04 January 2018

Subgenre - Bullet Hell

There are so many games out there. Each has its own genre, some have different genres and times a completely new genre or sub-genre is created. It took one Japanese person to create this sub-genre.

Nice to Know

In the Japanese culture precision and perfection is something seen highly off. There's also something called meditation through movement. Anyways all these cultural influences play a role in the games that get created. Games like OSU! or other types of rhythm games ask you to perfectly hit the notes at the right time for a perfect score, but rhythm games aren't the only ones.

The goal was to strive for perfection to improve one's skill to unknown new heights.

STG - Shoot-'Em-Up

Everyone knows classic shoot-'em-ups. "Battle Garegga", "Starfighter" and "Gradius" to name three.
For us to go more into detail of this new sub-genre we need to be familiar with its father genre so to speak. So let's define an STG game:
Shoot-'Em-Up is a sub-genre of the shooter genre. It features a camera moving with the player and allows them to shoot the enemy.
That definition should pretty much combine any STG, I hope. If not I have to update it though I think I already wrote it as broadly as possible.

Alright, so what happened?

Striving for Difficulty

Believe it or not there actually were players that wanted harder STGs. Harder than "Gradius", the company who developed "Batsugun" (1993). 1995 a Japanese person, known as Zun, created a fan-game called "Touhou 2: Story of Eastern Wonderland", which also was one of the harder STGs.

Bullet Hell Was Born

And so 1993 the bullet hell genre was born and grew. Especially the Touhou games made their name in this genre with the years drawing in more and more players. According to a survey done by the Japanese fan wiki of Touhou the 6th installment Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil is the most famous. With each installment up to the 6th, the number of bullets also grew.

By now some of the enemy attacks often called pattern, reach from a bunch of shots up to a screen coverage of at least 80%. It doesn't help that these patterns look beautiful and mesmerizing, resulting in their looks to distract you from your attempt to dodge them.

Bullet Hell Definition

So let's define bullet hell games.
Bullet Hell is a sub-genre of the shoot-'em-up games. They differ through their intense amount of enemy attacks often filling up huge parts of the screen.
I think that does it.

Unique Features of Bullet Hell Games 

Some of the unique features you may see in bullet hell games are:

These allow the player to clear a part of the screen or the complete screen saving you from all attacks and giving you a brief moment to breathe.

Often a stat that is awarded for avoiding attacks closely. If you're close to an attack you basically get extra points.

Some bullet hell games implement the ability to decrease your character's movement speed but making it more precise at the same time allowing you to maneuver easier in tiny spaces.

Mixing This Genre

Bullet Hell has also been implemented in other games. I've seen platformers as well as adventure + STG + Bullet Hell. Binding of Isaac, for example, implemented Bullet Hell in their fights especially seen against Hush.


Bullet Hell games can be very challenging, obviously since they're intended to. Though I can suggest everyone check them out give them a test and see whether or not you like them. Don't worry too much about the difficulty, depending on which one you pick up you get the ability to choose between difficulties. Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, for example, allows you to choose between...
  • Easy     - For people who don't like STG much.
  • Normal - For most people.
  • Hard     - For arcade shooting game players.
  • Lunatic - For weird people.
  • Extra    - Give up already, are you crazy?
On a side note: This really makes me think which other genres one could come up with and which existing genres could be paired with bullet hell.
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I'm a B.Sc. Games Engineer and I created this blog to share my ideas, theorycrafting, thoughts and whatever I'm working on or doing.