The game has decent audio/visual quality, but the worst thing about it is that it’s pretty boring. The gameplay isn’t varied enough to hold one’s attention for long.
Genres: Roguelike, Twin Stick Shooter
Release date: 7 Dec, 2020
When I checked out Headbangers in Holiday Hell (HHH), I was more curious about the game than trusting that it’d be a great experience. To me it has an interesting aesthetic and premise about it, yet in the past that hasn’t always worked out to be a game I actually enjoy. Getting someone’s attention is far different from sustaining it. However, having seen others on YouTube praise it, I wanted to give it a chance and find out how it plays for myself, even if I’m a bit late for the holiday season.
HHH is basically a twin-stick shooter that blends in some roguelike elements into it. There are 15 stages to clear, and though most stages are fairly small, many of them will require saving all of the hostages before being able to access the exit. All of those are centered around a house, with rooms that I think are randomly generated. The other types of stages include navigating through a mall with no hostages, only needing to move from the beginning to the end, and 3 boss battles. Every stage, except for the mall ones, also includes infinitely spawning enemies that don’t stop until either the exit is reached or the boss is killed.
After failing a run, you’ll be able to spend the credits you collected (the CDs) on upgrading the base weapons, overdrive weapons, and character abilities such as more health and a higher ammo capacity. In the stages themselves, there will also be chests that can be opened for 800 credits, which for the run will grant an improved primary or overdrive weapon, so they’re worth opening. Due to how infrequently ammo drops, it’ll also be necessary to use credits on the ammo vending machines, as the melee attack is best used against only a few enemies. This in turn means you’ll want to break background objects with melee strikes to get credits, as they’re needed for 2 purposes.
With HHH being a twin-stick shooter, movement is controlled with the ‘L joystick’ while aiming the weapon is done with the ‘R joystick.’ Push the ‘L trigger’ to dodge roll, fire weapons with the ‘R trigger,’ and the ‘R bumper’ is a melee attack useful for breaking background objects as well as bashing foes. ‘R bumper’ is also used if an enemy is staggered and the prompt shows up that they can be finished off. When the overdrive meter is fully charged, hitting ‘Y’ will trigger it. Hitting ‘A’ activates secondary items like gas tanks and decoy elves, while ‘X’ buys more ammo from vending machines. Aside from the controls in menus being overly touchy, I didn’t notice any issues with how the game controlled.
There’s no explanation for the events going on in HHH, and with what the game presents, it’d benefit from some exposition. With the protagonist being a metal head rescuing other rockers who have been tied up by elves, it could be a classic case of role reversal, where the stereotypical sides flip places such that Santa is evil. However, Rudolph is presented as a possessed reindeer, suggesting that Santa is only behaving this way due to external forces. It’s almost as if the developers wanted to make Santa evil to fight against the headbangers, needed some rational for it, but didn’t stay cohesive with the idea because why would a satanic Santa have a beef with the rock industry? If anything, he’d probably jam with them.
With this game drawing some inspiration from Zombies Ate My Neighbors, the graphics in HHH look pretty good. The characters, animation, and backgrounds are all well made, and is probably one of the best features of the game. A few effects that work well include the slow-mo power up, as the protagonist leaves a trailing after image behind him, and explosives have a good looking smoke cloud around them. A simple issue is that with stages repeating so often, with a winter theme to them, they look a bit bland since there’s so much snow, with little to break up the monotony.
Fittingly enough, the music in HHH is comprised of rock/metal music, though I’m not sure if it’s intense enough to be headbangers. Regardless, the electric guitars still provide an engaging ambiance for a twin-stick shooter experience. However, I’m kind of surprised that they didn’t incorporate any elements of Christmas tunes or sound effects into the music since the gameplay fuses the two genres together anyways. I think a song like Feliz Navidead could have been cool. One flaw with the audio stems from the voice clips, as I understood what the elves were saying, but I couldn’t understand the protagonist’s one-liners and quips.
- The tunes are solid.
- It’s pretty easy.
- There’s minimal variety in the stage layout and enemies, making this roguelike both short and repetitive. Even though the rooms in the house seem randomized, the house stages have rigid set-ups for the outside area, and I don’t think the malls have any randomness to them, as they’re prebuilt stages. Looking at all the enemies in the game, there’s only different colors of elves with more health than others, trash can elves, gun chest elves, and kamikaze grinches.
- The ending sequence indicates an Easter sequel is being worked on, which I’m not at all interested in. Even ignoring how I feel about this game, the imagery and idea of fighting against Jesus Christ, complete with the crown of thorns, is quite off-putting.
- Certain mechanics weren’t clearly explained. For instance, turning on the TV serves as a decoy to the elves, which I only figured out from an achievement. However, I have no idea what opening the fridge is supposed to do.
- The default weapon fires bullets that look very similar to the enemy projectiles. This can be slightly distracting.
- Initially, I was rather meticulous about clearing the outside area around the house before saving the hostages, but that took a long time and made me fend off more enemies, which leads to more opportunities to get hit. The better option is to ensure there’s a clear path to an ammo vendor, and then focus on clearing the house, dealing with enemies as they come from outside. If ammo is running low, always pull back to buy more, as you’re otherwise far too vulnerable.
- There tend to be patterns about how enemies and items are laid out in stages. For instance, every time there’s a spare heart in the mall, they’re always blocked off by 2 trash can elves. Any other trash cans you find in the mall won’t be enemies though.
- Dodge-rolling is particularly useful here, as it’s generous with invincibility. You don’t have to dodge enemy bullets to avoid taking damage, if you dodge roll into them, it’ll still avoid the damage.
Overall, I found myself bored and slightly annoyed by HHH, as enemies can be tucked behind trees and their spawn rate in later stages can swarm you in tight corridors. If it weren’t for the lack of room within the houses, I think I could have finished the game even sooner than I already did, as I cleared it on my third run, making it past the 2nd boss in all 3 attempts. I don’t see a reason to play this game, as there’s not enough variety in the gameplay to keep it interesting, even for the short time I spent with it.