99 Levels to Hell is yet another title to pop up in the rogue-like genre, though this one takes its combat mechanics from twin-stick shooters, such as Bleed or Destroy All Robots. As the name suggests, there are 99 levels to conquer before you fight the Devil himself. As expected, there are powerups and shops along the way to help with this, but unfortunately, I felt like I was literally in Hell while playing this game.

One of the key ingredients to making a good rogue-like is balancing the speed at which upgrades become available. If you dole out upgrades too frequently the player never experiences any difficulty, give out upgrades too infrequently and the player needs a lot of luck to get a good run and may feel the game is too chance based. 99 Levels to Hell falls way on the infrequent side; upgrades only come in the form of damage or range increases for your weapon, or as an entirely new weapon that will require you to find your rare upgrades again.

This is somewhat alleviated by the ability to purchase upgrades in the store but 99 Levels to Hell found a way to make stores utterly useless most of the time. Upgrades rarely rarely show up, and when they do they are priced insanely high – usually requiring me to save up 10-15 floors worth of gold. Due to this, I consistently felt underpowered through most of my playthroughs. This wouldn’t be that big of an issue if the primary weapon (a shotgun) wasn’t so useless. The damage output is decent but the lack of range makes it impossible to fight many of the bosses, most of which are fought in completely open rooms. In one game I did manage to find a hunting rifle with a range of about 75% of the screen, and after that the difficulty as a whole plummeted. I quickly realized how much of the game’s difficulty revolved around the shotgun’s lack of range. Enemies don’t react to damage and only attack when you enter a certain distance, which allows me to take my time and safely sniping them. This simple addition creates one of the worst balanced rogue-likes I have ever encountered. You are either constantly underpowered or you are a walking death machine with practically no chance of dying. This is exacerbated by the rarity of actually finding a new weapons. Being that I only found this weapon once, though, most playthroughs were annoyingly futile as I attempted to avoid combat at all costs. I would rather have seen the game stick to the shotgun rather than attempt to include weapons that seemingly weren’t play tested.

Every ten floors are grouped as a dungeon with nine normal floors and then a boss encounter, all thematically tied together. The theme not only changes the background, blocks, and traps, but also the enemies. Of the four themes, three are commonly associated with Hell in one form or another, but the fourth theme is aliens, and I can’t figure out what this has to do with Hell at all. Pink brains sit in metallic vehicles and shoot laser beams at you, which is completely out of place with the rest of the game and destroyed what little bit of immersion I had.

While most of the game is either poor or boring, the map generation algorithm is fantastic. Being a procedurally generated game, there is a high expectation to never see the same thing twice, and somehow this game succeeds at that. Out of the 200 or so levels I experienced in my playtime, I only saw a handful of levels repeated. Unlike the combat, which I grew bored of rather quickly, the great level generation always gave my platforming skills something new to work with.

The only other aspect I can comment positively on is the music. The quiet ambient songs during the main levels perfectly create an atmosphere of tension in a surreal world, while the boss battles are fought with heavy metal blaring in the background. I don’t think I could have asked for a better soundtrack to a game with Hell as a central theme.

It is impossible for me to recommend 99 Levels to Hell to anyone. The core gameplay simply isn’t engaging enough to cover up the complete imbalance of the upgrade system. The game also lacks any standout features to set it apart from the slew of other rouge-likes that are piling up on Steam. The music is fantastic, but fortunately that can be purchased from Steam or BandCamp and doesn’t require you to play the game to enjoy.

 

Review: 99 Levels to Hell
Pros
  • Good random level creation
  • Great Soundtrack
Cons
  • Poor gameplay balance
  • Practically useless shops
  • Low upgrade rate
4Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

Contributor

Bryan is fascinated with the potential of video games as a story telling medium, both through narrative and mechanics. He loves playing games with deep systems and mechanics, giving players lots of room to tinker in the games in search of optimization. This has led him to favor fighting games and RPG though he has a soft spot for fast paced FPS titles and their twitchy, reaction based skill set. Outside of video games he enjoys programming, fiction writing, and music composition and performance.

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