In which we examine Helltaker, the popular free casual game that’s a demon dating sim with puzzle-solving elements.

Perhaps you, dear readers, have encountered a recent artifact on the web that baffled you. While you were searching for something unrelated and completely innocent (suuuure you were), you stumbled upon an image of a hot demon chick serving, or eating, pancakes. And then you had to step back and admire this moment, brought to you by the Internet, makers of rule 34.

So, what’s with the demon girls all of a sudden? In this case, we didn’t have to reach very far from the original source to rule #34, because the author had erotic expression in mind in the first place. And boy, did that escalate quickly! Fanart, hell, there’s four pages of fan-made porn about this game on PornHub!

The game to blame is Helltaker

Helltaker is a free, casual game written with the Unity engine by developer vanripper (Łukasz Piskorz). He’s not only the artist, but also conceived and produced every part of the game as far as we can find out (with some outsourced help for odds and ends, one presumes). Helltaker is currently the top-rated free Steam game, despite being barely 2 months old as of this writing.

So what’s with this game, is it the ultimate badass? Well, no, not exactly. Don’t get me wrong, it is very well-done in the art, music, tempo, and play value. It is incredibly short, easily beaten in an hour.

But the game itself is a genre mishmosh of reheated elements from much older games. It’s a cross between Sokoban, the bullet hell genre, and… a dating sim.

Kirk_do_not_want

No, it’s even worse than that, Jim! It’s a sexy demon chicks in Hell dating sim!

Kirk_choking

That’s your goal is to hoard demon waifus into a harem, because I guess we’re into brimstone in the bedroom now. The game has this sequence where first you have to navigate a block-pushing puzzle with obstacles and a step counter to unlock these demonic dames, see…

Helltaker_level_3

You get there and then she queries you with a riddle, to which you may provide two answers. Through logic nowhere near rationality, one answer is incorrect and sends you back to smash the whole level all over again. After providing the correct answer and recruiting your demon, you get to move on.

Helltaker_Modeus

After some eight levels of this, you get to the “boss,” who puts you on the “sin machine,” an infernal treadmill bordered by spikes upon which you must jog while avoiding being whipped by chains. Unlike the puzzle levels, this is an action phase designed to piss you off because you came here for some nice calm Sokoban block-shoving.

Helltaker_sin_machine

This isn’t so much “the boss stage” as it is “the second half of the game.” If you manage this part without rage-quitting (rote memorization of every move is the only way to survive), you get the longest interactive epilogue in the history of gaming, where you go around your house serving the demon girls pancakes. There’s no orgy, just lots of suggestive impish flirting.

Helltaker_house

That’s really about it! We’re done. Oh, there’s extended content in the form of paid DLC which consists of the author’s artbook and a pancake recipe. Now we’re done!

WTF was that all about?

The author himself is on record in the artbook as being partly motivated to make this game because he digs demon girls. He especially expresses disappointment at the gender ratio of Hell’s minions. Dammit, why is Hell such a sausage-fest? To boot, each of the girls has their own unique characterization, albeit sticking to the evil side of the alignment chart ranging from “chaotic nerdy” to “lawful Sadistic.” There’s a great sense of humor saturating the whole infernal affair.

Helltaker_queen_of_Hell

As for the fans, well…

The Steam board also reminds us that most of this game’s fanbase is in Japan and Korea, given its anime style and dating-sim roots.

Yeah, but why this game at this time?

Satan_was_a_lesbian

So you dig demon chicks…

Now to psychoanalyze your Satanic spectrophilia! Sexuality, thanks to heavy religion in most parts of the world, has an aura of inherent deviance attached to it. This influence is a subtle inhibitor to all of us, even if we’re not religious. If you take a normal, natural impulse and whoop it up to make a big iniquity out of it, you give everybody a complex. When the inevitable (driven by hundreds of millions of years of evolution) impulses come to your attention anyway, you end up with procreation being attached to this idea of wrongness just because it feels good.

The brain, then, rationalizes it as “I like sex, therefore I must be damned to eternal hellfire!” In for a penny, in for a pound, might as well embrace it. We end up veering to the other extreme, diving into the deep end of decadence. Here we’re throwing the goat’s head and hailing Satan, all for a perfectly normal biological process which is the obligation of all vertebrate life forms if they want to carry on their species.

Monster_energy_mark_of_the_beast

This is like if you made drinking soft drinks a felony crime. Everybody would hold out as long as they could until they gave in to temptation and sipped a black market Mr. Pibb, and then they’d figure, “I’m a criminal now, I might as well rob banks!” Because you’ll be damned if you’ll settle for being damned over a Mr. Pibb. You end up with more actual sin than if you’d just let people do the harmless thing they wanted to do in the first place.

So in our minds, sin becomes synonymous with being sexy. Not all of us go full in for the horns and pitchfork business, but we understand why somebody would.

One more factor at play is that this game happened to come along at a time in history when, I dunno, people seem to be in a strange mood. Between the global COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide protests, maybe people feel a little closer to Hell and are motivated to get cuddly with it. We just had a White House presentation from Dr. Stella Immanuel who pins our medical woes on literal sex with demons – OMG, she’s talking about Helltaker!

Ladies_in_Hades

Class dismissed. Or at least that’s my theory. Here’s another one:

A quick pitch for Sokoban

Sokoban was only created in 1981, for the desktop PC in Japan. It is a simple puzzle game format which tends to pop back up integrated into other games as soon as it starts slipping from cultural memory. Basically, anywhere you see puzzle solving that involves a character shoving blocks around, that’s a Sokoban influence.

Legend_of_Zelda_block-pushing

SNES’s Legend of Zelda series tosses the odd block-pushing puzzle into various dungeons.

The Tomb Raider franchise has its share of 3D block-pushing. However, they’re curiously missing from the strictly puzzle-focused Tomb Raider Go.

The classic dungeon-crawler Nethack has a whole set of Sokoban levels within the dungeon.

sokoban_nethack

Like I say, they’re easy to drop into almost any game, or to make a mini-game or bonus area. Aspiring programmers can tell you that Sokoban is an easy game to code for your first 2D tile-based foray. It’s also low-demand on resources and players, since it’s turn-based and requires only the most rudimentary logic.

So does Helltaker earn its horns?

It’s better to look at the game as a dating sim with puzzle-game elements. Given the popularity of Helltaker, this may prove to be a formula that other games take to in the future. Your enthusiasm for the game is likely to be attached to your appetite for the dating sim genre in general.

Satanic escapades aside, it’s a free way to burn a couple hours (maybe more if you have slow reflexes with the bullet-hell section). It’s a fun, cute game with bouncy theme music and tons of character. And it’s likely to inspire a lot of cosplay gals who previously only got to be a generic Judeo-Christian-branded devils. It contributed that much to culture at least.

Just remember the risks of cavorting with devils…

devil_baby

 

About the author

Penguin Pete

Penguin Pete

Geek tribal bard for the Internet, before "geek" was cool. Linux power user, MTG collector, light saber owner, cult movie fanatic, comic book memer, video gamer, Unix beard currently measures six inches.