July 4, 2012 8:00 PM | Staff
[Colin Brown of Backlog Journey profiles the games in the eight-game Summer Bundle currently running on the IndieGames' co-created site, Indie Royale.]
Even though I have some of the widest tastes around when it comes to video games, some genres just simply elude me. Enter Japanese bullet hells. I've been known to enjoy the occasional scrolling shooter, and some of them can include a positively uncomfortable number of bullets on the screen, but that's small time compared to the Gundemonium Collection. This is a neat little package of a bullet hell series imported to Steam, which includes the editorially nightmarish titles Gundemonium Recollection, GundeadliGne and Hitogata Happa.
Let's get this out of the way: these games are bizarrely surreal. All three place you in the role of a magical girl who needs to shoot many... well, demons? Witches? Robots? All I know is that they're often mechanical, often female and occasionally semi-naked. You don't really have time to dwell on the admittedly well designed sprite artwork though, as hundreds of bullets are streaming towards you. Using your very small hitbox, one must slip through the cracks and make everything explode to save Prussia or blow up a hell portal or something. Things get a bit lost between cultures.
Still, even though the style is the exact sort of cheesy anime you'd expect, the gameplay is top notch. Everything is technically "fair", but in the insane way that all tense and difficult games are fair. Figuring out the trick to every bullet pattern, sliding between shells and using your special abilities sparingly is a ton of fun, and it's incredibly satisfying to pull off. If you're worried about not being skilled enough, the games include several different modes, difficulties and characters to make things more manageable for beginners or brain-meltingly difficult for pros. I can't say whether or not the Gundemonium Collection is the best introduction to Japanese bullet hells out there, but as a complete newbie to the genre I can say it served as a fine introduction for me.
Though all three games are part of the same series, there's certain differences between them. Gundemonium Recollection and GundeadliGne are very similar horizontal shooters in which you have a main attack, special mana attack and screen clearing bomb ability. The latter title adds in basic sequel traits like different characters, new abilities, bigger setpieces, slight UI tweaks and a co-op mode.
The outlying one is Hitogata Happa, which is a vertical shooter and swaps out the magical girl cowboy for an army of living dolls led by a witch. The key difference here is that you no longer have a separate bomb ability as the doll serves as a suicide bomber after the meter charges. It's very tricky to get a hang of and less accessible than the first two, but ultimately more strategic due to the way many different dolls can be purchased and sacrificed accordingly, assuming you can keep them alive that long.
Ultimately I'd have to say that the Gundemonium series is certainly well worth checking out if you're a fan of shumps or you want to try and break into the crazy world of bullet hells. It may be incomprehensible in terms of story and style, but everyone understands the shared culture of shooting baddies and dodging bullets. It's exhilarating and satisfying.
[Gundemonium Collection, Dino Run SE, Serious Sam 2, The Journey Down, Harvest: Massive Encounter are part of the Summer Bundle currently running on the IndieGames' co-created site, Indie Royale.]