In 2016, a first-person shooter called Devil Daggers (opens in new tab) appeared on Steam. It could’ve been the subject of a middle schooler’s creepypasta: a game so demonic that most people only survive for a few seconds, and no one’s seen the end, if there even is one. After several hours of play, my Devil Daggers survival record is just 70 seconds. How do you take a concept like that to the next level?
Hyper Demon, a surprise Devil Daggers follow up that released on Steam (opens in new tab) today, has the answer: a game so demonic that it’s possible to survive for less than zero seconds.
Rather than counting the seconds until you die like Devil Daggers, Hyper Demon starts counting down from 10 seconds when the game starts. If the world didn’t dissolve away when I intentionally reached a low score of about negative 30, I could have theoretically been infinitely bad at Hyper Demon. That’s an escalation.
To finish with a positive score in Hyper Demon, you have to kill the demons it spews at you as fast as you can. Death is easier to avoid in Hyper Demon than it is in Devil Daggers—I would’ve already beaten my Devil Daggers record if Hyper Demon counted up instead of down—but so far it seems like it’s just as hard to record a high score. Maybe harder. Sometimes I’ll end a long run that seemed like it was going well, and then realize my score is -6.045. The world record right now is 368.
Like in Devil Daggers, you can watch a replay of any run on the leaderboard, and I barely understand what the player is doing in the current world record run. It looks like a Quake pro infiltrated Satan’s quantum computer.
Mercifully, there are built-in tutorials, so you don’t have to figure out what a “Dagger Jump + Stomp” is on your own. Your main weapon only has two basic attacks—dagger machine gun or dagger shotgun, basically—but there are complex ways to manipulate enemies through movement abilities and turn gems and powerups into kaleidoscopic laser attacks. Resource management is interesting: Keep shooting and you won’t absorb gems, which power up your basic attacks, but you might not want to, because you can alternatively wait for a good moment to suck them into your gun for a laser attack.
Somehow you have to do all of this with your face pressed against the side of a hyperspace tunnel. “Holographic” red images warn you about enemies approaching from behind, and the wildest feature, a dynamic field of view that can reach up to 180-degrees, can makes it look as if the world is being reflected on a silver orb in front of you.
It’s a lot to take in, although 1994 game Descent would be more likely to make me queasy. In Hyper Demon, it doesn’t feel like I’m navigating a real 3D space so much as gliding through reflections and lenses. I’m Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar, except I have a wizard gun and no patience for five-dimensional aliens.
(To me, Hyper Demon looks more disorienting in videos and gifs than it actually feels when playing, but if I’m wrong, I can’t think of a more valid use of the Steam refund system than feeling ill.)
What’s more, at the end of the word record run, the player appears to… win? Unlike Devil Daggers, Hyper Demon promises an ending, if you can reach it. Or, perhaps, if it reaches you.
Hyper Demon embraces its mystique: It’s “a pearl of lightning,” the Steam page (opens in new tab) says, “a dream from the future,” “a drop of poison,” and “a swan song.”
“The faster you slay demons, the harder the game and the higher your score,” developer Sorath says. “There is an end. Will it see you?”
I guess that’s for the Hyper Demon to decide. It’s $15.