Can You Escape Your Infernal Prison?
Demos can really determine whether or not I take a chance on a game. Take Rising Hell, for example. I knew nothing about the game other than enjoying the visual style. Once I noticed it had a free demo, I downloaded it and jumped into action. And despite my lack of familiarity with the developer, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the demo. So much that I took a leap and bought the full game moments later. Did Rising Hell manage to live up to my expectations? Or should it have remained in the fiery abyss?
The first thing I should mention is that Rising Hell is a vertical rogue-like. I want to tell you more about the plot, but the translation work makes it a bit tricky to understand. Luckily, there’s was enough I did comprehend to keep me invested. Basically, it’s a game about Lucifer failing in his quest to dethrone Heaven and being brought low and cast into a magical prison. He’s somehow bound in the root of a tree, and that tree grows into a bustling and thriving Hellscape as a result. You play one of three demonic warriors determined to escape the prison and perhaps free your lord Lucifer in the process. Mephisto offers a tool to allow you to fight your way free, but to do so, you’ll have to defeat 4 powerful Archdemons first. Thus begins your infernal journey in Rising Hell.
Ascend to Freedom
Though I’ve played plenty of rogues since The Binding of Isaac got me hooked on the genre, this particular one is pretty unique. It sort of plays out like Downwell in reverse. You’re constantly fighting higher and higher in your attempt to escape your prison. Though you start with only one playable character, the fierce melee fighter Arok, you can eventually unlock two others. One is Zelos, a ranged fighter I really grew to love; the other is Sydna, a phantasmal warrior who plays like a weird mix of Arok and Zelos. Regardless of who you pick, the basic loop of the game is the same. You fight your way through 4 chapters, each split into several areas, other than the final chapter. You get to pick branching paths as you fight, which will lead to different mini-boss fights. Once you beat the boss at the end of the chapter, you pick a reward and move onto the next chapter.
As you play the game, you’ll accumulate a resource called Blight. It’s used primarily to unlock various Talents and Relics that can mix up future runs. Relics all have an upside and a downside. You might get protection from spikes at the cost of taking more damage from everything else; or you might get an artifact weapon permanently but have no opportunities to find others that run. There’s a lot more variety than I could mention, but the point is that I appreciated all the modifiers to keep things fresh. Cause even though the game is a little light on overall content, the unlockable features kept me invested. Plus, once you unlock something, it’s accessible to all three characters.
Another important resource is souls. Given the game’s setting, it makes total sense you’re harvesting the souls of monsters you slay. They come in two different flavors – red and green souls. Green are much rarer, and heal your character. Red souls, meanwhile, are used as currency to purchase passive upgrades which last that run. Maybe you’ll increase your base health; or perhaps you’ll get increased damage for each red soul on your person; maybe you enjoy sticking to walls; or dealing lighting damage to foes every time you’re wounded. The only limiting factor is how many souls you have on hand.
However, there’s a couple ways to make it work more in your favor. You can spend a few Blight to randomize the upgrades you’ll find at altars at the end of each level. Or you can visit the Trickster and buy multiple upgrades. Hell, you can even spend health to obtain more red souls there. Or, if you’re desperate, head to a Vault of Avarice to find some extra souls or obtain an artifact weapon.
I should mention, artifacts generally have a limited number of uses. You’ll see a yellow meter that denotes how much ammo you have left. Some artifacts instead have a temporary global effect, such as freezing all foes for a few seconds. Either way, artifacts are powerful tools, and they make your warriors extra strong for a little while. This can help even the playing field in challenging boss fights or arenas you have to fight your way out of. I did enjoy using a Relic to make the Cerberos artifact a permanent weapon, which is also how I eventually beat the game. But no matter your playstyle preference, you have a lot of options in Rising Hell.
Hack, Slash, and Repeat
As for how the game controls, not only is it intuitive, but it’s a lot of fun. You can jump, or double jump with B and attack with Y. X lets you interact with objects, and R does a handy dash. But perhaps the most useful technique in Rising Hell is the Hellbreak. I should mention, the game never explained the technique. I just sort of stumbled onto it. It works a bit like the Footstool Jump in Smash Bros., just far, far less frustrating. You don’t take damage from touching foes. So you can just sort of jump on top of them, and you’ll instantly Hellbreak, destroying most minor foes in the process.
This is used effectively in platforming segments, especially in conjunction with the wall jump. One area has you racing away from a grinder and using foes as stepping stones. The Hellbreak is invaluable, and really helped flavor how the game plays. It even works differently depending on the artifact you have equipped. Just keep in mind, the point of the game is constantly moving up. So don’t be surprised when you realize you can’t jump down through platforms.
Challenging Battles Await
Though the game itself is relatively short, there’s a few reasons to keep playing. One is the Gauntlet mode. It features a bunch of optional quests you can challenge yourself to. These can range from a boss rush to fighting without any solid ground to land on. You’ll also unlock advanced difficulties once you beat the game with a character. Keep in mind only that character has the option, so you’ll have to beat the game with everyone to increase the difficulty evenly.
One thing that I feel Rising Hell does better than most games on Switch is their use of HD rumble. I normally ignore the rumble in most games. And that’s frankly cause most don’t implement it well or use it too much. The rumble in Rising Hell is fantastic. It’s used to accentuate the action and make every attack feel more epic. Every time a foe explodes in a burst of gore, you feel a sense of satisfaction. Having said that, after a few hours playing the game, it started to wear on me a little. Just not so much I ever turned the rumble off.
The thing that drew me to Rising Hell is the artwork. I love detailed and edgy pixel art, and there’s tons of that here. Each demonic monster looks great, and they don’t have any clones other than powerful mini-bosses that are essentially bigger, meaner versions of standard foes. Special shout out goes to the chapter bosses, which are all totally distinct and very challenging. Some are tiny, some huge, but none of them are easy. Especially considering many bosses have multiple phases you’ll have to withstand. The only small downside to the art design is how tiny the sprites for most things tend to be.
One delightful surprise in the game is the sound design. It’s touted as a “heavy metal vertical rogue”, and Rising Hell absolutely delivers on that description. I loved the rocking tunes, and how every chapter had its own distinct soundtrack. Hell, even the demonic grunting used to denote dialogue is catchy. When combined with the edgy and bombastic sound effects, you have a game that’s hard not to love.
Some Minor Issues
It may sound like I had no complaints with the game, but that’s sadly not the case. First and foremost, I encountered a couple of annoying glitches. One was minor. At the end of each stage, you’ll take an elevator up to the next section. On more than one occasion, I noticed my character wasn’t synched with the elevator and sort of floated up or down oddly. Thankfully that fixed itself.
The next glitch did not. I was fighting the harrowing 3rd chapter boss when suddenly my character froze in midair. The boss didn’t freeze and kept rushing around attacking me but doing no damage. I waited a few moments, but my character never unfroze, forcing me to quit that run from the pause menu. Since you can’t continue a run after you return to the start screen, that was more than a bit disappointing. And though I really do enjoy everything the game has to offer, I just wish it had more of it. 4 chapters is pretty sparse, especially when there’s this much quality and creative diversity. I would have loved a few more levels and maybe even more optional endings to strive for.
Flawed Yet Fun
Despite some minor complaints with the game, I still thoroughly enjoyed Rising Hell. As a fan of rogues, I feel this is a must-own title for fellow fans of the genre. And even though it’s a short ride, you more than get your money’s worth. Sure, I wish this version of the game had achievements, but the portability of the Switch helps mollify me. All I can say is that I’m impressed by the game and implore the devs to work on a more substantial title next. But if you enjoy dark, edgy rogues with a rocking heavy metal soundtrack, you definitely need to pick Rising Hell up.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One; Publisher: Chorus Worldwide Games; Developer: Tahoe Games, Toge Productions; Players: 1; Released: May 20, 2021; MSRP: $9.99
The author purchased a review copy.