In Devil Daggers, Survival a Simple but Daunting Task

Avi Vogel, Columnist

They’re chasing me.

I turn around to fire off a quick spread shot of daggers with a single click of my mouse, vaporizing three of the dozens of giant floating skulls. The bright orange of my projectiles illuminates just enough space for me to see the hovering red gem just offstage. But just as I start running toward it, a hoarse laughter echoes from behind and a twin-horned skull takes me out. The screen goes dark. I look at the time. The counter reads 65.4782 seconds — not bad, but I can do better. I tap the R key and promise myself: just one more run.

This is the essence of Devil Daggers, a first-person shooter that came out last week for PC. You control a hand, which may or may not be attached to a person. The game starts when you walk forward into a giant spinning knife. Once you touch it, your hand glows, and you gain the ability to fire knives as projectiles. The movement is fast, the enemies plentiful and the difficulty blistering.

The goal of Devil Daggers is simple: survive. To do that, you weave through enemies, shooting knives at tentacled spires and the skulls they spawn, picking up crystals in the hope that you survive long enough for that next upgrade. Eventually, you learn the quirks of enemies. Skulls without horns turn slowly; the horned ones don’t come at you if you’re looking at them; the giant spider head sucks up gems and needs to be taken down quickly. Learning these tools helps you get just that much better. That’s really all there is to this game.

As of now, there’s no known endgame, there isn’t any story, and the only space you inhabit is a small circular platform around which you run in circles. But that just means the game is focused. In Devil Daggers, there are only three things that can be assessed: gameplay, which consists entirely of shooting and running, audio and visuals.

On the gameplay front, the controls are incredibly tight. Your character is slightly slower than enemies, but figuring out how to elude them is incredibly satisfying. In games like this, where death can be incredibly frustrating, I sometimes can’t help but feel that the game design is ultimately unfair. But that isn’t the case with Devil Daggers. Did a skull kill me from behind? That’s because I was running straight for too long without turning. Did I forget to clear the entire last wave? I’m going to suffer the repercussions. Losing is all up to the player, and if you’re like me, each death will teach you a lesson.

If there is one aspect of Devil Daggers that’s disappointing, it would be the graphics. The enemies and characters are low-resolution models that evoke the days of the original PlayStation or even earlier fast-paced shooters. But for me, these graphics fit the aesthetic and functionality of the game perfectly. The color palette uses bright oranges, deep reds and grainy browns so that the player never loses track of central on-screen elements. In a game as punishing as this, that’s a necessity.

The sound is haunting. There’s barely any music, and the sounds of the various enemies induce a sense of primal stress. Giant skulls and floating spiders are visually terrifying, but when you factor in a quiet, high-pitched scream the distance or the sound of clacking bones as skulls are thrown out of spawners, the feeling is downright unsettling. The sound is simple and effective, keeping me tense no matter how many runs I’ve attempted.

Devil Daggers is an awesome game. It’s cohesive, it’s tense and it makes me want to get better at it each time I play. However, the same parts of me that love this game make me hesitant to recommend it to everyone. Some might not like the punishing difficulty, while others might decry its repetitive nature.

As for me, I’ve got Devil Daggers running on my computer right now, and the skulls are laughing. So here I go again.