Hell Pages Review: Save The World By Killing Everything
Generally when I think of Shmups, I envision far future settings, bleak and dystopian. But I can say in all honesty that Hell Pages is one of the few Shmups I’ve played that takes place in a supernatural apocalypse. The opening starts with written text talking about a demonic ritual involving a blood-soaked tome in a cabin in the woods (yes, that sounded familiar to me as well). To counter this, a group of necromancers sacrifice a young virgin, closing the portal to Hell that was nearly opened.
Unfortunately, over time the strength of the seal is diminished, and finally bursts open. Ten demonic legions lay waste to Earth, and then start fighting over the scraps. In the midst of this madness, an unlikely hero arrives, a demon named Bael. Though he’s not interested in helping humanity, he does desire to reign supreme over the Earth. The only tricky part is he’ll have to defeat all the demonic legions first to claim ultimate victory. As this Hell Pages review will show, it’s a cool premise hurt by some uneven execution.
Gotta Blast Them All! *Cue the Pokémon Theme Music*
Hell Pages takes place across 10 distinct side scrolling levels, each culminating in an epic boss fight against a horrific demon general. Once you’ve beaten all of those, there’s also a final boss fight, but only if you’ve collected the titular Hell Pages in the shop between stages. Doing so will require coins you collect from defeated foes in each stage, and you’ll never have enough that you can count on buying everything. An example of items you can buy are health refills (health isn’t restored at the start of new levels) and enhanced magic attacks, both of which are very easy to understand.
The other two are a bit more unclear. One is called a Save Pact and the other is just called Continue. It seems that by buying Save Pacts, you can quit the game and return to it later without losing progress. Whereas Continue lets you start at the beginning of a level if you’re defeated. I’m not certain, but it seemed as though I needed to buy those two at each shop to reliably keep on playing the game in short sessions.
Hell Needs More Tutorials
Which brings me quickly to one of my issues with Hell Pages – a general lack of clarity. Developer Medusa Head put a lot of effort into the style and setting of the game, but I wish they had invested a bit more time in explaining things. For example, in every level you’ll come across little blue orbs. While those don’t boost your firepower directly, I discovered they added subweapons to my arsenal. I also found out that the little skull vial both heals your health and replenishes your magic, but only by trial and error. I also realized for myself that pressing A lets me switch the direction of my subweapon, alternating between forward and backward firing shots. That said, the basic gameplay loop is pretty fun.
Blast Them To Bloody, Demonic Chunks
In typical Shmup fashion, you travel from the beginning of stages to the end, blasting away waves of demonic foes. They’ll swoop in from the front or back, making your subweapons vital. Once you reach the end of the level, the bosses will confront you, and they’re generally much more challenging. Some even devolve into bullet hell madness, making me wish Bael could move a little bit faster. These encounters were definitely a highlight, ranging from giant laser spewing skulls to massive winged demons and even what looks like a space-bound Cthulhu. Most are larger than life and epic, though a couple were either underwhelming or annoying. My biggest complaint is that there’s no checkpoints in the game. Meaning that if you die, you can’t just continue from right before the boss, but instead have to fight your way through their entire level once again.
Bael Needs More Firepower
You’d think that in a game with this unique setting, Bael would have some powerful supernatural weapons. Sadly, in my experience there’s only one shot type. Admittedly the subweapons help, but I really would have appreciated various weapon pods to change things up. Also, the magic attack, which is this game’s bomb, is a bit underwhelming. Blue energy rains down for a few seconds, but doesn’t seem capable of absorbing enemy bullets. Or at least not without enhancing it between levels.
Little Corpse Flower
Visually, the game touts its “eye-scorching HD visuals”. And while I personally appreciated the visual style of the game, I doubt it features fully fledged HD graphics. At best the art style is a bit flat, at worst it’s occasionally primitive, reminiscent of games from the PS1 era. It’s rarely ugly though, and I really enjoyed how each stage had something new to showcase, from rotting sewers full of mutants to demonic carnivals full of gun-toting clowns and much more besides. Likewise, each stage featured some new enemy types, from earth-spewing giant worms to dragons that burst into hives of insects. Not to mention the horrific boss fights, which had a lot of great creativity on display. By far the most pleasant surprise in Hell Pages is the musical design. Each level has a unique musical track, and they are both catchy and full of metal energy. I was happy to discover the game includes a music test that lets you listen to the pumping tunes just to relax.
Bust a Demonic Move
Though I mostly enjoyed my time in Hell Pages, it was definitely held back by some issues. As I mentioned earlier, I feel the game relies too much on the shop mechanic, which is exacerbated by how much every item costs. Worse is that the controls are less tight than I would like. I wouldn’t call them spongy necessarily, but the game definitely lacks the tightness I’ve come to expect from the genre. Also annoying is how hard it can be to see clearly see objects such as items and foes like swarms of bats. But perhaps my biggest complaint is how once you’ve unlocked the final boss, you have to face him immediately after defeating Lilith’s level, without any opportunity to heal first. Truly a demonic design decision.
A Respectable Journey Into the Abyss
Hell Pages is hardly a groundbreaking game, but it’s also not all bad. Though decidedly old school and occasionally primitive, it still has a solid core loop, outstanding tunes and hideous demonic boss battles. If you can get past the lack of weapon variety and the ho hum upgrades, you might find something to enjoy in this festival of monsters. For everybody else, get your Evil Dead fix from the source material.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: eastasiasoft; Developer: Medusa Head, Ratalaika Games; Players: 1; Released: July 15, 2022; ESRB: Mature 17+ – Blood and Gore, Violence, Sexual Content, Nudity; MSRP: $8.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.