People who have been lurking around social media or browsing Steam might have noticed an indie suddenly making a name for itself. Helltaker has been growing in notoriety, partially because the Lukasz Piskorz title has some tight puzzles that really make you think. But another big part of it comes down to the heart of the game. Namely, the Helltaker characters are all pretty lovable, and even the general purpose of the game leads to a refreshingly positive harem.
Helltaker is a relatively simple game with a straightforward motive. The avatar, who is known as the Helltaker, decides he wants to have a harem of demonic women around him. How do you do that? You go to hell to talk to them and try and convince them to head to the surface with you. (And, if all else fails, mention you’re a pretty good cook who specializes in pancakes.) You have to solve a puzzle to successfully find your way to them and, once you do, talk to them briefly to win them over. Right answers mean another demon is on your side. Offer up a wrong answer and another one bites the dust. (The one being you. You very likely will die or be very badly injured if you make a wrong choice.)
Right away, the Helltaker character art hooks you in. Piskorz’s designs are simple and clean, but evocative. They capture characters’ personalities and essences, even if they aren’t moving. A character like Modeus, the Lustful Demon, is accentuated by her heart-shaped pupils, constant blush, and cute demeanor. You can practically feel the enthusiasm coming off of Cerberus, who is actually one soul spread across three puppy-like demons, via the posing and expressive faces. Everything about Justice, the Awesome Demon, exudes awesomeness, from her sunglasses, cocky smile, and jacket draped over her suit to her confident stance. Add to that the color schemes that definitely scream fire and brimstone with the use of crimson and black, which is accentuated especially well against a particular heroine who has a completely opposite look, and it’s all stylish and striking.
But then, the actual work into each person’s personality comes through even more. It’s a short game that doesn’t have a lot of text, with most interactions being rather brief, but it still says a lot. For example, when you first head to hell, you meet Pandemonica, the Tired Demon. She’s exhausted and just trying to work. Choosing to serve her coffee earns you her appreciation and convinces her to join your harem. With Modeus, the initial dialogue is rather brief. She says, “You and me. Now.” It shows she’s going straight to the point. But if you choose the correct answer, you get to see her more childlike side and enthusiasm. She’s excited to see what happens to you on your affairs. All of these segments are brief, but they’re often very telling and can give an idea of a person’s personality and their general attitude.
You don’t really hear from your new traveling unless you ask for advice on a puzzle. (For fun, give Pandemonica a 10 for her efforts if you ask for help after the first one.) Even if you don’t need help, it gives you a chance to get some insight on the latest mechanic from characters and hear what they might have to say about their fellow demons. It’s, again, a means of explaining things in a more colorful and personable way.
Editor’s Note: There will be Helltaker spoilers in this second to last paragraph.
What I especially loved about Helltaker is how it subverts the idea of harems in the end. Here we have the protagonist rounding up these demonic women, with dialogue options that suggest hitting on them, but in the end it’s more like this warm-hearted buddy comedy. When you’re going around and talking to your new friends, things are genuinely respectful and amicable. You can tell people are getting along and it’s one of the more positive harems I’ve seen. We get to see how they all are adjusting to one another and that, well, everyone is all right.
Really, what helps make Helltaker so compelling is these characters. For people we’re spending brief amounts of time with, they’re all so personable and appealing. The character art is great, their demeanors are surprisingly well-rounded for people who don’t have a ton of lines, and they’re honestly some of the more pleasant demons you’d meet. Even if you do get a bad end, it doesn’t feel so terrible because it can be so funny and show another facet of their personality. It’s just a well crafted undertaking which is incredibly enjoyable and respects your time.
Helltaker is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs for free.