Deathstate: a Cthulhian Bullet Hell Nightmare

Cthulhian baddies tend towards dark places underground or in the deep woods where they can gradually leech your sanity away until there’s nothing left to resist them with, but apparently that’s a strategy reserved for Earth.  If you drop into a meditative trance and chase after them in their home dimensions they seem to be much more colorful, numerous, and willing to throw a steady stream of firepower your way.  Deathstate sets you against the hordes of pixelized horrors in a single-stick auto-firing shooter that shows the best way to deal with extradimensional predatory nightmares it to hose them down with an endless supply of psychic bullets.

The current demo for Deathstate is four levels ending in a boss encounter, and while the controls are simple the game itself is pleasantly deadly.  The single-stick setup means you auto-fire when an enemy is in range, targeting the closest threat and leaving your attention free to concentrate on positioning.  It’s not a common style of shooter but when done well it’s surprisingly effective, and Deathstate feels great to play.  It doesn’t take long to get the hang of managing positioning to target the right enemy, with your character seeming to know exactly what you want shot and when at all times.  Hordes of popcorn-enemy skeletons swarm at you, the tougher, faster red skeletons soak up a good amount of firepower, green organic crystal critters shoot out a halo of bullets, and you always target the logical enemy.  That’s not to say that Deathstate is easy, though, because like any rogue-like it’s happy to see you dead in no time at all.

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Each level is randomly generated, a free-roaming arena broken up by walls, various props, and holes in the floor.  The level creator favors wide-open areas for the most part, but will cheerfully put in a few bottlenecks to keep you on your toes.  Enemies wait for you to activate them but, once they know you’re there, they bust out their best arcade-style attack.  When it’s just a couple skeletons that’s not a big deal, but throw in exploding mushrooms, king skeletons that fire back, creeping tentacle-faced wizards quartering the screen with bullets, and a post-hit invulnerability period of roughly 0.2 seconds and it’s easy to see your 5 hit points drop down to nothing.  Each hit leeches a bit more color from the world, changing it from hyper-saturated to normal to almost sepia toned, but death sees the color all rush back in at once as you’re evicted from the brutal outer realms.

Like all good rogue-likes, Deathstate comes with its share of pickups that have unpredictable effects and stat adjustments.  Unlike a lot of rogue-likes, Deathstates appear almost uniformly helpful, or at least those I’ve found so far have been.  Tomes of power add a floating secondary source of firepower, little demon helpers, swords, and shields enhance your stats, and there’s even internal organs you can find to replace your useless normal ones.  Who wouldn’t want an ichor-pumping heart to replace their standard blood-based model, or even a whole new brain?  There are a few dangerous items, but in general the odds are stacked in your favor that whatever weird, squishy, eldritch item you find lying around will work in your favor.

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While not the most complicated rogue-like around, Deathstate is instantly accessible and a load of fun, with a nice number of items to mix up each run and a horde of dumb but determined enemies to use them against.  Skeletons swarm from all directions, bullets litter the screen, and death can happen surprisingly quickly, but there’s always another run to try to take down the big green tentacle-faced end boss.  Deathstate is currently hanging out on Greenlight looking for a home on Steam, so head on over and give it some love.  There’s a lot of good shooting to be had in its otherworldly arenas, and those Cthulhian terrors could stand to have some bullet hell thrown back their way.