Say what you will about comics in general, but there’s no denying that Dark Horse’s Hellboy is one of the most unique out of the bunch. Mike Mignola’s creation has been around for as long as I can remember reading them, and they’ve always delivered when it came to unique settings and compelling story arcs.
The character of Hellboy is simply awesome, a halfling, the love child of a demon and a witch, that came into the life of a scientist during the second World War, where the Nazis were well and away into researching and harnessing the occult. As a grown man, our hero goes on to throw a wrench into the bad guys’ plans as part of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, or BPRD for short.
Hellboy: Web of Wyrd picks up somewhere along the way as Red – voiced by the late and great Lance Reddick, on his last credited role before his untimely death earlier this year – and his crew are investigating a mysterious occurrence in Argentina, a portal that leads to the enigmatic Wyrd, a parallel dimension that seemingly loops endlessly the more you explore it. Lucky, one of his colleagues with a knack for managing rifts, manages to create a tether that makes it possible for our boy to explore the place and find out what’s going on before the real world is gobbled up entirely.
Best described as a game with very light roguelite and brawler elements, Web of Wyrd is not particularly strong at either, not enough to be fun for those alone – it’s its presentation and care of the source material that cements the package as a whole. Your mileage may vary when it comes to Mignola’s art style, I’m among those that like it, but the way the team at Upstream Arcade, the one behind West of Dead, another run-based title such as this, has managed to capture it in the game is goddamn amazing.
Character designs are exactly what you would expect to see in the comics, but in polygonal form, and Hellboy in particular looks like he was ripped straight from them as if he himself had stepped through onto your screen. And while the worlds he explores are simple in design and presentation, with cookie cutter enemies to punch his way through, bosses are similarly unique looking and have their own personality, not to mention the entities you come across to bestow powers during your runs.
Web of Wyrd is split into five separate levels, each with their own visual flavor, be it a haunted swamp or an abandoned railway station, for instance. The first time you run them there’s an order you have to follow, picking up artifacts along the way to power a machine that’s supposed to pinpoint the causes of regional disturbances.
Even though each world has its own look and feel, they mostly play the same. You first drop into an initial area of sorts before diving into another where the boss can be found at the end. Along the way, you step into a number of rooms split between halls, which can contain a number of traps. Each arena tends to contain either items to pick up such as keys, or small encounters to bash your way through.
The powers that Hellboy obtains during runs aren’t plentiful in variety, but are still useful as they can boost one of three abilities, either his main attack, the ranged variety, and a relic that unleashes a useful power, or can help put down a nerf effect that comes into play when fighting larger enemies. There’s only a handful of boosts and you’ll see them all early on, which goes to show that the “lite” part of “roguelite” is indeed very much so.
Even the brawling aspect of the game leaves much to be desired. Hellboy is a large individual, and as such, he moves and fights quite slowly. His attacks don’t have a particular combo cadence to them, and there’s only a light and heavy type, the latter can be used to stun enemies and dish extra damage. The main mechanic that you’ll have to keep an eye out for is dodging, as it can be timed in order to avoid incoming damage, along with a special AOE move whose meter builds up the more you are hit.
The combat is very prone to button-mashing since the window for enemies to counter your hits is very uneven. During my time playing, I mostly kept on the offense against every single opponent, including bosses, and have come out on top during most of my runs. Things changed, though, when all the base levels were completed – it’s where Web of Wyrd ratcheted up the difficulty by having me repeat them AND complete the base that comes after them.
At that point, the game turned into a whole other beast. Gone was the easygoing combat and in came a much more challenging affair that involved scouring worlds for big keys in order to open up the way forward and some very tough and at times cheap combat encounters. It made for a somewhat more interesting experience, and one that keeps the tension up until the conclusion of the game.
Thankfully, Web of Wyrd makes it worth your while running levels repeatedly. Not only can you find collectibles here and there that give you plenty of quality flavor text in regards to lore, but you can also find text files that dish out a decent amount of backstory to the game and the house that the team makes their base in, called Butterfly. Info on its architect and his relation to the main baddie is compelling to unravel the more and more you play, making breaks between runs feel like true development for the cast as a whole.
That makes Hades‘ influence in this game’s development very evident, since the whole gist of that game was pretty much the same, and Web of Wyrd is successful in making failure feel like a tool to see more of what the game has to offer instead of punishment. Sure, it’s only a few lines of dialogue and spending currency in order to upgrade gear and stats, but it’s way more than your usual roguelike or roguelite has in store in terms of keeping you captivated and satisfied with what otherwise is a repetitive game in nature.
As a fan of the source material, I came out of Hellboy: Web of Wyrd very happy with how the game turned out. While it’s not something that will last me for months, the content that there is to be enjoyed is of loving quality and shows that the folks behind its development took care into valuing the property that was licensed. If you are unfamiliar with Hellboy and would like to change that, this game is a nice entryway that will definitely compel you to read the comics – just make sure you avoid that last movie, it’s very bad.