There are few moments in gaming that set me crying. Truly hard games can. The ones that make me feel, that perhaps just maybe, I have literally fallen into hell. That there is no way out. There is no salvation.
Bullet hell is no mere moniker. It is a very real hell. But the difference is that there is salvation in those stunning patterns and the curtains of bullets that close in. The determination to overcome thrives within me. Through a long history of colourful and challenging titles, bullet hell has become a strong and never-dying genre of that will put even the most skilled gamer’s reflexes to the test.
With Treasure and Cave at the forefront, the bullet hell genre, or danmaku as it’s called in Japan, sprang up and thrived.
Cave brought amazing challenges to the world with titles like DoDonPachi, Mushihimesama and Deathsmiles. Their gorgeous sprite work and unforgiving bullet patterns helped shape the way the genre was perceived by the mainstream and inspired western creators to try their hand at similar designs. Cave has kept on pushing forwards with their relentless approaches on flying projectiles and unforgiving enemies by bringing some of their seminal work to Steam to allow easy access to western fans.
It is not uncommon to hear Treasure’s classic, Ikaruga, described as a perfect game. Especially within development circles it is lauded for immaculate bullet patterns and a core design concept with simplicity that belies beautiful gameplay depth. It’s a difficult game that can be enjoyed thoroughly by novices or that can be mastered even by players with the dedication play flawlessly, perfect-chaining two ships at once.
And bullet hell continues to thrive as each new game brings new patterns, new tunes, new challenges and very often new stories to follow. The Touhou Series is one of the most famous in the genre for combining these disparate elements. Players often line up for hours at Comic Market to buy copies of the newest Touhou games from ZUN, the creator, himself, eager to witness what surprises lay in wait for them. Die-hard fans love the story and the world created by ZUN, which has been allowed to be further explored in all the derivative titles created by other developers. Some exceptional ones have come to light and a few have been adding to the genre and style.
Recently there have been a few twists or unique concepts to the bullet hell genre as developers apply modern game design philosophies and ambitions. Katatema, the creator of Demon King Chronicle, also developed Murasaki, a bullet hell game with its own unique mechanics. Murasaki is a bullet hell SHUMP puzzler where you succeed by shooting bombs that trigger chain explosions. The goal isn’t to shoot your opponent as you usually would in other SHMUPs. It’s all a puzzle! If you tackle it head on you won’t get in enough damage. Shoot bombs willy-nilly and they’ll never chain big enough for the damage you need to kill the boss. But if you wait too long and you risk being overwhelmed by enemy firepower.
Some developers have even gone as far as combining elements of bullet hell games with visual novels. Witch-Bot Meglilo by ASTRO PORT, follows the story of a witch who travelled to the human world from the magical realm. But as soon as she arrives at her destination, she is killed. Have no fear though, this is just the beginning of her adventures. Brought back to life by a (possibly mad) scientist, Meglilo is now a Witch-Bot with a whole new collection of weapons. Everything she needs to save the world from the destruction that awaits it. With a hilarious story line, Witch-Bot Meglilo leads you through some insane and strange bosses, and a fun mechanic of freezing time to escape certain doom during fights.
Even as this genre expands, there is always a new and interesting twist to many of the games. And the new veil of bullets brings a challenging and enticing pattern to learn and better.