Puzzle games come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are linear, requiring one solution and one solution only. Some are open ended, and require several smaller puzzles to be solved to work out the key to the main puzzle. And others can be solved a multitude of ways, with some solutions implied, and more hidden.
Hundred Bullets sits squarely within the latter, as its concept enables several different solutions for every level. With different difficulty options creating entirely new challenges with only the smallest of changes made to the gameplay formula, this is a puzzle game worthy of your time, even if the highest of those difficulties is over challenging and forced.
Hundred Bullets is a unique game in a multitude of ways. It flips the term “bullet hell” on its head completely, as normally with bullet hells, the enemy bullets are your greatest threat. Here, it’s your own bullets that provide the danger.
The concept of Hundred Bullets is this – fire one hundred bullets into an arena and manoeuvre around it until the last bullet is fired, which will break through the arena, completing the level. This sounds tricky, and it is, but the arenas themselves allow you both flexibility and a way out to solve the puzzle. It’s a really interesting concept, and it pays off.
Every arena is a particular shape, and every shape is designed to allow for puzzle solving flexibility. The bullets you fire have a fairly short half life, and this means that you can use the arena walls to deflect and dodge incoming bullets. The designs of the arenas are much more clever than they seem at first, as they’re all designed to provide unique solutions. For example, the first arena you enter, the circle, is designed to allow you to travel around the edge to make the bullets stick to the sides until they expire. These arenas only become more interesting as time goes on, as the shapes become more advanced and the possible solutions more varied.
I really like the zen setting of Hundred Bullets. It’s almost ironic, that a backdrop of peace is being used as part of the design of a game that’s made to frustrate you. And frustrating it can be, as you bang your head against the wall trying to figure out what the solution to a particular level is. This only gets worse with the higher difficulty settings, and while the frustration can be a good incentive for the first two difficulty options, it really just makes the game less appealing at the highest option.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if the highest setting was one you could ignore. However, the game literally forces you to play on that setting to progress. With a certain number of tokens required to progress past every screen of levels, Hundred Bullets demands that you play levels at the hardest difficulty to progress. The easiest difficulty awards just one token for level completion and the medium difficulty gives you two, but the hardest one awards you five tokens for every level completed. This forces you to complete a significant number of levels at the hardest difficulty, and I have to be honest, the hardest difficulty just makes me want to quit.
The way Hundred Bullets handles difficulty is by increasing the speed of both yourself and the projectiles you fire. This ramps up slowly for the medium difficulty, but insanely quickly for the hardest one. It’s like jumping from Hurt Me Plenty to Ultra Nightmare in Doom Eternal. It feels like there’s a difficulty setting missing, or like the balancing is off, with the bullets feeling insanely fast and your character ridiculously hard to control. This just makes the game teeth grindingly difficult, or seemingly impossible at times. It changes the feeling from satisfying achievement on level completion to relief that you don’t have to try again for the hundredth time, and the gameplay from puzzle solving fun to what feels like pure luck.
I also kept getting a sound glitch that recurred a lot more at the highest difficulty which always threw me off and ended up with me zooming straight into the nearest bullet. Apart from these progression and sound issues, Hundred Bullets is actually remarkably fun to play for such a barebones package, and if I were able to progress, I’d have played a lot more.
It’s not all just standard levels in Hundred Bullets. At the end of every screen, there’s a conflict level, which is basically a harder level made to prepare you for the difficulty of the next screen of levels. There are also secret levels, which are hidden to you until you unlock them in normal levels, and they are generally more interesting than the regular levels, as they include much more complex shapes.
Hundred Bullets also leans into the Zen Buddhism theme regularly to offer you koan, which are riddles that were used for meditation in traditional Zen Buddhism, but serve here to offer food for thought as you repeatedly die. The Zen theme also lends itself well to the backgrounds of levels, which are always pretty, interestingly patterned and pulsating with colour. This only further adds to the enjoyment of the standard difficulty levels, with each one offering a unique background to gaze at as you solve its puzzle.
I come away from Hundred Bullets feeling slightly frustrated. It’s a game with so much to enjoy that it’s a shame you’re forced to play at a difficulty that simply isn’t fun. If you do happen to enjoy that challenge, then this is an easy recommendation, but unless you do then you’re probably going to struggle to get past the two hour mark on this one.
The other reason I’m so frustrated is because for a game so mechanically sound and interesting, there should really be no need for a difficulty this hard. The medium difficulty can be tricky enough, but at this level of difficulty the game feels more like a fun challenge than a chore. If I rated this game based on that difficulty alone, then it would be an easy 4-4.5 stars. The problem is, I can’t, so it’s a shame to see such an interesting little game lose out on a strong recommendation. With all this said, Hundred Bullets is still a game I recommend, it’s just not quite as strong a recommendation that I’d like to give it.
You should play Hundred Bullets, but beware of the difficulty spike, it’ll sneak up on you.
Hundred Bullets can be downloaded from the Xbox Store