Tag Archives: There Will Be Bullets

REVIEW: Chasing Styx

Chasing Styx ($1.00) is an RPG-like bullet hell shooter featuring a screen-full of bullets at every turn and a humorous tale concerning Cerberus (three-headed guard dog of the Underworld, if you please) falling asleep on the job, only to let a pack of cutesy bunnies slip into the realm of the undead and subsequently upset the fragile hellish-to-adorable ratio they’ve got going on there. But really, it’s an entertaining excuse to kill and / or re-kill several demons, multiplying slimes, and other abominations.

Though that distillation doesn’t exactly do the game justice. ‘Shooting’ represents Chasing Styx’s core idea and minute-to-minute gameplay, but it does much more than simply give you targets to shoot. To put things in a larger scope, Chasing Styx is an a retro-looking adventure game with RPG elements that just happens to be a shooter. Cerberus and his extra heads form your ‘ship’ (complete with a center ‘heart’ vulnerable spot), while the River Styx functions as your hub world, letting you do business (i.e. earn and trade upgrades) with vendors and catch a ride with that old jokester Charon to half a dozen lengthy stages1.

Chasing Styx lets you tackle those challenges in any order, with the second half unlocked once you’ve acquired coins found in previous lands2. Said stages offer an overhead view and open floor plans, letting you choose your route at some points. This goes beyond simple choice, however, offering multiple paths that can lead to shortcuts, stiffer challenges, or traps that require careful navigation whilst dodging enemy fire. Each of the levels also contain a handful of hidden secrets and treasures, which are key to acquiring game-changing abilities and attacks. Some grant you things like additional hearts (your HP), an extra primary attack slot, or new weapons.

You’ll need them, too, thanks to the frequent battles that keep you on your toes. With smart (and sometimes re-used) enemy design and some equally-great boss battles, you’ll have to make judicial use of your special abilities and know when to strafe or ‘blink’ through bullets to escape tight quarters and an advancing enemy. It’s stressful but satisfying stuff when you pull it off.

chasing-styx-screen

Which is both a gift and a curse. It’s mainly a single player experience, though you can do everything cooperatively. And that’s the thing; while the local co-op would (presumably) make things easier, playing it solo can occasionally be a frustrating experience, mostly due to the lack of mid-stage checkpoints (you do get to restart from any boss fight, albeit with the health you reached that point with3). Spending twenty sweaty minutes just to get to a boss you have no serious way of beating is not a very good feeling.

Still, the game is far too well done to stumble over the small things… like you dying repeatedly. If anything, it forces players to be wiser, and the in-depth ability and perk tree is there to let you find a winning combination. In summary, you’ve got a fantastic-looking shooter that’s fantastically designed, with a really stellar soundtrack to boot. Chasing Styx might very well be the last great XBLIG4, and you’d be doing yourself a big favor by picking it up.


  1. Don’t let that number mislead you. All told, you’ll spend at least 4 to 5 hours completing the game, even more if you’re trying to collect everything. And after that, you’ve got Boss Rush and Survival modes to conquer, as well as additional ‘costumes’ for Cerberus to unlock. 
  2. Everyone knows you’ve got to pay your way in the land of the dead. Rides aren’t cheap, and Charon doesn’t do charity. 
  3. Which really is a slap in the face; what the hell am I supposed to do up against a boss with a massive health bar when I’ve got one heart? Answer: Lose repeatedly, until I’m forced to exit in shame. I mean, at least give me half-health, let’s make things interesting. 
  4. Certainly the last great XBLIG shooter, and hey, you can always pick it up on PC, if you prefer to game on a service that isn’t newly dead. 
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REVIEW: ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME

Forget the unwieldy title (hey, at least you don’t have to write it out several times over the course of this review1), the goofy art style, and the mention of rainbows, ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME ($1.00) is anything but a kiddie attempt at an indie game dumped onto the marketplace in time to beat a deadline. Rather, it’s a super tricky, brutally-difficult bullet hell shooter… with a telekinetic twist.

The shooter part is standard practice, asking you to weave through a screen full of bullets, or lasers, or enemy ships, or any number of flashy, death-causing objects. The amount of trouble escalates as you advance, requiring the usual nimble moves and muscle memory. Your focus, however, should be on the two main ‘boss’-type enemies that populate the room. Defeating them is the objective.

All well and good and somewhat straightforward, but it’s the game’s ‘telekinesis’ skill that takes things a step further. As soon as a level and its ensuing bullet chaos begins2, a bar at the top begins filling up. Once it’s ready, you can unleash it to temporarily stop time and shift that stage’s enemies around using the thumbsticks. This works to both give you a breather in the cramped spaces and to highlight any weaknesses in the bosses’ original starting points.

Levels are actually fixed in place, one-room affairs. Though I’d consider them more as puzzles than a simple background to do battle on, as each stage is a riddle you need to solve in order to kill what you have to and advance. Some require you to dodge bullets or learn bullet patterns, yes, while others require you to wait out your telekinesis gauge in order to move enemies into range so you can attack them. It’s clever design, maddeningly so once you’ve died a few dozen times trying to figure out a solution.

ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME - Screen

Enjoy the demo stage; that’s as ‘easy’ as you’ll get.

That said, and, depending on your tolerance for bullet hells and constant failure (that’s meant to teach you a valuable lesson, natch), ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME‘s tricks can turn your mood around really fast. Just as quickly as you’re jubilantly celebrating your victory in one stage, the next’s seemingly-impossible mechanics will have you creating new curse words on the fly. Some of the backgrounds, too, can be distracting, swirling and obscuring bullets and potentially ruining a run that might otherwise be perfect.

The difficulty of the room simply amplifies those issues even more. This is a game that can be incredibly rewarding… and incredibly frustrating. ESPERriririnTelekinesisTIME will not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s absolutely an intriguing take on a bullet hell shooter that you shouldn’t pass up based on looks alone.


  1. I mean ‘copy and paste’, of course, but still. It’s slightly agitating. I’ve gotta right-click the mouse and everything, and then the name runs on soooooo long that it wraps around the margin and makes everything look funny, and then I’m like, ‘Damn, what can I do to fix this?’, and then that stresses me out for a few seconds. This is so tough, you guys don’t even know. 
  2. And trust me, things get busy fast. The game’s ‘demo’ stage is a cakewalk, and not nearly indicative of the difficulty you’ll face moving forward. Just an FYI. 

REVIEW: Broken Pearl

From the weird and inventive Birth Order, to the equally-strange and nontraditional platformer X.S.E.E.D., Wide Pixel Games and Mikael Tillander have always succeeded in creating unique, infinitely-playable and fun games. Even others that I haven’t covered here, like Heavy Recoil and Twin Tiger Shark, have been quick favorites. The studio’s newest, Broken Pearl ($1.00), is no exception, taking the shooter genre onto a retro and vertically-scrolling path with a (potentially) hard-as-nails Bullet Hell.

If you’re even slightly-acquainted with shooters, Broken Pearl‘s setup is the typical stuff. You get two ships to choose from; a focused-fire variant that can plow through targets straight-ahead of it, and a spread-shot type that is better suited to damaging multiple enemies from multiple angles at once. You’re allocated a set number of lives and screen-clearing bombs (for emergencies, natch), then set loose to wreak havoc on a series of stages and their respective bosses. Oh, and probably a few thousand cannon fodder in-between.

Those foes aren’t likely to go gentle into that good night1, of course, littering the screen with plenty of bullets in a mesmerizing and ever-changing display of neon death. Thankfully, only the very center of your ship is vulnerable to their fire, (hopefully) resulting in some nimble maneuvering that will enable you to advance and aid in your high-score chasing2. You can also ‘rescue’ enslaved allies found in each stage, adding their guns and firepower to your ship for the duration of that current life.

Some of the heavier, bullet-sponge types will drop powerups that morph over time, which amounts to Broken Pearl‘s clever rewards payout. You can choose from a boost to your firepower (and any allies at your side), a score multiplier, or an additional bomb. Depending on your skill level and how much risk you’re willing to take on, it’s a simple but effective choice that helps newcomers as much as seasoned veterans. Both crowds will need the help.

Broken Pearl - Screen

While the phrases ‘a stiff challenge’ and ‘bullet hell’ tend to belong in the same sentence, it needs to be said that Broken Pearl IS difficult. The upside to that comment is that the game is only as hard as you make it, meaning as you practice and improve your own skills, the game’s inherent reward system— i.e., the bombs and weapon powerups— naturally decreases the challenge over time, with only yourself (and / or your ego) to blame upon death.

The game’s premise and mechanics may not be as bizarre as some of the studio’s previous titles, but Broken Pearl is still an easy recommendation to make. The game choreographs its version of a bullet ballet extremely-well, giving you ample challenge and that much more satisfaction when you eventually succeed and rage, rage against the dying of the light3.


  1. Yes, yes, the Dylan Thomas poem. Or villanelle, rather. Hey, they use poetry against us to sell jeans and wrestling these days, so what the hell. 
  2. You can upload your score to the game’s online leaderboard via your smartphone, where applicable. Always a clever work-around for the limitations of XBLIG. 
  3. Yup, back on the Thomas poem again. It got stuck in my head for some reason. 

REVIEW: Nandeyanen!? – The 1st Sûtra

It’s not every day your Bullet Hell stars a super long-nosed demon that’s been asleep for a few thousand years, only to be immediately thrust into a long-brewing battle upon waking. Oh, and your lady fox1 has been kidnapped. That’s bound to make anyone cranky. Nandeyanen!? – The 1st Sûtra2 ($2.99) gives you a shooter steeped in Japanese mythology, in particular the Tengu and a war with the Yōkai (all of them folk / supernatural beings). The game features a gorgeous watercolor art style, with pretty transitions and effects within the stages themselves. It’s quite beautiful to look at.

Shame you don’t get much time to admire the scenery or listen to the music tracks, as something is usually trying to kill you… with an excessive amount of bullets. The Yōkai foot soldiers come in many flavors, but the real focus (and challenge) is at the end of a level. The game’s mini-bosses and main bosses can be a tough match-up for Tengu-man, tossing out thousands of bullets for you dodge. Like most Bullet Hells, though, your character has a very distinctive hit zone (belt buckle), allowing you to wade through a sea of fire and still manage to come out on the other side unscathed.

This is, of course, provided you have quick reflexes and know how to break shields / direct fire back at the enemy. Nandeyanen!? is more than a mere shooter, as its successful completion will require you to get acquainted with some basic mechanics, like bullet-canceling bombs, a reflective counterattack, and using your loyal familiars (spirits) to attack stronger foes and / or collapse their shields, making them temporarily vulnerable to your fire. If that sounds overly-complicated, I assure you it’s not.

The game is a still a shooter underneath, a matter of following patterns and noticing the routes you need to take. Yet its character shines through in the environments and enemy design, in bits of brief dialog before each fight, to give some ‘meat’ to the otherwise breezy events. If you’ve collected all of a given stage’s ‘runes’ (dropped by defeated enemies), you can save yourself some trouble and knock off a chunk of the boss’s health beforehand. These battles can get a little hectic to say the least, with several volleys of bullets to carefully maneuver through and simultaneously return fire.

Nandeyanen - The 1st Sutra - Screen

Unfortunately, the impressive visuals and ample challenge mask an extremely-short adventure; just three stages in total. It should run you no more than a half-hour of playtime. There’s no real reason to repeat the game either, unless you want to try another difficulty level or shuffle through some lovely concept art. To be fair, The 1st Sûtra marks the, ah, …first ‘chapter’ of the game’s story, but at $3, the asking price may be a bit much for the content it delivers. It remains to be seen what the cost of future3 chapters will be.

Frustrations with its brevity aside, Nandeyanen!? – The 1st Sûtra is still one of the better Bullet Hell shooters I’ve played on the marketplace, especially for the rich visual style and folk history. Developer Tchagata Games could have just as easily thrown together some hasty art and backgrounds and called it a wrap for its first project; the fact that they didn’t proves they respect the genre and the material. I look forward to seeing what comes next. It’s off to a strong start.


  1. She literally has fox ears …and a real problem keeping her shirt on and / or buttoned. 
  2. This review is also featured at Indiepitome
  3. The developers have stated this is only the beginning for Tengu-man, but how many chapters there will be in all, or if there’s a concrete release schedule for the rest, was not given. 

‘Pester’ All Set to Bug You with DLC

Finding new ways to word a play on Flump Studios‘ shooter never gets old, but just in the event you’re tired of shooting things (my bad jokes will never be helped), Pester (review) has scrounged together some light DLC for you to mix it up with. Downloading the free update will net you some extra swag, including a ‘Boss Survival’ mode and new ship avatars; one from Flump’s first game, Super Killer Hornet, and another from N0rty Games‘ recent shmup, Chronoblast (review). ‘High Five’ for indie developer team-ups! There’s some more backgrounds, as well, and additional music tracks.

All in all it’s just a little extra cream on top of the pie, meant to hold you over while the studio forges ahead with its next project, a sequel to Super Killer Hornet.