Doom may be the most famous shooter to release in 2016, but the year also saw another one of a kind: Devil Daggers. With a focus on the most basic attributes of a marksman, Devil Daggers shone with its extreme difficulty and exceptionally high skill cap, inviting run after run for hours on end. In many ways, Hyper Demon, the next game from developer Sorath, is the next logical step in that formula. It’s just as grueling and gripping, with even more mechanics to understand during its intense but short runs. It’s also much more accessible than Devil Daggers, which makes its compelling action more appealing.
While Devil Daggers focused solely on survival, Hyper Demon is all about aggression. Each round starts with a timer at 10 seconds, which immediately starts running. Each enemy kill increases the timer by three seconds, encouraging you to chain kills in a graceful way to keep the action flowing. The game does not end when the timer reaches zero; instead, your score is determined by the amount of time on the clock when you die (or make it to the end of the game). Passive play, while technically much safer, won’t improve your position on the leaderboard, so much so that some of your shorter, crazier runs can net you better scores than the ones that lasted twice as long.
An expanded repertoire of mechanics, compared to Devil Daggers, also helps increase the pace of the action to match the new objective. Each round still takes place in a limited floor space that you can easily fall off of, but you can move much faster thanks to air jumps and chained bunny jumps, the latter of which can be done indefinitely if timed correctly. Being able to get close to enemies to take them out is half the challenge, while determining the best way to take them out quickly is the other. Like Devil Daggers, you can hold down the fire button for a constant hail of bullets or tap it for a deadlier shotgun blast at close range. These are upgraded with a laser attack that you can fire if you stop shooting long enough to manually absorb the crystals that enemies drop on death, offering a long-range and accurate option to your problem.
All of these options are easy to grasp individually, but Hyper Demon demands that they be used in harmony for you to really start climbing the leaderboards. Identifying efficient paths between enemies and anticipating where new ones will appear is just as important as having high accuracy, while understanding the behavior of each enemy will help you dispatch them faster. For example, the first enemy you’ll encounter during each run is a floating pit that spits out enemies with smaller skulls while it’s alive. It’s easy enough to dispatch with regular fire from your hand, but that’s usually not fast enough to guarantee you don’t spawn other pesky enemies. Instead, you can target the crystal at its core with a precise laser shot (if you have one) to immediately dispatch it. The drawback to doing so is that it no longer drops that same crystal on death, which you can otherwise break for a whole new laser charge.
Each of Hyper Demon’s enemies features these little decisions that you’ll need to make when facing them, which is made more difficult when you’re running around the arena while trying to stay alive and aggressive. It may initially seem strange that Hyper Demon only features four main enemy types, but it’s routinely satisfying to discover new action chains that allow you to gracefully jump 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 will enter the arena, allowing you to identify the order in which new enemies are introduced to try and figure out an efficient route through them.
The ethereal images of Hyper Demon can initially be a hindrance to this. The start of each run is tame enough that parsing what’s happening on screen is straightforward, but as each one progresses, the sheer number of enemies and all their glowing appendages and flashing attacks become overwhelming. Combine that with the way light warps and matter bends when dodged at the last second (which comes with a slowdown moment) and it’s easy to initially lose track of what you’re looking at. But the more you interact with Hyper Demon, the more you begin to realize that its visual design is a language you haven’t yet learned. Its volume also includes many important details that you will need to identify, such as brief flashes of the enemy’s eyes when they are about to launch an attack, or the ghostly red outline of another who is out of sight but about to attack from behind. As well as learning how to move effectively, you’ll quickly begin to understand each new layer of Hyper Demon’s visual presentation, adjusting to just how ridiculous it can become as you near the end of a run.
While many of Hyper Demon’s intricacies are revealed through time spent running, a solid training mode does a great job of introducing you to the game’s mechanics. Each one is a self-contained little puzzle that introduces a mechanic before asking you to demonstrate your understanding. This alleviates any confusion about how to play Hyper Demon, allowing you to focus on perfecting your technique early on rather than fumbling around to understand how to pull off some of its essential tricks. Working in conjunction with training is the fantastic replay system, which allows you to watch complete races of anyone on the leaderboard. It’s humbling to watch the best time in the world (which can often feel like an entirely different game in the way it progresses), but it’s useful to learn from other players and learn new strategies you can try employing in your next race. . Although Hyper Demon’s sole goal is to climb higher and higher on the leaderboard, the replays almost make it feel like a collaborative effort where everyone who plays also helps you get better in the process.
With its training stages and a lot of player replay to help out, Hyper Demon feels much more accessible than Devil Daggers, despite being a much more mechanically complex shooter. It’s still going to take some time to get the hang of it, and even longer to start mastering it, but that path feels so much more rewarding when you’re working with the knowledge of all your systems and just honing your skill with each new run. . It’s immensely satisfying to add milliseconds to your best time, prompting race after race to try and find a newly discovered route through the game’s rich enemy types. Like Devil Daggers, Hyper Demon is an immensely satisfying distillation of shooting mechanics that is expertly balanced, and will be hard to put down once it starts.