mimicking some of the aesthetics of classic Doom, I felt the latter worked best.
Sound-effects are a satisfying affair. Meaty shot-gun blasts, explosions, and lasers help sell the low-pixel weapon’s effects. Attacks onto you also help raise the alarm with hearty thwacks and squelches.
One of only two stand-out negatives with the audio is that when speaking the beholder, he will constantly make this weird eldritch mumbling and burbling while its text-box is up. Its pitch and performance are expertly crafted to be incredibly annoying, especially when you are trying to read the text box.
Another is such a curiosity I assumed it must have been a bug. The arcade mini-game features no audio, save for extremely faint sound effects when picking up coins. In theory this could be to discourage you from playing the mini-game over and over to rack up coins and red gems, but the silence except the faintest of sound effects is just strange.
Hellmut: The Badass from Hell is sadly not as badass as its name would suggest. Nonetheless it will take a while to master, and once you do it is hard to imagine repeat playthoughs would garner enough engagement to complete the game with other mutations.
Even with nothing major done wrong, it is hard not to recommend games of similar genres unless you are on a budget. If you are however, Hellmut can be a very satisfying bite-sized morsel. If nothing else, it puts your reflexes to the test and offers a genuine challenge.
Hellmut: The Badass from Hell was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by Grindstone. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.