Review: Hellgineers – Hot Wheels

Get ready to put your engineering skills to good use. Hellgineers by Johan Peitz is a small puzzle game for the Pico-8 game player where you must build bridges to get your bicycling demons to the other side. Can you weave through the fiery flames and master all the levels? 

Seriously, though, whose idea was it to make wooden bridges in a world of lava and fireballs? Hellgineers is light-hearted and completely aware of how ridiculous the premise is. Your project manager demon is constantly berating you on your failures and criticizing your successes through silly one-liners. 

My favorite levels are the ones where you can make some big jumps.
My favorite levels are the ones where you can make some big jumps.

The gameplay in Hellgineers is straightforward: connect lines to draw bridges. There are only a few different kinds of tools you work with, mainly a thicker, platform line the demons can ride on, and a skinny, easily breakable support beam. There are costs for each material, and watch as your faith in knowing how great of engineer you are slowly diminish as you realize your expertly crafted bridge is out of budget. There are stable anchors to build off of, called abutments, and can appear on each end of the level and as stalagmites and stalactites. While these anchors appear to be helpful (and they are), without some careful planning your lovely construction will crumble in the center (hint: use triangles!) While you may think this building of bridges will get bland, Hellgineers throw in tricky obstacles. Ends of the levels are uneven, there are heavier/lighter/faster/slower demons, and, of course, flaming balls of fire and explosions! Each obstacle presents a different challenge, really stretching your creativity on what your bridge should look like. Probably my favorite puzzles involve the speedy, light demons, as you make them fly across the screen. To add more of a challenge, there are special ratings for how you solve the puzzle: if you’re under budget, collect the skull, the bridge doesn’t break, and you use the minimum amount of equipment. 

Hellgineers succeeds in providing a great puzzle game by introducing simple gameplay and exploring how creative the structures can become. By placing abutments in weird locations and removing parts of the level by fire obstacles, the game is actively forcing the player to be creative in how they build their bridges. Because the act of creating a bridge is easy to do, the player isn’t faced with needless obstacles not relating to the puzzle at hand. Some would think this kind of gameplay is “bare-bones,” but it’s these elements (or lack thereof) that make a solid puzzle game.

Simple gameplay allows for complex puzzle solving.
Simple gameplay allows for complex puzzle solving.

Much like your annoying demonic project manager, I have to harp on a couple of missteps Hellgineers has. I understand that it makes sense to only be able to draw platforms if one end is connected, but it would have been nice to plan out where the main bridge pieces were going to go before I secure them with braces. Other small problems are mainly bug problems (I believe). Sometimes the edges below end abutments are stable and you can lean your bridge against it to stabilize it, but other times they have no hit box. This inconsistency is frustrating. If it was intended to not be helpful, there is no indication that it is unsupported. I was stuck on a level because of this inconsistency. Another problem that stuck me on a level is the wheels on the bikes glitch through the bridge if they land too hard. I was going to easily complete a level, but the wheel for a heavier demon kept glitching through the bridge, which I’m not sure how to avoid. I understand it would be a lot of work, but I would have preferred that an undo button was there because there were multiple times I deleted the wrong set of bridge while editing.

A standard art style for the Pico-8 game engine, Hellgineers is a low resolution pixelated game. Readability of the game is still clear under this style, and almost fits into the quirkiness of the theme. There are not too many different art assets, but some environment textures change and your demonic project manager has a variety of angry faces to glare at you with. The blueprint mode is nice, but the squares in the background don’t aid in the creation of bridges. I partly wish the squares were smaller so I could use them in measuring distance and height, but I understand this may clog up the screen. Another “nice to have” would be a faint image of where the bridge was the last time I had the demons cross it. This “onion skin” would make it easier to slightly adjust the angles of the bridge pieces.

Just when you thought you were doing well with all your gold ratings, along comes platinum.

While there are only a few music tracks in Hellgineers, they fit the theme well and sit nicely in the background. The sounds are also fitting to the theme and are a nice touch to an overall solid game.

In summary, Hellgineers is a great little puzzle game to test your skills in bridge making. The light-hearted theme and combination of silly art and music make an overall pleasing game.

Jordan played Hellgineers on PC with a code provided by the developer.

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