Bullet hell shooters are a funny old genre. It’s one that’s primarily kept alive by a hardcore audience that are dedicated to mastering arcane scoring systems—with strict demands on both memory and dexterity.
Despite their niche appeal, it hasn’t stopped less masochistic video games from taking elements from them. If you’ve played NieR: Automata, Hades, or Furi, you’ll have some experience dodging massive, tightly knotted waves of projectiles. Godstrike is more focussed than these titles, centering its approach to the genre around a boss rush, with some interesting tweaks.
Set in a fantasy world where an island was doomed to corruption after an ancient godlike entity was sealed away within it, you play Talaal, an explorer who is drawn to the island, and comes across a mask of her own, allowing her to battle the ancient deities and extinguish the evil once and for all.
Talaal does this by engaging in bullet hell ballets with a series of bosses, each with its own arena, patterns of attacks and theming. Presented through a low-poly neon aesthetic, Godstrike keeps things simple visually so that you can focus on the only thing that matters: weaving your way through waves and waves and waves of bullets.
Unlike the games that birthed the genre, Godstrike’s patterns are fairly forgiving—I certainly didn’t reach for the Easy Mode option on defeat more than once or twice—but they still retain the appeal that comes from recognising patterns, and mastering the navigation of them, all whilst keeping on the pressure.
The game’s most novel aspect is that you don’t have a health bar. Each battle comes with a timer that is around four to six minute long. As you take damage, seconds are dedicated from this timer. By default, each bullet saps away around 15 seconds, though some attacks will take more. When you hit zero seconds, you don’t die, but are instead put into a state where taking a hit from even one bullet will kill you.
This is a particularly inspired choice. It stops the game from being too punishing, instead giving you opportunities to figure out strategies around getting hit at certain moments, in order to land guaranteed damage. Battles are mostly well-paced so that you’ll end up with maybe 30 seconds to spare, if you’ve taken a few hits. More often than not, you’ll cling on to a final slither of health as you whittle away at a boss’s health bar.
Each boss has multiple health bars to chew through, and as you knock them out they’ll change attack modes. A boss rush game is only as strong as its menagerie, and Godstrike puts on a decent showing here, borrowing lightly from expected shoot ’em up archetypes, such as a static enemy that emits pulsing waves, to a worm that pops out of holes, which must be tackled segment by segment. There are more novel encounters too, like the two floating glyphs, one light and one dark, which requires you to target the glyph, that reveals its vulnerability based on the colour of the arena.
Sadly, the sticking point is that the difficulty across these bosses is wildly erratic. Some earlier bosses, such as a creepy giant floating skull, present a hefty challenge, whilst later bosses—like a big water beast—are a pushover. In story mode, this uneven difficulty curve is due to the pace at which power ups are doled out.
Whilst there are a wide variety of power ups on offer, many of them begin to feel redundant due to the sheer power of others. Before each fight you may check in at two codexes that contain active skills and passive buffs. The active skills add a handicap to your time, in exchange for powerful abilities that can be mapped to the shoulder buttons: teleports, shields, rapid fire, powerful beams and so on. These are charged by souls that bosses can drop on damage. Grab enough and a skill is, and will remain charged until used; these don’t siphon their charges from a shared pool.
Passive buffs include faster movement speed, rotating shields, increased firing rate and more. Each boss unlocks two of each, and as you go through the game your arsenal gets more powerful. Sometimes you can even use these skills to rampage through otherwise challenging segments, whereas earlier fights require finesse and planning.
It’s not the biggest issue, but it does make the progression uneven. Some bosses had me stumped for an hour. Others died before I could even see all of their attacks, thanks to a few choice combos. As an interesting wrinkle, an arena mode lets you tackle any boss with all of the abilities, including a whole array of new ones. This means there is certainly a consideration for how earlier bosses interact with powerful combos. Swapping around the bosses the power up handouts in story mode might alleviate this issue, especially as there is no real narrative progression to either order.
An absolute blast
Godstrike is a treat, if a slightly messy one. There’s a clear debt to bullet hell shooters, with the game largely inspired by Furi, which also had clear shoot ‘em up-inspired sections in its boss gauntlet. Godstrike doubles down on nailing the feeling of working out a pattern, and dismantling a complex boss as you effortlessly dodge a tapestry of gunfire, whilst adding the great risk-reward mechanic of the timer-as-health-bar.
The progression difficulty leaves a little to be desired, but when you see an enemy churn out a whole screen of projectiles—and know that if you stand just so, you’ll be able to dodge everything without moving—it all clicks into place. For players who are hooked on achieving that feeling of mastery, Godstrike is going to be a surefire win, with challenges and arena modes offering deeper layers to mine. In short, Godstrike is a wonderful, accessible paean to a niche genre.