By William Haderlie / March 26th, 2019
|Release Date||February 21st, 2019|
|Genre||Horizontal Space Shooter|
|Age Rating||ESRB E for Everyone|
As a fan of the space shooter (or SHUMP) genre, this has been a fantastic console generation. Many very rare examples of the genre have made it onto much more widely accessible platforms (such as Ikaruga and Deathsmiles), and many entirely new entries hearken back to classic design and add new wrinkles to the classic genre (such as DARIUSBURST: Chronicle Saviors and Cuphead). Between those two extremes, there has also been a string of smaller indie titles that just want to give a concise experience that will make you feel like it was a forgotten gem from that actual time period. And to that growing list of titles comes Devil Engine. It does not really seek to innovate, and it’s not a game that is from the late 90s, but it does everything it can to feel like that. Of course, that is both to its benefit and to its detriment.
The immediate draw of Devil Engine comes down to its art design and 32-bit graphical style. The strongest influence on this game seems to come from the Thunder Force series of games. In fact, the soundtrack composer of that series also provides the music for this game. Thunder Force was a series that was exclusive to the Sega consoles, but eventually made it to the PlayStation (where I first encountered it) and rare ports elsewhere. The pixel graphics are especially stunning in the opening cutscene, but most of the six stages are also extremely well designed (like the one you see above). However, there were two stages that felt rather underwhelming compared to the others. Thankfully the boss design was consistently strong throughout the game.
This game is about as vanilla in gameplay as a space shooter gets. It auto-scrolls to the right, you can’t shoot behind you, you can’t turn around, and your movement real estate is limited to what you can see on the screen. You can raise your speed up to three stages, but really I found no reason to change it mid-stage or have it anywhere but maximum. You have the three classic shot types available to you and each has its own bomb type: spread shot, laser shot, and homing shot. The bombs do a lot of damage, hence why they are limited, but unfortunately they do not clear any enemy bullets and they do not make you invincible during the animation period like most other shooters. Thankfully you can gain new bombs fairly frequently with score progression, so you can use them a little more often than in other shooters, or they would feel extremely underwhelming. Like most shooters, attaining the highest score is the end goal, and this one has a multiplier that has the most interesting mechanic tied to it.
Once I set the speed, I never touched it after, (You can also set it in the menu to start you at the highest speed.) and other than that you have the buttons for shoot and bomb and the last one, burst. Burst is the most complicated part of this game and it is the mechanic that ties to the multiplier. The multiplier (on the top left of the screen) builds up as you strike enemy ships while not getting hit yourself. This increases your score by that multiple when you destroy enemies. Two things can lower that multiplier, getting hit or using burst. Burst is an action that absorbs all the enemy bullets around you. The trick is that the higher the multiple is, the larger the zone will be around you that collects bullets. But there is a short cooldown that you have to wait for between each burst and each one also lowers your multiplier significantly. Honestly the system was a bit clunky and not well explained, but it added a bit of variety to a game with extremely limited shot types.
Probably the one thing that will turn off casual fans of the genre from this game is the difficulty. Initially you can only play on Very Hard, but after your first (likely quick) death, Very Easy opens up. While this seems like a fairly funny nod to hardcore fans of the genre, that joke may wear off quickly. One problem with it is that Very Easy is actually harder than most other examples of the genre on Normal mode, and Very Hard is quite aptly named. Several things make this game brutally difficult; your ship is large and so is its hitbox, enemy bullets are large, most standard enemies are bullet sponges without using Laser Shot, bombs have no invincibility frames, and you cannot fire behind you even though the enemies can fire at you from that direction. While I enjoy a lot of hardcore space shooter games, this one seemed a bit excessive and really could have used more difficulty options. The progressive unlock system helps a little, but I suspect that it will not help the difficulty enough for most people.
As you die repeatedly your score will be added to an overall total. That overall total score will gradually unlock new game modes, new ships, new UI and graphical styles, and very rarely some changes to the number of continues/lives/bombs that you have available each run. There is also an entirely different Challenge Mode that has very difficult sequences that are much quicker to play through than a standard stage of the game. These challenges will also unlock new modes and elements to the game. This does add more replay value to the game and extended the amount I wanted to grind it by a significant amount. While attaining a high score is still the gist here, since there is no online connectivity for scores. They are really only used for this purpose.
There are plenty of gripes to have about this game, but overall it’s a very positive experience. Not only are the stages long but they feature multiple bosses in them. And each of the bosses get consecutively more interesting as the stage goes along. Most of them are massive, but some of the small ones (like you see above) have even more interesting mechanics to them. It’s a shame that there isn’t a really easy mode so that even casual fans can see some of the later bosses, it is truly the highlight of this game. The other major highlight, along with the very obvious art design, is the music. As I said before, the composer of the original Thunder Force series has returned for this game. I only played one game in that series before, but this game has even better music, and makes me want to check out his other work even more. For the Steam version of the game, you can even buy the soundtrack bundled with the game (which I would recommend).
The aspect of the game that held me back from loving it the most was really the lack of variety in shot types. Three different types that can only be upgraded twice is quite underwhelming. Most other space shooters that have that few of different types and upgrades at least have other space ships that change the shape of the shots at least. I do like the burst idea and the progression system is also innovative (although not without precedent). So I would still overall recommend this game for hardcore fans of the genre, and the 5-8 hours I spent with it more than made the $19.99 price worth it. But I cannot recommend this game to casual fans of the genre, you are likely to get your face smashed in. There is no doubt that it is beautiful in the visual and sound department, though, so at least check out some gameplay footage to see if it’s right for you.
Review Copy Provided By The Publisher
DANGEN EntertainmentDevil EngineNintendo eShopnintendo switchProtoculture Gamesspace shooter