I think it only fitting after a week dedicated to Nintendo Hard platformers that I transition to something equally masochistic.
Devil Daggers is unsettling in how minimalistic it is. There is only one level, one mode, one difficulty, one seemingly consistent pattern for enemy spawns, yet it’s endlessly replayable, since an average run only lasts under a minute. You are stuck on a platform in the middle of nothingness, forced to defend yourself from an eldritch horde that seemingly never ends, your only weapon a crimson mass of…. something shooting from your fingers. One hit and you’re dead. And you will die. A lot. In Devil Daggers, death isn’t a sign of failure, it’s an inevitability, and you’re only judged by your ability to prolong it.
It feels like an attempt to please several masters; capturing the frantic speed, look, and overwhelming odds of a 90s shooter while reviving the high-score chase that’s mostly been lost in a modern context. The mystery of everything is what makes it, I think. No one knows quite how long the game goes on for or if there is anything resembling a win state, since the record so far is only about eight minutes, during which point the game decides to summon numerous flying bone centipedes. I’d like to assume that the game’s sole achievement is somehow tied to that moment, whether it be ten minutes, thirty minutes, or even an hour in. As someone that’s not yet even broken the one minute mark, it’s scary to think about.
In an age where everything is so easily spoiled, difficulty is a tremendously effective barrier against that. We’ll only find out the answers to that mystery when someone earns it, at which point I can only imagine the lovechild of Giger and Lovecraft will then emerge from the screen to swallow your soul. Even if you’re like me and understand that you won’t be the one to do it, there’s still the quiet satisfaction of lasting just a few seconds longer, maneuvering at the right moment to take out that one pesky skull that was about to end you, the same trial and error learning process that we find tedious in lesser experiences, but here, it works. “I just know I’ll do better next time” you tell yourself, leading to endless utterances of “one more run” whilst hours pass around you. It’s that dive into old-school design philosophy that stirs up a familiar feeling even more than the aesthetics do, recapturing that sense of seemingly attainable mastery, just hoping for the moment something clicks. I eagerly await watching that run, seeing when it all finally comes together.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here getting killed by an Iron Maiden album cover.