Last night during my Twitch broadcast–trying a new schedule–I played Outland and Rabi-Ribi, two Metroidvania-style platformers and while playing them I noticed something I hadn’t before, even as a fan of the platforming genre and the metroidvania subgenre and it’s how often these games have bullet-hell elements, where part of the challenge is to avoid countless damaging projectiles as part of traversing the environment and defeating the bosses placed in front of us.

How many of us made countless attempts against Mother Brain in the early Metroid Games, avoiding ludicrous amounts of attacks all for that attack window to use super missiles against her glass shell. How many times did a fight in Mega Man not consist of just avoiding crazy attack patterns from Dr. Wily and Sigma’s minions and contraptions? Symphony of the Night and other Castlevanias after it also feature these situations, as does Ori and the Blind Forest and Axion Verge. The platforming genre and the bullet hell have had a long history together.

And it makes sense, after all, platforming is all about careful movement, using the environment to push forward avoiding hazards and there are few hazards as challenging as a cloud of projectiles bouncing around the room. They change the rhythm of the games, forcing players to learn to recognise pattern and flow in addition to the spacing between platforms and the positions of other hazards. They boost the challenge, but also the sense of elation once you learn to see through the complex patterns and cross the rooms without ever stopping.

And in those platforming games with combat elements, the bullet hell factor makes bosses much more enjoyable. Some may disagree with the increased challenge, of course, but for those of us who relish the challenge, there’s nothing like finally learning those complex patterns and finding the openings to defeat the bosses, that point where the once hectic game doesn’t seem as fast anymore.

I don’t know why I didn’t realise it before, maybe it’s because only now I’m playing action platformers and metroidvania games in a row. That’s why I’m noticing the common trends and tropes. Makes me wonder though, how many other platformers I’ve played have bullet hell components. The latest entry into Strider–a few years ago–definitely counts for it. Do the Super Mario Bros. games have bullet hell components? In the original title, the castles at the end of each world have increasingly complex hazards involving projectiles and spinning blades of fire, as do the boats and fortresses in Super Mario Bros. 3, but are they really bullet hell or do you need to have segments where avoidance is the only thing you can do, for it to fall into this category? One identifying factor for bullet hell, when it comes to bosses is this: there is no escape, you can’t out-range the projectiles and must actively avoid them.

I’m curious now and will further into this. This week a new Metroidvania releases, once that I’ve been looking forward to, Sundered, so I’ll have a chance to see if bullet hell is once again a feature of the game.

What do you think? How would you define bullet hell from a platformer perspective? Do Super Mario Bros. Games have bullet hell components or not?

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