The mobile ecosystem has done pretty alright with shoot-em-ups over the course of its history. Indeed, some of the earliest cell phone games were shooters. When the iPhone launched, we soon had a bunch of great conversions of Cave’s arcade shooters amid a number of indie games. Sky Force, Phoenix, Danmaku Unlimited, .Decluster, and more have provided us with a steady stream of enjoyable experiences in the genre. I think we can add another log to that cozy fire with the release of Bullet Hell Heroes (Free), a shooter that applies a less common theme to some familiar gameplay.
Well, less common than spaceships or military craft, I guess. Fans of the genre will be more than a little familiar with the Touhou Project shooters, which opt for cute characters instead of deadly craft. Bullet Hell Heroes openly admits its inspiration from those games, and it’s not as though it’s alone in that. This game offers up a whopping twenty-five different heroes to use, each with their own shot and special move. Sure, there’s a shrine maiden in there, but you also get more typical RPG-style heroes to round things out. There’s a good variety here, and it’s fun trying to find the heroes that fit your play style best.
But a hero shouldn’t set out alone, right? In this game, you don’t just choose one hero for the quest. At first you can bring three with you, with additional slots available via IAPs. These effectively function as extra lives. If your first hero is shot down, the next one will jump in. Run out of heroes and you fail the quest. It’s up to you how you want to build your team, but there isn’t a whole lot of strategizing since the means of swapping characters is to kill the current one. It mostly comes down to whether you want to put your strongest character first or last. Well, that’s not nothing.
The controls work as you would expect if you’ve played any mobile shooters in the last decade or so. Drag your finger around to move your character, and tap a second finger down to use your character’s special move. You can only do that if you have sufficient MP, of course. Each hero starts off with a full MP bar and the amount consumed depends on the move. You can rebuild MP by grazing shots, nudging you towards that popular mechanic. If you’re bold, you can tee up your special moves at a surprisingly steady pace, and that’s always fun. Since your MP bar caps out, you can’t stockpile too many of these moves, which encourages you to use them instead of just trying to hoard them for the boss battles. Oh, I should also mention that if you have an external controller, the game offers support for that. Either method works fine.
There are more than twenty different quests to play, each one consisting of a short stage followed by a multi-stage boss battle. While the stages aren’t anything special, I do appreciate that the game isn’t just a series of boss fights. I like to have that little warm-up before the main event, so to speak. The boss battles are naturally the stars of the show, and each one of them is a blast to tackle. They all have their own patterns that can often surprise you, keeping you on your toes as you whittle down their life bars. You can play each of the quests at five different difficulty levels, though you’ll have to earn the right to play the two highest ones. There are also Boss Rush stages to challenge if you’re looking for more to do, adding up to a rather substantial amount of content all-up.
Since I’ve briefly mentioned the topic of unlocking, let’s talk about how everything works in that regard here. At the start of the game, you have access to three heroes. The rest of them are all locked, and the means of gaining access to them varies. Some require you to beat a specific number of quests at certain difficulty levels. Some are bought with the money you collect by playing stages and checking off the game’s achievements. Almost half of them are bought with real money via IAPs, selling for a couple of bucks each. If you’re unlocking the non-IAP characters legit, you’ve got a bit of a task ahead of you, but it’s one that gives the game a solid sense of purpose and a pleasing trickle of new things to try. I kind of like that set-up. That said, even once you have the heroes there are lots of ways to spend your in-game cash. Each hero can be upgraded in various ways, and it will take a lot of playing to max out everyone.
Alright, let’s talk about the monetization. Dirty business, but when a game is free to download and play there has to be some way to pay the developer’s air conditioning bills. First up, there are ads. Unskippable ones, and they’re fairly frequent. The game will compensate you for watching them, but they can be annoying. Drop four bucks and they’re gone forever, with an additional hero slot and a coin doubler thrown in for your pleasure. There’s an IAP you can buy for a couple of dollars for an extra hero slot, and it’s available to buy twice. You can pay a couple of bucks for a ton of coins, and that’s available to buy as many times as you like. Finally, there’s an IAP you can pick up for four bucks that unlocks every hero in the game. Don’t buy those individual hero unlocks, in other words.
If you want to fully unlock everything in Bullet Hell Heroes, you’re looking at spending a rather reasonable twelve American dollars. I think the quality of the game supports that price, and you can certainly get by with one or two IAPs if you feel like it. Heck, you can get by with none of them if you don’t mind ads and the idea of missing out on heroes. But I do want to talk about that IAP that unlocks all of the heroes, because I think it’s in a weird place. It really does unlock all of the heroes, including the ones you would normally get by completing certain objectives and spending coins. That takes some of the fun out of the meta progression, in my opinion, so I think you’re almost better off waiting until you’ve unlocked the non-IAP heroes before buying this one. There are a lot of wrong ways to spend your money with this game, and that isn’t something you want to worry about while trying to enjoy a game.
Sigh, two paragraphs on monetization. Well, hopefully that’s all properly explained now. I should stress that the game itself is well-made and a lot of fun. I like that the developer went to the trouble of making backgrounds and pixel art monsters, heroes, and so on to fill things out instead of just going with simple shapes. Not that I mind that kind of thing, but it’s cool to see some non-abstract visuals now and then. I liked experimenting with various “parties" of heroes, and some of the special moves are quite unique and interesting to find a use for. There is a lot of stuff packed in here, and it’s all of very good quality. I think any fan of bullet hell shooters will be more than happy with what Bullet Hell Heroes has to offer. Just make sure you shop responsibly when it comes to those IAPs.