I got to give credit to Devil Daggers. When I first played it, the title felt like a forgettable score-chaser game. A flash in the pan that was barely worth any attention. As some time went on, I noticed I was clocking up a few hours of gameplay here and there, desperately trying to match or surpass my time and score as hordes of floating skulls chased me across a small dungeon map. It became exhilarating, a challenge of my own tenacity to simply survive the onslaught for as long as possible. In that instance, I realized the potential Devil Daggers has, a potential that it struggles to reach.
The game itself is a purposeful throwback to 90s era shooting games, with an arcade twist attached. You play a nameless, formless hero who grows the power of shooting beams of energy from your hand, the eponymous daggers literally sprouting from your fingertips in a demonic orange glow. A horde of floating skulls lay in front of you, a horde of creatures that are trying to kill you as you blast your way through waves of enemies in the vain hope of surviving as long as possible before you fall.
Make no mistake, you will die. That is more or less the arcade hook to Devil Daggers, and the small development team of Sorath took great care to make sure that simple premise is at least challenging enough to be fun. It is a one hit you die affair, meaning players need to avoid swarms of enemies constantly, strafing and backtracking to simply survive the onslaught.
There is not much else to really say. It certainly isn’t a lot to fill in a full-fledged game, but the three-person team at Sorath is definitely onto something when it comes to gameplay potential. They accentuate the positives of their custom-built engine by featuring a fluid control scheme. Movement and strafing are key to Devil Daggers, so Sorath put a lot of effort to make sure you can more or less control every aspect of how you navigate the battlefield, to the point where the developers themselves encourage players to bunny hop and circle strafe to avoid being hit.
In truth, it works really well. You feel a sense of accomplishment getting through tight spots and surviving a wave of floating skulls or spider demons. You feel the power growing as the enemies become faster, stronger, and more numerous. You collect crystals from tougher creatures that power up your “daggers” even further, offering a major incentive to continue clearing out bigger bosses to acquire stronger attacks and even the ability to gain magical homing daggers.
Of course, that is provided you survive long enough. One of the better features in Devil Daggers is the automatic recording of your best time, which is then posted on a Steam leaderboard for the world to see. You can watch the top players on the board and try to see their own techniques on how they survived so long. Of course, the incentive is to climb the leaderboard yourself and become the number one position in the world, a feat easier said than done when the average game can last about 30 seconds.
While I am giving the devil its due here, the game does suffer from a few issues. Aesthetically, Devil Daggers is in general very unpleasant. Part of that is to recreate a nostalgic feeling for 1990s PC FPS games, literally evoking Quake vibes in the presentation right down to purposeful polygon jitter. Even the lighting effects become part of the experience, despite being more of a detriment over an asset. Everything is bathed in black light save for a short spot on the arena, and with no way to adjust brightness it would not be surprising if you simply fall off the edge and die. This can lead to some frustrating moments, especially if you are score-chasing.
Enemy types are pretty generic as well, with the bulk of them being different incarnations of floating skulls, skull-headed spiders, or giant tentacle monsters with skulls popping out of them. A lot of skulls, despite having thirteen creatures, which is probably just a limitation of the game itself. In truth, a lot of the game feels a bit shallow. You only have one real arena to fight in, and your magical daggers have two settings. There is a shotgun-style blast and a rapid-fire attack. Perhaps with more time, money or a larger development team, more gameplay elements can be incorporated to give some extra value behind the title, and a reason to keep coming back to it beyond score-chasing.
Make no mistake, Devil Daggers is ultimately a one trick pony. Since your only incentive to play is basically to see how long you can survive, anything said about replayability for Devil Daggers will ultimately depend on the player and their personal expectations. This makes the game tricky to recommend, because a very small niche would perhaps relish in the challenge the game presents while not minding the lack of features found in the final product.
Ultimately Devil Daggers is a well-made game, but a very shallow one. It comes across as content-filled tech demo by Sorath, one designed to showcase gameplay and graphical ideas before utilizing those assets on a much bigger project. Perhaps that is simply not the case, and Devil Daggers is the arcade-style game they always wanted to make, but the simple lack of variety does hold its back from being an instant classic. In truth, Devil Daggers will likely get lost in the shuffle of Greenlight games in the future, which is a shame because I look forward to seeing what Sorath can do with their games if they can support a bigger budget or development team.
I shouldn’t be too hard on Devil Daggers though. It's the perfect filler game, that small title you pop in for a few minutes a day and mess around with, trying to improve upon your score or just feeling like killing time before something bigger. It honestly would make a fantastic mobile game, and at the low price of $4.99, Devil Daggers is certainly worth a look. So if the prospect of a 90’s looking arcade FPS sounds promising, give the devil its due and try Devil Daggers for yourself.
Devil Daggers was reviewed on Steam using a code provided by the developer.
A well made, but ultimately shallow game, Devil Daggers is a good showcase piece for indie developer Sorath, and a decent score-chaser arcade game to kill some time with.