I’ve always been a fan of side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups, but I’d never say that I’m particularly good at them. Sure, I can blast through R-Type easy enough (who can’t?), but I remember attempts at others like Thunder Force, Darius and Gradius were a lot less successful. Those past failures didn’t put me off the recently released Devil Engine though, even if it did happen to look just as tough as those aforementioned titles. Well, after playing through the game I can confirm that yes, it is tough as nails. However, it’s also very satisfying and fun to play, with each attempt at success rewarding the player in different ways.
At its core Devil Engine feels like just another shoot ‘em up. You’ve got a constant onslaught of enemies coming your way (that all add to your score multiplayer when destroyed), you’ve got three different weapon types to use (that each have a special bomb ability), and you’ve got big nasty bosses blocking your path through each of the six levels. It’s never been a genre that’s evolved too much outside of killing baddies and racking up scores, so technically it’s ‘easy’ to pick up and play Devil Engine if you’ve played similar titles in the past. However, there is one unique feature that adds a strategic touch to the game: the Burst ability which allows you to quickly absorb incoming bullets with a circular vortex.
A quick button press will unleash the vortex, so it’s easy to pull off quickly if you find yourself about to fall victim to an incoming enemy attack – you can’t just use it willy-nilly by mashing the button though, so you’ll want to time it right. However, if you use the Burst it’ll reset your score multiplier, which is a pain for both score chasers and those looking to amass the in-game bonuses (you get an extra bomb attack for every 5k points you achieve and an extra life for ever 50k), and believe me, they come in handy. On the flip-side, a well-timed Burst can save you a life when there’s an influx of enemy fire coming your way, so there’re pros and cons to using it. Either way, strategic use of the Burst ability is imperative to your success, whether it’s using it sparingly to build up extra lives or sacrificing your multiplier to ensure you don’t lose any – when to use it is one of those things that you’ll start to figure out the more time you spend playing the game.
The weapons at your disposal are pretty conventional for the genre: you’ve got the spreadshot which fires bullets out from multiple angles, the homing shot which sends out bullets that automatically target nearby enemies, whilst the laser blasts out a beam of power in one fixed direction in front of you. Each weapon can be upgraded three times by collecting matching power-ups too, so their efficiency and output can keep improving. However, you’ll quickly find that certain weapons have an advantage depending on the circumstances – the power of the laser is particularly effective when taking down bosses but lacks the freedom to allow you to move around and attack efficiently, whilst the homing shot allows you to evade enemy attacks a lot easier but lacks the firepower to take foes down with ease. The spreadshot was the most balanced of them all, but who wants that when you can blast out LASERS, right? Much like the Burst ability, you’ll need tactical thought when deciding what weapon to use and sometime you’ll have to neglect personal preference if you want to survive.
It all comes together nicely to make Devil Engine an exhilarating and fun experience, but one that’s undeniably challenging. The amount of enemies coming your way can be insane at times, whilst the fact that the slightest of collisions with the environment kills you doesn’t help either. However, there’s this sense of satisfaction to the game that makes seeing yourself overcome a tough challenge or progressing that little bit further in a level all the more fulfilling, with each subsequent death you suffer not hurting your will to play on but inspiring you to think you can go that bit further in your next run. I could feel my skills getting better as I played the game more and I started to figure out when was the right time to use certain weapons or the Burst more efficiently, which in turn made Devil Engine a much more enjoyable and rewarding game.
Or maybe it’s because I moved off the game’s default ‘Very Hard’ difficulty and onto the ‘Very Easy’ one for a bit. After your first attempt at the game you’ll unlock the ‘Very Easy’ difficulty, though the fact that the game describes it as being ‘for cowards’ did put me off trying it initially. However, after multiple attempts to play through the game and dying lots, I had to try it out just to feel myself get better at the game. You know what? It worked. Whilst I’ll admit that I haven’t finished Devil Engine on the default difficulty (yet!), playing through on the easier option has allowed me to hone my skills and get better, even if it might make me a ‘coward’ for doing so. I’m now playing on the ‘Very Hard’ difficulty and getting much further than I ever did before, so hey, it was worth it.
What also makes it easier though is that simply playing the game adds to your overall score across all attempts, which subsequently comes with unlocks such as extra continues. Naturally, these prove mighty useful when playing through the game, so at least your failures (of which there’ll be many) come with some extra positives. You’ll also unlock bonuses such as cosmetic items and in-game challenges too, but most of these aren’t too game-changing and just act as little extras for the player.
Visually, Devil Engine looks just like the games that inspired it – in fact, I’d argue that it looks just like it could’ve come from that era in the late 80s when the genre was at its prime. It doesn’t mean that it looks out of date though, with the environments and enemies managing to look detailed in-game and packed with those little sci-fi touches that make you feel like you’re battling against some strange alien race across bizarre locales. Sure, it won’t earn points for originality, but the visual design definitely managed to nail the vibe of the classic side-scrolling shoot ‘em up perfectly.
Developer: Protoculture Games
Publisher: DANGEN Entertainment
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC