Do you miss the days where games were simply “blast stuff forever?” Is Hell your vacation destination? Do you wish you could shoot knives out of your hand so fast it looks like a polygonal flamethrower?
Also, do you mind dying?
Devil Daggers is a really simple game. It honestly is just shoot things until you die; that’s the entire game. The tricky bit is to last as long as possible without dying, which is so much easier to say than to do. The longest round of Devil Daggers I’ve had was around 2 minutes, and that took a lot of effort and practice. In fact, the only achievement in the game asks you to survive 500 seconds, or 8 minutes and 20 seconds. At the time of this writing, 0.1% of ~300 000 owners of Devil Daggers have managed the 500 seconds, and if I didn’t know any better I’d say they rounded up.
This literal hell of shoot, die, repeat is still very engaging though. It’s based on Arena shooters of old (in particular it reminds me of Quake) that featured mechanics like Strafe Jumping to build up speed or “rocket” jumping to gain height, while keeping an older demonic aesthetic with all the enemies.
Which fits well. The Vantablack level of darkness frames a blocky stone platform, where all the shooting happens. Over the course of a run, specific enemies will spawn in and around the platform, screaming and screeching to life in a horrifying cacophony. Devil Daggers is definitely best played with headphones on, since the expertly engineered audio is not only immersive and terrible to behold, but absolutely essential in pinpointing where enemies are coming from. This combined with tight controls and simple shooting mechanics mean that players are easily sucked into the dark abyss that is Devil Daggers.
So what lives down there in the dark? As soon as you pick up your dagger, the game throws all kinds of horrible things at you; chattering hordes of skulls, floating spiders, gargantuan millipedes… there are 13 enemy types in all, but they all work together beautifully. Enemies in Devil Daggers will always spawn at certain time periods (visible by pushing TAB by default), meaning that (with practice) you can predict what’s coming next and how to handle it. It’s insanely well tuned, and absolutely brutally hard to overcome, while not becoming obtuse. Repeated attempts see improvement, and players that pay attention and learn the rhythms of the game can get pretty far in.
To help the player, you can upgrade your base weapon by collecting red stones from dead enemies. So long as you’re not firing, the stones travel directly to the player, so good play requires knowing when you need to shoot, and when you need to get precious stones. With enough of the things, players get an improved weapon; faster firing rates, more damage, and eventually a panic button that fires homing daggers all over the place. It’s a simple mechanic that requires practice to really get the hang of, since too much time spent collecting stones means time spent not shooting, and time not spent shooting is time enough for the hordes you’re facing to overwhelm you.
The reward for all this is minimal, though. If you’re not into arcade-style high scores and competition, then Devil Daggers will likely be an absolute waste. The entire point of the game is surviving the longest you possibly can, and if leaderboards or personal bests aren’t your thing, then this game isn’t for you; but if that type of masochism appeals to your tastes, then guess what? This game is literally built specifically for that.
In order to help players learn, Devil Daggers saves the replays of a player’s personal best, and makes them available to everyone for viewing. You can actually watch the best players in the game get their high score from their perspective, and learn how they managed it. It’ll obviously be tougher than it looks, but replays are still insightful and helpful for those looking to get one of the hardest achievements I’ve ever seen. At the very least, replays are spectacular to watch.
Devil Daggers is a really focused, tightly tuned shooter that, for those looking for brilliantly designed and satisfying mechanics from their 1990’s arcade shooters, is an absolutely great time. If you’re looking for anything else, Devil Daggers will likely be the wrong kind of Hell.
As a note, all the images in this post were taken from Devildaggers.com, which you can check out here. The bottom image was a development glitch, but it was too cool not to put in. Special thanks to Koen Gabriëls, who bought the game for me as a present.