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Devil Daggers Review Impressions

SHOOT SKULLS FOREVER

Hooo boy, Devil Daggers. Devil Daggers. My longest gameplay session in Devil Daggers is eighty-six seconds long. From what I can tell, this is a pretty OK score.

Devil Daggers is a first-person arena shooter with a gothic retro artstyle and only one game-mode: survival. There are about 2460 people in the world who are better at surviving in Devil Daggers than me. The best player, as of this writing, has survived for only 483 seconds, which is eight minutes.

Devil Daggers is extremely hard.

The average session of Devil Daggers goes like this:

  1. You spawn in a circular arena. For about three seconds, you’re at peace.
  2. A rotating obelisk covered in tentacles will appear somewhere on the periphery of the arena. After a few seconds it will vomit a cloud of human skulls into the air.
  3. These skulls are gonna chase you, constantly, until you hit them with your bullets.
  4. Some of them are gonna drop gems?
  5. Some other skulls are gonna show up. Then some things made out of different kinds of skulls stuck together. Then some even weirder stuff.
  6. If anything touches you, even once, you die immediately and must restart.

Repeat forever, with increasingly extreme types of skulls pursuing you ceaselessly across the abyssal darkness of the arena. 

Hint: never stop moving. Movement in Devil Daggers-- everyone’s movement, yours and the skulls’-- is fluid and lively. The smallest skulls bound off the floor and swarm after you like bugs. The process of getting better at Devil Daggers is, at a most basic level, all about understanding movement-- your enemies’ movement, your own movement, and the way your movement affects your bullets. It’s a Dark Souls-like experience. When you first start playing, the skull-swarms will seem impossibly complicated, but after a while, they’ll start to make a lot of sense.

Speaking of skulls: this is a super skull-filled game. It’s very ‘Warhammer 40K’-- the weakest skulls remind me of servo-skulls without the tech in them. In general, Devil Daggers’ low-res artstyle is almost a perfect match for the kind of uninformed, childish mental pictures I used to create of the ultra-violent 90s-era shooters I was not allowed to play as a kid. 

I didn’t really imagine shooting people; I just imagined blasts and jets and fountains of blood randomly flying all over the place. That is basically what’s going on in Devil Daggers. You’re not shooting people, or even animal monsters-- just, you know, swarming skulls. The game is filled to the brim with bones and blood, but it’s just a vibe, right? Gross-out gothic Lovecraft insectoid tentacle-skull horror-violence in the abstract. It works.

And if the artstyle is beautifully spooky, the sounds are spookily beautiful. Well, creepy-beautiful, anyway. The weakest skulls make a sort of muttering clop-clop sound as they chase you, and they die with a delicious glassy pop, like a christmas ornament dropped on the ground. The horned skulls circle ominously across the battlefield with a constant ticking sound, and there’s another variety that comes after you with a much louder drone that grows louder the closer they get. There is a kind of enormous spider-skull that screams when it appears and reaches out to wave its zillion deadly legs over the battlefield with a sound like a giant scorpion scurrying across a tile floor. There’s, uh, some other stuff, and it sounds even weirder. The sound design is, I think, my favorite part of Devil Daggers.

And the sounds are key. It would be pretty hard for a person with a hearing disability to play this game, to be honest. I’m usually so busy spinning and looping across the arena that I can’t ever stop to take visual stock of my situation. My only warning that a new enemy has spawned is the sound it makes as it’s barfed or plopped or hurled screaming into the arena. I had to wear headphones to keep an aural map of all the skulls closing in on me. At around seventy seconds, the game turns into a kind of cyclone of sound, and I honestly start struggling to keep track of where I am and who I need to kill. Getting better at Devil Daggers means learning to process its informational overload.

It also means solving a few puzzles. What do the collectable gems do? How do enemies affect them? What abilities do you have? How, exactly, do they even work? There’s no tutorial here. You’ll have to figure out everything for yourself. And you will, if you’re a reasonably curious player. For a game with only one mode, one featureless arena, and a cruel insistence that you spend most of your time dying, it’s got a lot of little discoveries to make.

My first session of Devil Daggers lasted about eight seconds. On average, I can now go about sixty seconds without dying. I peak in the low seventies on a regular basis, but I’m having a hard time besting eighty-six. I will, though. Right now, I’m making real strides with practice. It still feels extremely hard, but it no longer feels impossible.

Oh, and I forgot to mention-- Devil Daggers costs only five dollars. I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting a lot more than my money’s worth.


Laura Michet thinks she's a real girl, but she's secrely just the world's most advanced humanoid lasagna. She's also the EIC of this humble internet magazine, which probably says a lot about our standards. You can follow her on twitter at @lmichet.

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