Alex enjoys games with rich storytelling and bold character arcs that inspire his own pursuits in narrative design. He also can be found on Twitch regularly playing games till late!
PC, Nintendo Switch
April 15, 2021
Godstrike is a timely twist on the boss rush / bullet hell genre where time is your health bar. In this twin-stick shooter, you’ll take on a full roster of unforgiving bosses in stylized 3D arenas. You take control of Talaal, the last of the gods’ seven masks. She’s a herald who’s trapped in a war that is not her own. The game’s boss fights are a cycle that’s impossible for her to break free of. Godstrike slams players against not only perilous odds, but against the clock as well, creating a unique kind of torment. And through all this, you’re somehow meant to clutch victory – good luck!
For those new to bullet hell games, they rely on players avoiding endless waves of projectiles while also trying to shoot back. The hell refers to the often overwhelming intensity of the action. What Godstrike brings to this style of game lays somewhere between arena boss grinding and controlled chaos. The most unique twist here is that your health bar is also a time limit. Take too many hits and suddenly you have no time left to defeat the boss.
Before matches, players arrive at an area where they can select what abilities they wish to carry into the battle in a preparatory phase. These abilities are separated into Arcane and Occult categories that are represented as giant books. The Arcane abilities are the physical ones, in the sense that they often cause damage when used on the boss. These also come at the cost of time / health. The Occult abilities are all passive. Not needing to be assigned to a button, Occult abilities work throughout the match with no prompting or time removed from the health bar. Once inside the arena, the player is on their own with whatever abilities they brought with them.
“I was literally stuck on the first boss fight for hours.”
Godstrike is a hard game. I’ve played bullet hell games before and the concept is clear, but this particular rendition really comes in with a powerful punch. The punch is finding out your health bar is tied to the timer and it’s constantly getting smaller and smaller. This combination really is the perfect storm for the player entering these battles. For every hit the player takes, 15 seconds is deducted from the health bar. There’s also no invulnerability window after a hit so you could easily lose more time to multiple hits in quick succession.
I was literally stuck on the first boss fight for hours. Cleverly named “Tutoriaal”, the first boss is a sentient stone golem reminiscent of a Geodude from Pokémon if he went to a rave. This guy had me seeing red more than I’d like to admit.
While this boss might be the easiest in the game, being the first boss you encounter means you’re still cutting your teeth on the controls. After many tries though it becomes clear. This game is hard. Soon I had jettisoned my only Arcane ability just so I could reclaim a few precious seconds, which ended up winning me the battle.
Godstrike features the following modes:
– Arena mode was where I spent most of my time as it gives you full access to the Arcane and Occult abilities without having to grind to unlock them.
– Story mode plays like Arena mode interestingly enough. The only difference is that you need to grind to unlock Arcane and Occult abilities and as a bonus, it has the opening slideshow and other various story inserts.
– Daily Challenge mode was something I didn’t expect to like, though I do appreciate the challenge it presents. Players have their abilities chosen for them as a means of constraint and then they have 1 chance to defeat as many bosses as possible. As you can probably guess, I didn’t get past the first one, but it was interesting playing under those specific parameters.
– Challenge mode is a replayable version of the Daily Challenge that gives you the ability to input a seed code and gain access to a specific challenge.
Every battle I won in Godstrike came in the extra time phase. Often the final hit on the boss coming moments before my own demise, which was quite exhilarating. This feels like an intention of the extra time phase. It makes winning a thrill because one more hit means game over so the stakes really can’t be higher. I was often left wondering after a win if I could’ve done better. While this adds to replayability in a game like this, it feels like a cheap hit of adrenaline. It wasn’t a victory earned so much as a participation trophy before it was back to the staging area to prepare for the next fight.
“Time isn’t supposed to be your ally in the game, not even in easy mode.”
There is an easy mode, though it’s just not the walk in the park one might expect. Upon losing a battle three times, the option is given on the game over screen to select easy mode.
The mode isn’t all that it seems though. On the next try, your time is still the same as it was before. The time deducted per hit is “softened’ to 10 seconds from 15 and you do more damage against the bosses. It definitely feels like an easier approach but it doesn’t quite justify being called easy mode.
To be quite honest, this feels like the true difficulty for the game as the challenge is still definitely there. I was left surprised jumping into the boss battles when there was initially no options to select the difficulty. Even starting the story mode there is no option to select the difficulty there either. I find this disappointing as it takes away from the accessability of the game and instead makes the game more of a grind to the end.
I’m also curious as to why there is no access to health drops in the battles or ways to recoup a few seconds here and there. It’s more common than not for health pickups to be available in boss battles, yet here the health bar and the time seem so intertwined that this is forgotten. Honestly, the battles suffer without it because it made me unwilling to try anything risky including using any Arcane ability for fear of losing time. I might be a less skilled player than some, but in the end, it just removes accessibility to part of the game without reason. It feels like there is no way a player can feasibly sacrifice 40 seconds to use an Arcane ability from a 5-minute health bar when many bosses require every second you have. Even the added easy mode seems insincere when the time budget still won’t give you enough wiggle room to comfortably carry Arcane abilities.
The art style honestly works for the game and I could see myself grinding this more if the game provided difficulty options. I found the boss Sentinel an instant favourite with the arena perfectly crafted to suit the logistics of the fight. The Sentinel, for the first few boss health tiers, remains chained to a purple crystal at the centre of the room. This limits his mobility within the arena to an extent that makes him fairly easy to avoid but his glowing purple battle axe and blasts of projectiles aren’t quite so avoidable. Each of the bosses that I’ve managed to encounter has been situated in a unique arena that adds to the experience of taking them on, but Sentinel is already my favourite.
Coming into Godstrike, it’s clear that the Story mode isn’t the focus and honestly with this style of game it doesn’t need to be at the forefront. That said, what is presented left me feeling rather unsatisfied. The Story mode tries to add flavour to the game but what it presents borders on cliché. The writing on opening had me intrigued but not enough to compel me into the mode. After multiple runs at Tutoriaal, I could barely remember what had been presented in that opening cinematic anyway. This mode could really have benefited from a less is more approach. Cut out the prologue and instead reveal details through the player character and the boss encounters. I would have loved to have seen characterization of the bosses beyond their arena designs. I did find the slides before each of the battles interesting as they set the tone of the encounter in a way the prologue scene could only dream of doing.
“It’s sad really, but any time I loaded up the 4 control slots with abilities I soon watched my health go to zero”
I did find the selection of Arcane and Occult abilities on offer in Godstrike interesting. While you’ll be attracted to the Arcane abilities in preparation for the boss fights, you’ll quickly see that the expense of your time is not something you want to spend, no matter how awesome the ability. Some even cost 40 seconds off your health bar! It’s sad really, but any time I loaded up the 4 control slots with abilities I soon watched my health go to zero. Seconds in the match can be the difference between a win and a failed attempt. The Occult abilities however don’t take any time from your health bar, so in Arena mode you can test them easily and see what works for you. They also work passively, don’t require activation, and are incredibly helpful. A notable one features an orb that circles the player and absorbs every projectile of the enemies that it touches. It’s excellent if you’re slower to react like myself when the bullets really start flying in battles.
The controls easily become a shortfall and definitely won’t be forgiving to players unfamiliar with the concept of twin-stick shooters. It’s easy to overcorrect both the movement or the aiming even when you’ve got experience. The selected Arcane abilities are displayed on the screen but the assigned ZL/L/R/ZR on the Switch isn’t marked. This caused me to often activate the wrong one in the heat of a battle. This coupled with the use of both Joy-Con joysticks becomes overwhelming at times, even feeling like it would be more suited to a mouse and keyboard. I tested playing with the Switch in handheld mode and playing with it connected to a wireless controller and found the controls convoluted both times.
“Don’t jump into Godstrike expecting a gradual and welcoming hill of difficulty”
Don’t jump into Godstrike expecting a gradual and welcoming hill of difficulty. The fantastic art style masks a brutal learning curve that throws you in the deep end and asks you to float while you button mash to no avail. Players will find that experience isolating, especially if you haven’t played a boss rush game before. Those more familiar or adept at the genre may however find an entertainingly challenging experience.
Godstrike is, at its crunchy centre, a boss rush game built around a somewhat interesting mechanic that, no matter how flawed, certainly gets the adrenaline pumping. Each of the encounters feels well designed but immovable to the average player. There are only so many times the player can try at an encounter before they feel disheartened at the difficulty. Not feeling like one can sacrifice time for abilities is disappointing too. The game also refuses to acknowledge that not allowing the player any way to recoup lost health disadvantages players unfairly. It’s a game that means well with a new challenge for high-skilled players of twin-stick shooters, but casual players won’t need much time to realise just how tedious learning these controls can be.