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99 Levels to Hell (PC) artwork

99 Levels to Hell (PC) review

"What a fantastic death abyss!"

99 Levels to Hell (PC) image

99 Levels to Hell is not your standard Rogue clone. Rather than stuffing you into a convoluted network of chambers and hallways, it plays more like a classic arcade platformer with run 'n gun shooter elements. While negotiating a network of platforms and ladders in a procedurally generated environment, you blast your way through countless demonic entities in an effort to recover a key. Once you acquire it, you can then exit through a certain door and begin the process anew. Along the way, you must also abide an undisplayed time limit. Failure to do so will result in very aggressive music, followed by a swarm of immortal ghosts. Think of the overall experience as a masochistic amalgam of Rogue, Bubble Bobble, and Metal Slug...

...from hell, of course.

Let's face it: ninety-nine levels of snatching keys and walking through doors whilst avoiding unspeakable horrors would make for a drawn out, tedious experience. Thankfully, each stage offers plenty of randomly generated stimuli to distract you from your mundane overall goal. For instance, destructible barrels, crates, and chests litter each stage. Smashing one generates either a restorative goodie or some cash, which you can spend in shops and casinos. Such common items aren't the main attraction, though. What most inspired me to explore was the plethora of power-ups 99 Levels has it store for its players. You can secure new guns, artillery upgrades, and powerful symbols (read: spells), for example. So if you've been toting a wearisome weapon and are itching for an exchange, you might eventually be lucky enough to trade it for laser or a cannon, and even increase the strength or range of your new weapon. Combine that with a Skull symbol, which wipes out an entire legion of foes, or a damaging Pentagram, and you'll be set for the next boss encounter.

99 Levels to Hell (PC) image

Unfortunately, if you die, there is no option to continue. Should you amass a wonderful assortment of doodads and bite the dust, they will be gone for good. This is even worse when you begin the game, as the only character available is the magician. He may look cool, but he has a meager amount of health and a musket with horribly short attack range. Suffice it to say that items and power-ups are a must when playing with this cat, and it stings something fierce when he falls.

Fret not, though, because 99 Levels is actually quite forgiving. For starters, defeating a boss unlocks a door in the game's hub that allows you to warp to a different world (a themed block of ten levels). Defeating the fifth boss, for instance, gives you access to level fifty-one. It's great that this feature is in place. I couldn't imagine playing through the entire shebang on one life. Even better than the unlockable warps is the presence of three additional characters, each equipped with weapons superior to the magician's. With a little effort, you can enlist the major and his machine gun, recruit the hunter and his scoped rifle, and--wait for it--free the dragon and his bubble launcher. Does the last one sound familiar, or is it just me?

99 Levels to Hell (PC) image

No matter how many upgrades you snag, which gunner you settle on, or how far ahead you decide to warp, 99 Levels will always find a variety of ways to test you. Your adversaries will become more annoying with each passing stage. Within the seventh world, for instance, dwells a speedy robot who rushes towards you and attempts to self-destruct when aggroed. On top of that, these suckers usually work alongside another kind of mechanical goon that bombards you with explosive orbs. Other worlds toss similarly vile challenges your way, including erratically moving spiders, giant bats that split into smaller bats when shot, platforms that generate bombs, massive saw blades, slithering aliens, powerful winged demons, farting maggots... pretty much anything that might be found in a heavy metal music video, and scores of them. Some levels are so riddled with enemies and obstacles that you won't be able to move without tripping over one. That's when swearing starts...

Sadly, at times the game can be cheap because of its randomized nature. You never know when you're going to spawn right next to kamikaze-bot and suffer damage (or even die) through no fault of your own. What's worse is when the game fails to offer decent power ups. I had a few sessions myself where the game kept giving me lackluster weapons or upgrades I didn't need. I usually met the next boss with an inadequate setup because of this, and croaked shortly thereafter.

99 Levels to Hell (PC) image

What grinds my gears more than occasional cheapness is the game's glitches. Understand, now, that I'm not saying that the game is infested with bugs. It's just that I've fallen victim to some uncommon, session-breaking glitches, each of which left a sour taste in my mouth. On a couple of occasions, I couldn't finish a stage because the key had somehow become lodged in the wall. Since I couldn't secure it, I had to restart the game. One bug that really, REALLY pissed me off involved an exit that wouldn't let me through. I had the key and the door was obviously unlocked, yet no matter how many times I pressed the 'A' button, the game wouldn't let me leave. Eventually, a pack of ghosts surrounded me and drained my life. While drawing my dying breath, the game acquiesced to let me through the door. I perished as I entered the next stage, then a most curious message popped up announcing that I had completed the dungeon and unlocked the next world. Never mind that I was only halfway through the world I was currently progressing through, and that I hadn't killed a boss. Upon returning to the hub, I happened to notice that the next world was indeed open. In the interests of fair play, I decided not exploit this unexpected advantage.

I won't say that 99 Levels to Hell is a perfect game. However, as an arcade-style action title that slightly tips its hat to Rogue, I found it amusing and sometimes addictive. It may not be a terribly complex title, but that's okay. What the game lacks in depth, it makes up in simple, enjoyable mayhem. Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes that's all I ask for…


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Freelance review by Joseph Shaffer (March 01, 2014)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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