‘Under the Radar’ is a series dedicated to the unknown titles that many players might have missed. These can range from games that no one’s ever heard of to known titles that haven’t seemed to gain any traction for one reason or another. The aim isn’t to pour over the title in a critical fashion, it’s to celebrate the qualities that make it unique and fun to play.
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There are a few ways I could have gone about doing this article. I could go into detail about each of the game’s mechanics and explain what I enjoy/do not enjoy about them. I could talk about the history of the game and its influence on the shmup community. I could attempt to slap a numerical score on it in order to summarize what I thought about it.
I won’t be doing any of these things.
Instead, I’m going to provide a general idea as to why this game is such an enigma, as it is by far the strangest and most unique shooter I have ever played. This will undoubtedly be a turn-off for some, but I hope this look into Hellsinker piques your interest just enough for you to look into it yourself. And if you do, be prepared to give it some serious time.
The Steam version of Hellsinker is an updated version of the original game that includes some much needed quality-of-life changes. For example, the cryptic menus have now been “translated” so that you can have some semblance of an understanding as to what they mean. A 15 minute tutorial has also been added to the game in order to help familiarize you with its extremely complicated nature. Unfortunately, I was only more confused after the tutorial was finished.
Luckily, a handy-dandy digital instruction manual is included with the game’s purchase. It gives a general run down of the game’s mythos (which will not be discussed here) as well as how to play the game. I felt as though I had a better understanding of what was going on after reading, so I decided to see if it made a difference in my gameplay.
Unfortunately, I was still in a state of total confusion. What did these symbols mean? How do I actually use my sub weapons? Am I actually hurting this boss? Why is this not as simple as every other shmup I’ve ever played? After hours of frustration, I decided to do some digging online. This lead me to a fan-made guide that was being used for years before the game ever came to Steam. It was this guide that finally put me on the right path to where I actually felt as though I was improving at this enigma of a game. You can find the guide here.
So what made the difference? What did that guide help me realize that I wasn’t understanding before? Simply put, I needed to stop thinking that this was a shmup. The preconceived notions I had regarding what this game needed to be to fit the guidelines of a shmup were holding me back. In reality, Hellsinker has the level design and structure of a shmup albeit with much different tools to accomplish your goals.
This leads me into my next point: sticking with one character until you’ve truly learned them. Each character plays like they’re from a completely different video game and things become far too confusing for new players trying to bounce between them. Use the fan-made guide mentioned earlier to help decide which one you’d like to stick with and then grind them out. It make the game seem far less daunting this way and helps you to learn how to utilize each of these character’s tools.
I settled on Minogame, who has a very unique setup that seems to cover most situations Hellsinker presents you with. A powerful close combat mode can be charged with an aura around the character that slows down incoming projectiles. This allows you to hop in for big damage against stronger enemies in a relatively safe manner. However, a circle can be summoned that does area-of-effect damage to anything within its radius. This is extremely useful for mid-ranged combat, especially when you want to keep the aura around you for safety. Homing shots can also be fired, however those need to be charged over time in the form of a secondary fire.
There is such a huge variety in gameplay from only one of the game’s six characters. Switching characters honestly feels closer to switching to an entirely different game rather than just a slight change akin to most other shmups.
The structure of the game is somewhat of an oddity for anyone not knowing what to expect. It seems linear enough during your first few attempts, however delving into the guides reveals a few secret stages accessed through different means. I spent a decent amount of time with the game and I’ve yet to discover these secrets, let alone clear it.
Hellsinker is a lavish Christmas present wrapped in 20 different types of packaging. It may be frustrating to peel away those layers to get to the prize, but doing so give you an incredible sense of accomplishment. And I’m not talking about clearing the game, I’m talking about simply feeling as though you understand the basic mechanics! It’s a puzzle in-and-of itself, and it’s just begging to be solved. If any of these things sounded interesting to you, I encourage you to download the Steam version of the game and embark on a similar journey.
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