Sometimes, while browsing indie storefront Itch.io, you come across a game that looks like someone threw a dartboard at a list of game design terms before shrugging, "Aye, that'll work". At least, that's how I imagine developer Torcado conceived Heck Deck (opens in new tab), a card-collecting shoot 'em up where time only moves when you do.
Here's how it works. You control a chirpy wee ghost by clicking and dragging around the screen. The faster you drag, the faster they move. Pause, and time will freeze, giving you time to plan your next move.
Like any shmup, baddies descend from the top of the screen in increasing numbers, with ever-more complex patterns. You attack by dragging cards out from a deck you acquire by taking hits—and since these fire in a straight line from where you're facing, you're required to 'spend' time to line up the perfect shot.
That might sound overly fussy on paper, but in practice, it's a surprisingly elegant twist on a time-tested genre.
The wild part is that the most interesting part of Heck Deck isn't the card-drawing, nor the slow motion bullet hell. It's in how Heck Deck requires you to bloody yourself to keep playing. Besides a post-level shop, new cards can only be acquired by ramming yourself into the cards shot out by baddies, meaning you need to take damage to deal damage.
You're required to think five seconds ahead—taking two hits from one foe, firing the first back at its owner, collecting the heart from its demise, and firing the other at the bomb you just don't quite have the space to deal with right now. Foes also blast out health and shields which, thankfully, won't harm you, though you'll take a beating if your deck ever passes.
Heck Deck isn't particularly long, and its simple art, short music loops and brief length lay bare its roots as an experimental jam game from a single developer. But it's the kind of game that makes Itch worth browsing—lovely little microgames that laser-focus on something new and strange, fully exploring their mechanical potential in a brief hour or two.
Heck Deck is a wonderful example of that, and at a mere $3, it's well worth dipping into over a lunch break.