99 Levels to Hell is a roguelike platformer where you slowly descend through the titular 99 levels of dungeons, caves and more on your way to Hell. I assume, I didn’t get past level 22 so please consider this a review from someone who is apparently not very good at roguelike platformers.
Unlike the finesse that is evident immediately in games like Rogue Legacy – 99 Levels starts you off with a shotgun that decimates everything in the first ten levels. Of course as you go you might be able to find upgrades, bombs, gold and special artifacts to increase your firepower – but you never feel like you’re on the back foot. Gameplayi nvolves hunting for keys and doors while hopping about merrily blasting everything in sight. Once you unlock more characters (or find pickups in chest or stores) you can use different weapons like the equally powerful machine gun or desperately confusing bubble gun – but at no point (in the first 22 levels) do the enemies feel like a significant threat.
The challenge instead comes from the graphics and some sneaky tricks by the developer (the whole game was made by a single guy). You see as you plough through all the hundreds of enemies they give out a lot of blood. Red blood. Guess what colour the smallest enemies in the game are? Every bit of damage you get is equal, symbolised by a single heart, and you only get a few of these hearts before you die. Mowing down a legion of undead is made significantly less fun when a tiny little red flying dot can take out a huge chunk of your health, but I guess that’s part of the challenge. There’s also spike traps, webs, larger demons and much more, but it’s always the little ones that get you.
There’s quite a few little gimmicks spread throughout the levels like a lift that will take you to another nearby level at random (but it could go up, heading to a level you’ve already completed), there’s shops staffed by what appears to be Dante from Clerks, there’s gambling machines that use either hearts or gold – with the heart one having the chance to kick out some impressive items if you’re willing to risk the health, and there’s the ghosts that appear if you take too long. Like many roguelikes, the game doesn’t want you to spend ages checking every nook and cranny so if you spend more than a few minutes on a level some invincible ghosts will move through the walls to come and kill you.
The highlight of the game is definitely the boss battles. The graphics are fine with some snazzy lighting effects covering up some quite basic looking sprites, but the have some nice designs and have some interesting little techniques to overcome. The first one requires you to jump down into a hole to avoid the charge, but if you’re not careful the holes get filled with rats that can kill you surprisingly quickly. There’s a boss every ten levels so you can rush to them if you want and as upgrades aren’t particularly meaningful or easy to find it’s probably worth just doing that and trying your luck.
While 99 Levels is nowhere near as accomplished, beautiful or interesting as Rogue Legacy or Spelunky, it is very cheap and with high scores and the ‘just one more try’ mentality it’s easily worth the money and a hell of an accomplishment for a single developer. It’s currently only £3.99 on Steam which is less than a burger. You can while away an evening on it and have a lot of fun jumping around laying waste to everything in the dungeons – especially if you’re better at it than I was.