Bullet hell games are best characterized by the gameplay mechanic of filling the screen with as many things that can kill you as possible. Called “bullet hell” for their beginnings in space shooters and the like, the bullet describes the pellet, laser, missile, or whatever other projectile/enemy is trying to kill you.
Some of the toughest video games ever made, bullet hell games have their start in the arcades with Taito’s Space Invaders and are best typified today in games like Ikaruga and Radiant Silver Gun.
The extent to which a game is or is not a bullet hell game mainly depends on the intensity of the action the game offers. Space Invaders may be the spiritual origin of the bullet hell game, but it is not itself a bullet hell game.
Similarly, Contra may have aspects similar to that of a bullet hell game but is not, itself, a bullet hell game. Bullet hell games typically require a ship and a lot of stuff willing to kill you.
Because of its fixed but also familiar format, bullet hell games are often the source of parody games and a sub-genre some refer to as a cute’em up – or a game where everything menacing is replaced with something cute. It’s still the same type of game, the aesthetic is merely different.
One of the most popular genres of games still in Japan, bullet hell games haven’t really caught on outside of that market.
Because of their unique combination of arcade action, reflex controls, memorization, and skill mastery, bullet hell games aren’t very friendly to a newcomer. But, once you catch on to the game’s mechanics, they are said to be some of the most fun games made.
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