Y’all know what a palantír is, right?
For those neither versed in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien nor the films of Peter Jackson, it’s one of those creepy, indestructible crystal balls scattered across the world of Middle-earth that allows the Eye of Sauron to warp the minds of any hapless fool of a Took (*cough* Pippin *cough*) unfortunate enough to steal a glance into its murky depths.
Playing Hyper Demon, the latest first-person shooter by Devil Daggers developer Sorath, is kind of like staring into one of those — but instead of mind-melting horrors, it has rocket jumps and a leaderboard.
Announced and released on Monday, Hyper Demon is not a sequel to Sorath’s aforementioned 2016 bullet-hell shooter, but it nonetheless represents an evolution of its core mechanics. In Devil Daggers, players assume the role of a mysterious protagonist who, after disturbing a mysterious dagger floating in space, is forced to survive against wave after wave of hellspawn for as long as possible. With an aesthetic and mechanics inspiring comparisons to ’90s arena shooters like Doom and Quake, Devil Daggers grew into a bona fide indie hit, racking up impressive review scores and slithering its way onto a number of publications’ best of the year lists.
Now, over six years after the release of its predecessor, Hyper Demon has been unleashed upon the world and, like a Cenobite out of hell, it has such sights to show you. While on the surface, the two games may appear near identical in their execution, it’s only after you throw yourself into the gauntlet, time after time, that the difference between the two becomes apparent.
While Devil Daggers was an endless FPS about holding out for as long as possible against an onslaught of demons, Hyper Demon is essentially a twitch shooter about speedrunning through hell itself. At the start of every game, a timer appears at the top of the screen, counting down with each second. With every demon slain you earn a gem, which, depending on the size of the demon, adds more time to the timer and more points to your final score.
The faster you slay your opponents, the faster they spawn; the faster they spawn, the more difficult the game gets; the greater the difficulty, the higher your score. Conversely, the slower you slay your enemies, the slower they spawn and the easier the game becomes, but if the timer dips below 0, you’ll die and have to start all over again. It’s a different sort of intensity than Devil Daggers, one which forces you to focus on not only the teeming mass of monstrosities in front of you but to weigh every second like it’s life or death.
That’s not even getting into the real meat of what you actually do in the game. At first glance, Hyper Demon may look like a simple twitch-based FPS, and the range of abilities that blossoms out of those humble elements is impressive. You strafe and shoot, switching between rapid-fire stream and short-to-mid-range shotgun clusters as you mow down the writhing insectile denizens of this particular circle of hell.
Crucially, you can also dash, which offers a broader range of maneuverability in the form of air dashing, double jumping, and, most importantly, dodging. Picking up a number of gems grants the player an alt-fire sniper laser shot, which, if aimed correctly, will ricochet off the floor and damage multiple enemies at a time. There’s a myriad of tactics to choose from, ranging from throwable bombs and shields to collectible “super moves” like homing shots and laser storms. The gameplay is as fast and frenetic as Devil Daggers, but there’s more complexity from moment to moment — it’s all the more satisfying and compulsively playable.
All of that, however, is perfunctory in the face of Hyper Demon’s most distinguishing aspect: the visuals. While the art style of Devil Daggers could be roughly summed up as a throwback to the shooters of the ’90s, Hyper Demon is both that and… something else entirely. As the action on screen escalates, the game’s presentation steadily morphs into a stroboscopic, fisheye-lens perspective, bending the corners of the screen into a 180-degree sphere. The effect is nothing short of hallucinatory; a prismatic tableau of screeching wails and piercing lasers that feels like staring point-blank into the eldritch equivalent of the stargate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
With every well-timed dodge and dash, pinpricks of light trail and bend sideways across the screen, as though I’m narrowly skirting the rim of a black hole, less than a hair’s breadth shy of being sucked past its event horizon. Every successful kill, every second won is euphoric. And that’s not even mentioning the game’s final boss encounter. Yes — there is an “end” to Hyper Demon. But whether you live long enough to see it will rest entirely on your wits, reaction speed, and tolerance for retina-searing punishment.
As indebted as the game might be to the bones and essentials of Devil Daggers, Hyper Demon truly looks and plays like nothing else I’ve encountered in 2022. In a year with no shortage of twitch shooters like Neon White and Metal: Hellsinger, Hyper Demon reigns supreme as a bullet-hell shooter par excellence.