Sometimes, browsing the indie storefront Itch.io, you come across a game that looks like someone threw a board of darts at a list of game design terms before shrugging, “Aye, it’ll work “. At least that’s how I imagine developer Torcado designed fucking bridge, a collectible card shooter where time only moves when you do.
Here’s how it works. You control a small, chirping ghost by clicking and dragging across the screen. The faster you swipe, the faster they move. Pause and time will freeze, giving you time to plan your next move.
Like any shmup, villains descend from the top of the screen in increasing numbers, with ever more complex schemes. You attack by sliding cards from a deck you get by taking hits – and since these shoot in a straight line from where you’re facing, you have to “spend” time to line up the perfect shot.
It may seem too difficult on paper, but in practice it’s a surprisingly elegant twist on a tried and tested genre.
The wild part is that the most interesting part of Heck Deck isn’t the card drawing, or the slow-motion bullet hell. It’s in the way Heck Deck forces you to bleed yourself out to keep playing. Along with a higher level shop, new cards can only be acquired by sinking into cards thrown by baddies, which means you have to take damage to deal damage.
You have to think five seconds ahead – taking two hits from an enemy, shooting the first one at its owner, picking up the heart from its demise, and shooting the other at the bomb, you just don’t have to. not enough space to deal with right now. Enemies also burst health and shields which luckily won’t hurt you, although you’ll be beaten if your deck ever passes.
Heck Deck isn’t particularly long, and its simple art, short musical loops, and short length lay bare its roots as an experimental jam game from a single developer. But it’s the kind of game Itch is worth perusing – nice little microgames that focus on something new and weird, fully exploring their mechanical potential in an hour or two.
Heck Deck is a wonderful example, and for just $3 it’s worth diving into during a lunch break.