Hellmut: The Badass from Hell is a colourful, fast-paced roguelike with a dash of bullet-hell thrown in, and the first game by developer Volcanicc. You are the head and spinal cord of a scientist killed by the hoard of demonic creatures he accidentally unleashed, and is now tasked with rounding them up – which is taken to mean shooting them. This much I was able to glean from the intro cinematic and brief tutorial, which was so awkwardly written that I’m not entirely sure that my own summary is even correct.
Hellmut is standard roguelike fare, with procedurally generated dungeons, randomly placed items, and permanent death. However, after choosing an initial character to play as, it is possible to gain the ability to switch to new characters within a single run, providing some strategic variety in how you might approach a given room or boss battle. There are three main collectibles: coins, which are used to buy weapon upgrades, armour, healing, etc; blue Soulstones which are used to access extra challenges to win new characters; and red Soulstones, which accumulate over multiple runs and are possibly used to unlock new characters to start runs with – but since you need fifty of them for the first milestone, and they are dropped by enemies about as often as Jon Blow releases games, I never found out what their purpose was.
A general lack of variety contributed to my lack of motivation to continue playing. The dungeon maps may as well have done without the random generation for all the novelty it provided. It takes one playthrough of a level to discover everything it might generate, which makes replaying them very tedious (even if you don’t die as often as I did).
Health-restoring items are so thin on the ground that I always ended up taking an overly cautious approach to each level. Basically, I would enter a room until the enemies spawned, then gradually retreat back out while shooting at anything that tried to follow me. It would have been more fun, I felt, for the game to encourage a more gung-ho approach by making the rewards worth taking more of a risk for. The quickness that item drops disappear was probably supposed to have this effect
Hellmut, unfortunately, seems poorly optimised for the Switch. Lag is noticeable whenever there is a lot happening on the screen at once – and, for reasons I cannot determine, are extreme when entering the shop. The controls are also a constant obstacle; contorting my right hand to use both the ZR button and the right analogue stick to aim and fire made me long for a mouse and keyboard, which the game was obviously designed for.
Aside from the initial bewildering setup, the story consists of you doing the bidding of a cycloptic monster called the Eye of Ka-ra by killing all the other monsters – and this is fine. What I don’t appreciate is the flavour text for all the items, abilities and weapons, which invariably consists of cheap attempts at humour of the kind you might see from an online pop-culture store run by a former creative writing student trying to make the most of their degree.
Graphics / Art Direction
The pixel art is my favourite thing about this game, but there isn’t much to say about it other than to mention that the monster designs are fun and the projectiles are easy to detect while also becoming suitably dazzling in more chaotic moments.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtrack by Philipp Kapusta is more simplistic than it first appears, relying on heavy layers of various sound library instruments and effects (gotta love the delayed waaaaaaaamp of that French horn sample), artlessly put together to beef up energetic but repetitive tracks without any melodic or structural focus. However, each level’s theme does come with a complementary “old-school” version that melds seamlessly into the “modern” version, which is a nice way of varying the sound within a single level.
Final Score: 47%
I did not enjoy Hellmut. It could have benefited from a bit of tweaking of the item dropping to make playthroughs feel less grindy; but much more substantial changes to the structure, variety of dungeon elements, writing and music would be needed to convince me to pick it up again. I encourage fans of Enter the Gungeon et al to give Hellmut a go on PC rather than Switch, to avoid the awkward control scheme, but only if you’re really craving some mediocre dungeon crawling.