A brilliant and brutal take on a classic formula
Devil Engine is a heartfelt throwback to the bygone era of the arcades. Developed by Western shoot ’em up developer Protoculture Games and published by DANGEN Entertainment, it’s a throwback to such beloved classics as Technosoft’s Thunderforce and Yumekobo & Aicom’s criminally overlooked Neo Geo titles Pulstar and Blazing Star (the game from which our humble site takes its name). Featuring a striking hand-drawn art style, interesting bullet-absorbing mechanic, and a pumping soundtrack co-composed by legendary Thunderforce V composer Hyakutaro Tsukumo, it’s a retro-tinged thrill ride that will test the mettle of even the most talented armchair starfighters.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
Right from the jump, Devil Engine doesn’t pull any punches. Enemies and bullets fill the screen, towering sub-bosses deliver laser-powered death, and even the first boss can deliver a crushing defeat to careless players with a dizzying array of shot types. That being said, the game obviously isn’t tailored for shoot ’em up neophytes, and even skilled genre veterans will find the game delivers a satisfying challenge to those who take the time to study each stage and master its mechanics.
For the most part, Devil Engine plays very similarly to the games that inspired it. There are three distinct weapon types including a spread shot that delivers moderate damage but is great for crowd control, a laser that packs tremendous destructive power but only fires in a narrow beam, and a homing shot which is the weakest of the bunch but allows you to focus on maneuvering your ship while your shots seek out the nearest target. Additionally, each shot type offers its own bomb style, but these are admittedly pretty tame compared to the kind of screen-clearing pyrotechnics that are common in other shooters.
While the arsenal of weapons is a bit lean, it works well enough thanks to the game’s finely-tuned enemy placement and stage designs. Each stage is crafted in such a way that you’ll quickly discover which weapons are best suited for certain situations. Thankfully, you’ll almost never find yourself stuck with the wrong tool for the job because power-ups spawn nearly constantly. And even if a homing shot appears rather than that mighty laser you desperately need, a simple tap of your shield button can change whatever power-ups you encounter to the weapon you desire. Talk about convenient! Then again, with how challenging Devil Engine is, even on its easiest difficulty, any help is more than welcome.
Talk about bullet points
One unique feature that Devil Engine brings to the table is its ‘burst’ mechanic – a handy defensive tool which proves essential over the course of the game’s campaign. Performed by tapping either Y or the ZR Trigger, a burst envelops your ship in a small field that will absorb any incoming bullets. Sucking up enemy projectiles not only prevents you from being blasted to smithereens, but it also causes your combo meter multiplier to skyrocket substantially. You won’t just want to do that just for bragging rights, either, because, more importantly, as your score increases you’ll steadily earn extra lives and bombs that are vital to progressing through the game’s six challenging stages.
No doubt about it, bursting makes you feel good. However, it shouldn’t be abused. Absorbing only one bullet will totally reset your multiplier, which can be a major setback – especially in later stages. This adds a welcome risk versus reward element to the proceedings by encouraging you to weave through smaller volleys of shots while saving your burst for the larger barrages of enemy fire. That being said, burst responsibly.
Being ingloriously shot down for the umpteenth time can be a kick in the teeth. However, it’s not without its benefits. In roguelike fashion, each time you play the game your final score is added to that of the previous games you’ve played. And, as it grows, you can unlock bonuses that come from necessary to completing the game or grueling like extra continues to mere aesthetic tweaks like new enemy bullet colors and visual filters. You can also unlock a series of challenging bonus stages that require you to tackle massive bosses, get a one hundred percent kill rate, and more. Not surprisingly, these added challenges aren’t for the faint of heart, but they add some welcome mileage for ace pilots who’ve mastered the core game.
With such a huge emphasis on score-chasing baked into Devil Engine, it’s curious that there are no online leaderboards to be found. While this is hardly a deal breaker, it’s very strange to see what’s largely become a genre standard omitted from a game where racking up your score multiplier plays so vital to success. Here’s hoping developer Protoculture Games implements a leaderboard system down the road to please competitive shooter players.
Pixel perfect presentation
When it comes to its presentation, Devil Engine wears its 32-bit inspiration proudly on its sleeve. The game features a stunning mix of vibrant stages designs ranging from the far-flung cosmos, mountainous planetscapes, and overgrown forests that simply pop off the screen. Add to this some brilliant boss designs and a wide array of enemy types and flashing bullet patterns that dance across the screen and you have one seriously pretty game that would look right at home in a late nineties arcade. That being said, if you cut your teeth on the shoot ’em ups of the PlayStation and Saturn era, you’re really going to like what the talented artists at Protoculture Games have managed to do here.
Devil Engine’s soundtrack is also nothing short of phenomenal. As I said earlier in this review, the game’s arrangements were co-produced by Thunderforce V composer Hyakutaro Tsukumo, and holy crap do they hit hard. Ranging from rocking guitar tracks to more funky, saxophone-laden melodies and pounding electronic arrangements, it’s an aural feast that fits the on-screen action like a glove.
In addition to the stellar score, Devil Engine also features some satisfying sound effects. Lasers and gunfire all pack a punch, and explosions have a satisfying bassiness to them that makes you savor each kill. I just wish I could say the same for the bomb attacks, which come across as a bit weak sounding in comparison.
Pretty hate machine
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Devil Engine. From its fantastic presentation to its lofty challenge, it’s a game that often humbled me but made me keep coming back for more. Still, I have to say that those new to the shoot ’em up genre or averse to a hardcore challenge may want to get their bullet-dodging fix elsewhere. However, if ice water flows through your veins and you crave a challenge akin to Taito, Cave, and Irem’s stable of soul-crushing shmups, I think you’ll find Devil Engine to be a very welcome addition to your Nintendo Switch library.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PC ; Publisher: DANGEN Entertainment ; Developer: Protoculture Games; Players: 1 ; Released: February 21, 2019; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Switch eShop code provided by the publisher.