Deathstate

Deathstate is not only visceral fun in its own right; it also makes for fantastic training for danmaku shooting games, and a great distraction from them if you want something a little different. It scratches the itch of shooting and dodging in a very satisfying way, and out-Isaacs the Binding of Isaac while it’s at it.

The game is a “single stick shooter”, by which they mean you only control movement and the usage of your activated items. The movement feels fluid and natural, and it’s worth noting that the developers absolutely nailed the feeling of a true danmaku shoot-em-up, even down to things as subtle as the speed of enemy bullets, or the size of the hitbox proportional to your character sprite (not too tiny, not too fat). Your character automatically targets the closest enemy, and fires without stopping. This frees up more brainspace for you to focus on positioning and managing the enemy horde, within which always lurks a few stronger and more threatening enemies that need to be eliminated quickly despite the popcorn piling up in front of them.

There is technically a 2nd stick at work, here: using the right analog stick on a gamepad will activate a dash dodge ability that you can use to get yourself out of bad spots. I don’t know if this figures in more at higher level play than my own, but I find relying on it tends to actually end up killing me faster than if I simply played more cautiously in the first place. YMMV of course, but there are ways to herd bullets into lines and create gaps through them without relying on a dodge, and these are still just as effective as they would be in any other shooter.

The game features a (unlockable, but easily so) dynamic difficulty system called Desecration. You can find altars and desecrate them to raise the difficulty level of the game for the rest of that run, giving enemies more health, denser bullet patterns, and in some cases “suicide bullets” fired when they die (think Ketsui on the Ura loop, or 2nd-loop Dodonpachi). There’s also an Insanity Portal option, turned on before the run begins, that cranks up the difficulty right from the get-go. It presents a significant challenge, even for someone with 1CCs of other games under their belt.

There is a pretty sizeable pool of items you can find, mostly in the form of ingestable organs, with a smattering of swords and books and other relics sprinkled in. These unlock as you play, and I appreciate that a lot of attention has been paid to making sure that (for the most part) there aren’t any that are useless or actively bad, with the possible current exception of items that change your firing to a burst or flurry, which removes your ability to handle the game’s popcorn hordes with any sense of grace.

Grace is the key word with Deathstate. It’s fluid and fun in an immediately gratifying way, and is the kind of game where you’ll “Just One More Run” yourself into the ground, only noticing too late that it’s 1 in the morning and where did your whole day go?

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