I find myself in something of a quandary. On one hand, I love roguelikes, and on the other, I struggle with the precision required for most platformers. 99 Levels To Hell is both. And so it is that I’m barely able to get a fifth of the way through the game, and yet feel compelled to keep on playing it.
The basic game is standard stuff. You pick a character with unique characteristics (although only one is available when you first start) and attempt to work your way through the 99 levels. To complete a level, you must first collect a key to be found somewhere on the map, and then go through a door, killing (or avoiding) anything that gets in your way. Sounds simple, and also boring. But ahh, the twists.
Twist #1: The levels are randomly generated. Each time you play, a given level will have a different arrangement of ladders, platforms and destructible blocks. And the keys and exits will be in different places.
Twist #2: Although it isn’t immediately obvious, each level is timed. Dither for too long and a warning will flash up, instructing you to “get out now!”. There’ll be rising smoke and ghosts will come at you. Your heart rate will increase as you panic to get out.
Twist #3: You can collect items that will help you. This can be new weapons or so-called “symbols” which activate a special ability. You can only carry one of each type of item, so part of the fun is in risking taking some new item over a familiar one.
Twist #4: You get bombs, which can be used as a weapon, or to gain access to otherwise blocked areas.
Twist #5: Every tenth level is a boss. You know they’re coming and will probably kill you.
Twist #6: When you die, it’s back to the very beginning (unless you have defeated a specific boss, in which case you can opt to play from that point onwards, sans any powerups).
Which brings us to the maddest twist of all…
Twist #7: You can skip some levels entirely. Through various means, most notably elevator rooms, you can simply be transported forwards a few levels.
I haven’t mentioned the slot machines, which allow you to gamble away your hard-earned gold (and health in some cases!), the frequent shops that offer a variety of pickups and other items, or the random rooms that feature narrated backstory, but they’re all there, and in fact it’s hard to find fault with the game, as it delivers on its promise.
If you’re looking for a roguelike with a faster pulse, or a platformer with a new take on things, you’ll find 99 Levels a hell of a lot of fun.
Performance & Quality
The art style works very nicely, lending a cheerful, cutesy look neatly juxtaposed against the blood-spattered carnage that inevitably ensues. As is the way of things, any game with a satanic theme must be accompanied by a rousing metal soundtrack (which you can listen to here).
Setting up the controller for this proved to be a nightmare, as the default button mapping is completely wrong. There’s no way to reset settings (configured via an external launcher) to defaults without trashing the save game file.