At their best Don’t Shoot Yourself’s early levels are a bullet hell of your own devising – a sometimes-chaotic mass of projectiles you must navigate for just long enough to earn your escape. At their worst they’re a crawl round the edges of a polygon as a ticker counts back to zero.
When you understand how Don’t Shoot Yourself [official site] works it’s easy to understand why this is the case.
It’s a port of a mobile title which came to PC via Steam Greenlight. You play as a little cursor ship which you move around the level with your mouse leaving a trail of bullets as you go. The bullets then bounce off surfaces or interact with different coloured patches of the level to alter their movement. The aim of each level is to avoid getting hit until you’ve shot out the requisite number of bullets – at that point a magic bullet appears and shatters the constraints of the level – freedom!
You can alter the difficulty level by level by choosing between normal, hard and impossible. The escalation curve between hard and impossible looks really weird in menus because normal is one star, hard is two and impossible is five. Maybe it’s a visual joke but it bugged me that it looked like something was missing. Tweaking the difficulty changes some of the mechanics: the speed and frequency with which bullets are fired, for example, or a splintering effect which increases the number of projectiles to deal with.
But the shape of each level is the thing which really governs whether it offers a challenge and there are some odd peaks and troughs on that front. The fifth level I encountered was shaped like an eye – an oval with a circle in the middle dividing it into three sections. I can’t do that on impossible yet, usually dying before I get halfway. The seventh level is called Gemini – a bulbous shape reminiscent of an infinity symbol. You can pass that on impossible the first time you play, even though your bullets are splintering into fragments, simply by slowly crawling the edges of the level and waiting out the bullet counter.
As the game progresses you encounter more interesting levels and a more meaty challenge as the game settles into its stride. Some have that chaotic flavour I encountered earlier where I felt like my little ship was dancing around millimeters from death but able to whip away at the last moment. Others offered a sense of how to regulate the flow of projectiles but were peppered with stray bullets – careless or unpredicted anomalies – threatening to mess me up.
Then there have been a few which revisited that earlier sense of a solved problem which you just wait out. Some were boring like Gemini – a level called Pong springs to mind. Pong’s problem is that the easiest solution is for you do one slow, boring motion no matter what difficulty until the ticker reaches zero. I completed it on impossible while reading an email on my second screen. One – Lucky – is easy on impossible once you’ve worked out the shape you need to move your mouse in and how fast to do so but it has more of a sense of satisfaction to working out the solution and is mechanically more interesting.
Some levels introduce new effects. A figure eight has little gateways which open and close, another has invisible walls you work out by either pushing against them or watching where the bullets bounce. There are also gravity wells, pads which convert the bullets into homing missiles and panels which render the bullets invisible. In one case what I thought might be an effect at first turned out to be a glitch. Sometimes the cursor gets stuck on the walls in a level when they’re moving around and you’ll die unnecessarily.
It’s a fun game and I’ll probably try to achieve an impossible rating on as much as I can while it’s still fresh in my mind (i.e. this evening). However it falls short of being compulsive and I can’t imagine returning to obsess over anything that remains undone.