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Down To Hell

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ultimate Games
Developer: Red Dev Studio
Release Date: Dec. 23, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Down to Hell'

by Cody Medellin on April 3, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Down To Hell is 2D slasher game with challenging difficulty and unique style inspired by metal music.

Based on the title, you'd expect Down the Hell to be another gothic adventure game following in the footsteps of titles like Bloodborne, but with a 2D look rather than a 3D one. If you're a seasoned player, maybe you'd expect the title to be nowhere near classic status but decent enough for undiscerning players to give it a fair shot. What you wouldn't expect is a title that is bug-free but still has so many issues that you'd question how it got this far in the first place. Yet here we are with a title that easily qualifies as one of the worst experiences on the Nintendo Switch system.

As the story goes, you are a nameless knight who knows nothing but war and seeks it out to satiate his thirst for rage. He lands upon his version of heaven in the form of a land filled with demons, but his fate is sealed when a horde of monsters overwhelms him. On the verge of death, he is saved by a mysterious woman who is almost immediately kidnapped by a horned demon. With his life restored, the nameless knight goes off on a journey to kill this beast.

From beginning to end, the narrative in Down to Hell does everything in its power to make you despise it. For starters, the various translation issues make the game both unintentionally funny and head-shakingly bad; you know what they're trying to say, but it doesn't come through. The narrator paints a world of hatred and evil, and the knight's childhood is full of suffering and ridicule. The angst is painted on so thick that it is reminiscent of terrible fiction that is trying desperately to be edgy for shock value. The knight embodies this completely; he is unlikeable, and every line he spits out is dumber than the last. The proclamation that he's going to save the woman to prove that he didn't need to be saved comes off as asinine. This is one protagonist whose disappearance might elicit cheers, since you wouldn't have to suffer through his idiocy.

Down to Hell takes on the form of a side-scroller with a mix of Dark Souls mechanics. You have a dash move that gives you the necessary thrust to speed across the battlefield and make large leaps to out-of-the-way platforms. You have a set of combos created from light and heavy sword attacks that can be used to kill enemy mobs, but it takes some stamina in the process. Your lone magic spell is a fireball that you can use from a distance, and you have potions to refill your health and stamina so you can keep fighting. There are some upgrades along the way to improve your overall stats, but you'll rely on these core abilities throughout the title's three-hour journey.

Before pointing out everything that's wrong with the game, it is worth mentioning that there are some good things about the presentation. While the voice acting of the narrator is serious enough to make you chuckle and the effects are fine, the constant heavy metal music might be pleasing enough to those who are fans of the genre, regardless of the quality of the tracks here. Graphically, the backgrounds look quite nice. The grim landscapes are painted over with a blur effect to produce an illusion of distance, and the colors make it look pretty despite the setting.

However, the graphics also do an active job of making the gameplay experience frustrating. The monsters are mostly indiscernible blobs of red and black that move without any animation transitions. Worse yet, the color scheme for the environments and the monsters is so similar that you can easily get damaged or killed because you didn't realize that you stumbled across a flying demon, a fountain of blood and limbs, or a bush of grabbing hands. Only the bosses look distinct, but the animation issues remain there as well, robbing them of their initial gross-but-cool factor.

The camera also plays a big part in making the experience miserable, as it misbehaves all the time. Every attack makes the camera zoom in as the animation starts, and the camera pulls back as the animation cycle ends. When you consider how often you'll swing at foes, the camera movement is both annoying and disorienting. The zooming in and out occurs even when you dole out a flurry of quick attacks in rapid succession. When you aren't in combat, you'll notice that the camera zoom outs when there's no real need, but it zooms in just as you need to make crucial jumps.

Combat is another area that isn't executed well. Despite there being a stamina system, your light attacks drain no stamina at all, so constantly spamming the light attacks button is your only viable strategy, since you'll want something left over for when you need to make an emergency dash. The constant flurry of light attacks also means that it's impossible to get in a killing blow, even though it doesn't look cinematic or impressive. It's a technique you need to learn, though, since it can refill your health in place of a potion. Dashing is the only defensive maneuver you have, as the window to parry is so tight that it feels impossible to pull off, and your knight apparently never learned how to duck. It doesn't help that enemies have a tendency to spawn on top of you when you're trapped in a kill zone, and the level design is such that you'll always take on damage before a big boss fight. It's a sure sign of level design that aims to punish players rather than provide them with some challenge and fun.

There's barely anything salvageable in Down to Hell. The backgrounds look nice enough, and the music is decent if you aren't too picky about your metal. Everything else is a cautionary example of the kinds of sins that game developers should avoid. Even if you were to find the title for less than $1, there are a plethora of similar games on the Switch that do a much better job, so there's no reason to look in the direction of Down to Hell.

Score: 3.0/10

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