Helvetii is the second title developed by Team KwaKwa and the most recent title published by Red Art Game, boasting quite an impressive track record of publishing indie gems. Will this Gaelic Celtic inspired Action Roguelike be another winning run? Choose a character, pray to the gods of RNG and read on.
Helvetii is set around hundred years B.C in Gaul, after a war has broken out a Roman Warchief called Divico calls a pact with a mysterious being to help him win, when victory is ensured the land is cursed and monsters and rot consume the land. Not being one to take this betrayal lying down, Divico teams up with a Druid and a Half-Man/Half-Beast to right his wrongs and return Gaul to its former state.
The story is an interesting premise and helps set the tone for the types of enemies and locales that you’ll be throwing down in, the presentation of the story isn’t done in the most engaging manner which is partly down to the genre of the game.
Helvetii is a roguelite which anyone familiar with the genre will know that cutscenes and narrative progression tend to be fairly far apart or done with in-game items/lore drops, this is what happens here with Helvetii. The opening cutscene and set up is really strong but what follows it is an almost drip fed which is a shame, it took far too long to grip me after the starting line and by the end of the game it had all congealed into a rather generic feeling fantasy game.
You’ll notice from the screenshots that Helvetii has quite a striking art style, a very vibrant almost storybook style aesthetic which really does look as good in motion as it does in the screens. People familiar with a certain developer may also notice that it bares a little more than a resemblance to titles from Vanillaware, games like Dragon’s Crown, Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Odin’s Sphere, I can’t confirm how intentional this is as there isn’t any mention on the Steam or E-Shop page but this title was touted to us as “Vanillaware Inspired” and this isn’t a derogatory term.
Being there are few titles that match the visual fidelity of the aforementioned titles, Helvetii inspired or not does a fantastic job of not only matching these but also putting a slightly european twist on things with its enemies, the bosses and the settings without being slightly too over the top like Dragon’s Crown, there aren’t any overly busty witches in this title and it’s all the better for it.
Character, Enemy and Boss Design as I just touched on are all fantastic in game, the cutscenes have a slightly rougher art style to them with a pseudo anime/fantasy look to them but massive props to the shopkeeper art which is one of the best drawn pictures of an Owl I have seen in gaming, it’s a weird flex but it really stuck with me.
Finally I have to mention that Helvetii has an absolutely fantastic soundtrack composed by Dale North and sung by Emi Evans both of which hold quite a prestige amongst gaming and provide a soundtrack which keeps you engaged in the mystery of the game but also know when to crank it up to 10 and get your blood pumping.
Helvetii is described as a Character-Action game with some roguelite elements, forgive me if I have mixed the term up as I always struggle with the Lite/Like aspects of the genre but think of the game as a mix of Golden Axe with the randomly generated loot drops and level design of titles like Hades.
The combat is fantastic and intuitive, within a matter of moments you’ll have figured out the best way to tackle the games enemies who telegraph their attacks allowing you ample time to dodge out of the way and juggle them into oblivion, fortunately it isn’t overly in depth in terms of attack commands, it lies closer to the scrolling beat-em-up genre rather than involving commands seen in Street Fighter or Guilty Gear.
There is a slight lack of audio feedback when it comes to the combat which can throw you off a little, one of the main grabs of the beat-em-up genre is just how meaty the combat should feel and the lack of audio gratification here does make the combat feel a little lighter than it should but it’s a fleeting feeling when you really get into the game and take on some of the cleverly designed bosses.
The roguelike aspects involve the level design, this changes with every run and can determine how far you get into the game, some runs you’ll find plenty of stat boosting and healing items which will help you see victory where as some runs can see you hitting trap after trap and tough battles wearing you down before you reach the boss room.
Most rooms involve you entering and having to fight off a horde of enemies until the forcefield disappears and then allows you to choose a route towards the boss, some paths will produce more treasure where-as others are a more direct route towards the big nasty themself.
Being roguelike there are things that transfer from run to run and stuff that doesn’t, sadly the only thing that stays with your characters are the bonuses you get from beating the stages boss, everything else will only stay with you until death, this means you’ll be spending all your gold in your run to hopefully boost your stats enough to stand toe-to-toe with the challenges thrown at you in that run, should you die then you’re going to be starting all over again with only muscle memory and knowledge gained.
With such a strong visual and audio style it’s a shame that Helvetii doesn’t do more with the interesting concept of fusing beat-em-ups with the rougelite genre, it would have been interesting to have a few more consistent upgrades to see you gradually customising your build but what we have on offer here while not quite hitting the heights expected, still offers a fun experience.
All in all, Helvetii is a good game that doesn’t quite manage to hit the heights of titles like Hades or Streets of Rage 4 and instead occupies an interesting area of the gaming market where it’s a great idea just not fully realised. The visuals and audio are brilliant and the combat does has that certain addictive kick to it to keep you playing but the poorly presented narrative and diet roguelite elements hold the title back from being something truly special.
An Icarus of a game, flying so close to the sun it’s burning, melting the glue (gameplay)
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