Devil Daggers is an unusual creature: part twitchy firstperson score-attack shooter, part horror game. It’s compulsive and repulsive at the same time, working both as an expertly designed test of skill, but also a test of nerve set in a dimly lit circle of hell. When the game asks you to seize the floating dagger to start the round, it’s a fraught moment. It’s a chance to add a few precious seconds to your best time, but it places you moments away from a traumatic death.
The dagger is your only weapon against the hordes of hell. Seize it and the small circular arena starts to fill with floating egg-sacks that vomit roaming skulls into the air every few seconds. You fend them off with an infinite stream of daggers – fired rapidly from your fingers – but only for a short time. Soon, new tentacled creatures spawn on the edge of the dark circle. Hordes of spiders begin hatching from eggs. Huge snakes start arcing overhead. The horde pursues you relentlessly. A single touch means death, but the effect is more profound, like being swallowed by a nightmare.
Devil Daggers creates this intense response with the careful use of old rendering techniques. Sorath’s bespoke engine is designed to replicate the polygon jitter and texture warping of early 3D games, and these Flying skulls are most common enemy. They’re a constant threat that must be mopped up quickly between attacks from spider-egg throwers and the dreaded laughing skulls, which will haunt your dreams unnatural distortions give the creatures a disturbing, grimy quality. Sound design is also exceptional. The compressed, digitised screams and enemy death rattles manage to be both unsettling and functional. Horned skulls – one of the few homing enemy types that can move faster than you – can be pinpointed by their laughter before they bite your head off. The gurgling noise of a fresh spawn lets you keep track of the moment a flood of new enemies enters the arena, which is useful, because crowd control is essential if you want to survive for more than 60 seconds.
Movement is smooth and fast, recalling the fluidity of seminal arena shooters such as Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament 2004. Bunny-hopping and blast-jumping also nod back to this era, but are applied in a hordesurvival context that feels fresh. It’s a mistake to think of Devil Daggers as a nostalgic throwback when it does so much to refine what it borrows. Instead of multiple weapons, you access different fire modes through mouse technique: hold down the button for a stream; tap sharply for a shotgun spray.
More layers emerge as you push past the minute mark. Specific enemies drop gems that power up your daggers, encouraging you to leave spawn sacks alive to keep your gem supply open. After a while, bosses start to appear, adding greater terror and difficulty to a stark but focused and entertaining action game.