In a saturated genre like bullet hells, it's hard to stand out and make your game seem much different from others. Skyflower attempts that by using procedurally generated dungeons with a cavernous, magic atmosphere as opposed to the "space and starships" style frequented in this genre. It also presents an unusually harsh difficulty curve by inserting the roguelike element of only having one life. If you die, it's all over.
Upon starting Skyflower, you can select between three characters to play as—the only difference between them being their design and what their special secondary skill is, whether it be generating a temporary shield, unleashing a bullet wave, or dashing quickly in one direction. During my playthroughs, the character with the bullet wave ended up being the most useful by far. The temporary shield only lasted a fraction of a second, and the dash usually ended up getting me in more trouble as opposed to getting me out of it.
I stuck with the character skilled with the bullet wave. It offered a great offensive burst needed to clear a path quite often, or to open up some breathing room when surrounded by enemy blasts and others were closing in.
Which brings me to the general feel of the game. As is apparent, Skyflower is very much crunchy-pixel graphics. The lighting does a good job of setting the atmosphere, obscuring and revealing enemies, sometimes doing a good job of hiding one as it sneaks up onto the player. And trust me, the enemies are plentiful and dangerous, mostly spawning as you make your way through more parts of each level. Enemies vary from charger types who just hone in on the player, to many different stationary and mobile turrets who do a great job of living up to the label "bullet hell." You'll spend more time dodging and moving than shooting at certain points, which makes the game more exciting in bursts and adds a bit of strategy.
Your health is relatively limited—taking approximately 5-6 hits will result in death. Fortunately, this hazard is countered with numerous health packs on each level, and you'll need them. Like most bullet hells, a large focus of Skyflower is collecting power-ups, and there is a large variety that can either be dropped by enemies, or certain stages have a store area where you can buy power-ups in exchange for your accumulated money shown in the upper right hand corner of the screen. These can be anything from increasing movement speed, to adding additional blasts per shot or adding occasional rockets or chain lighting to your attack.
The level structuring is pretty simple. You'll traverse 3 procedurally generated stages that follow an environment theme and then face a boss battle. Progressing through stages is a straightforward affair, as each stage has a portal point you need to reach to move on to the next level. There are no requirements that need to be met beforehand, so if you find the portal and you're pinned down by half your screen filled with enemy blasts, you can try and survive a mad dash to the portal and move onto the next level. Bear in mind that when teleporting into a new level, enemies are often right there waiting to attack, and you do not heal between stages.
Boss battles are relatively simple. They are all stationary turret types that fire out blasts in patterned methods, but that doesn't make them any less difficult. Beating a boss will unlock a power-up choice for your secondary skill, one making it more powerful, and the other potentially changing its utility entirely, such as into a healing power instead of an attack.
All in all, this is a fun little venture, but don't expect an epic. Once used to the game, the single-player can be easily finished in 15-20 minutes. There were also a couple of occasions where levels generated in a way that completely cut off the player character from any means of reaching the portal, effectively ending the game and forcing me to start over. I only played the single-player aspect, as multiplayer is in testing and the game itself warns that it might crash. There is also no in-game function for exiting the game, requiring me to hit the Windows key and right-click the program icon in the taskbar to exit. Being that Skyflower is still in early access, there is always a chance the bugs will be worked out and more features will be implemented, which is why no score will be attributed to the game at this time.
It is currently available for purchase on Steam for $2.99
Skyflower was obtained with a code provided from Black Shell Media and reviewed on PC.