Developer: Team KwaKwa
Publisher: Red Art Games
Genre(s): Roguelike, Hack ‘n Slash
Platform: Nintendo Switch (also available on PC and PS4)
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 03/02/2023
A code was provided for review purposes
Helvetii is a hack ‘n slash game set around Celtic and Gaelic mythology. The hack ‘n slash genre is an acquired taste, or so I feel. I’m no expert in the genre, but the gameplay often feels frantic but directionless. However, I am a big fan of any and all mythologies, and games that explore cultural folklore always grab my interest. So I loaded up Helvetii with high anticipation.
Was Helvetii a cultural experience to relish, or was I left hacking and slashing at my own frustration? Read this rapid review to find out.
A Classic Story
Helvetii throws you into the action as any good hack ‘n slash should do. The story is explained with an introduction scene and through short character exchanges between stages.
The Helvetii were a Celtic/Gaelic tribe, and I can’t help but feel the lack of historical information is a missed opportunity, even if to offer some interesting historical information on the tribe. The short introduction story plays when the game first loads. Sadly, on the Switch, it is easily skipped accidentally by an eager button press.
The story is a simple one. A deal was made, and blinded by a thirst for power, a warlord signed the dotted line and shattered the barriers between earth and the godly realms. Unfortunately, with this came ‘the rot’, which seems to infect everything and turn them into bloodthirsty villains.
In Helvetii, you have a choice between three characters. Unfortunately, there is no real explanation for their bond other than they each decided to step up and try to stop things before it was too late.
Fast and Furious Gameplay
Helvetii offers you a choice between three playable characters. Each has its own style and does require a slightly different approach to playing the game. My preference was Divico, although Renart was also a fun run. I struggled with Nammeois, as their attacks were more distance based, while I prefer close-quarter combat.
The game is separated into Stages, with each stage having multiple acts. Every act is a maze of sorts, with interlinking rooms and an encounter of some sort in each room. Each run is a different seed, so two playthroughs are never the same. That is one thing I do like about this sort of game. Trust me, because I saw a lot of different seeds while playing. For those interested in speedrunning, Helvetii offers a speed run mode that lets you enter a specific seed number so you can focus on learning a specific route through the game.
Each round of combat is short, often lasting no more than thirty seconds. During that time, you fight various enemies, from troll-like creatures to ent-like beings, faeries, hounds and more. Each has distinctive attack patterns, and it serves you well to understand them.
Combat in the game is largely a single-button affair. However, you do have mana attacks and projectile attacks that can also be used.
Even now, I am uncertain as to whether there are any genuine tactics to combat in this game. There is a little more to it than button-bashing. However, that is primarily based on your movements during combat. That said, I enjoyed it, and it was a welcome break from some of the other games I have been playing.
I liked the graphics in Helvetii. They were bold and colourful and nicely varied across each stage. I can even overlook the fact that within each act, the rooms were largely repetitive. Especially as the game is linear and has no real exploration.
One of the hidden gems in Helvetii is interaction with the grump owl shopkeeper. Every act has a shop where you can purchase upgrades. You can also talk to the owl, and he has an array of highly entertaining and well-written sentences.
Even though Helvetti was straightforward and essentially a side-scroller, there was a great level of detail in the backgrounds. Nothing over the top, but just a well-balanced environment rich in the right level of detail to make it believable without becoming overpowering.
Am I Even a Good Gamer?
Helvetii is an unforgiving game. A roguelike experience, so no matter how far into the game you are, once you are dead, it’s back to the start for you. A new game and a new seed. It’s brutal, and as someone who loves video games but is not necessarily a naturally gifted gamer, this was soul-destroying, but in a good way.
Knowing that one wrong move and all your progress was for nothing changes how you view a game. Every move you make matters when you can’t fall back on auto-saves, typewriters, shrines, etc.. I loved this, even though I hated it in the moment.
As you progress through Helvetii, you find locked chests and altars where you can equip certain special moves and abilities. These can be great but sometimes come with a negative cost. A risk versus reward mechanic, similar to the upgrades in games such as Dead Cells and Hades.
In my early runs, I never put enough thought into things and charged on blindly. This was met by death on many occasions. Playing Helvetii changed my view on hack ‘n slash games, as it made me think, even in the frenzy, about what I was going to do.
Final Thoughts on Helvetii
I went into Helvetii with one thing in mind. While Helvetii did not deliver what I expected, it gave me something else. I really enjoyed my time fighting against the rot and acquired a new sense of appreciation for a genre I have often overlooked.
While I do not feel there is anything long-lasting about Helvetti, it is a fun title to pick up and enjoy for a weekend. The art is great, the animations are smooth at all times and playing it in docked mode was a real treat.
If you’re a fan of the hack ‘n slash genre or are looking for a fun new title to give a whirl, I safely recommend Helvetti as a game that ticks all of the right boxes in some way, shape or form.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3.5 out of 5
You can get your copy of Helvetii from the Nintendo eShop today.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.