Don't Shoot Yourself!

by Nick Dinicola

18 May 2015

A game with this many bullets shouldn’t be this boring.
 
cover art

Don't Shoot Yourself!

(Silverware Games, Inc.)
US: 10 Apr 2015

Don’t Shoot Yourself is a bullet-hell of your own making. You control a little ship trapped in a confined space, and your ship automatically starts shooting as soon as the level begins. You’re all alone in your cage, there are no enemies, no opponents, and nothing to shoot at, but you’re more than enough of a danger on your own because your bullets will bounce off the walls of your cage, ricocheting around until they hit you or fade away. If you can manage to shoot 100 bullets and not shoot yourself, you win the level!

It’s a clever concept that the game never quite lives up to. Don’t Shoot Yourself is an exceedingly simple game, until it becomes exceedingly difficult, and it seems to purposefully avoid that comfortable middle ground.

The ranking system perfectly highlights this extreme shift in challenge. There are three difficulty settings, Normal, Hard, and Impossible. Beating a level on Normal earns you one star, beating a level on Hard earns you two, but beating a level on Impossible earns you five stars. It’s a ranking system that explicitly acknowledges the lack of a middle ground, and this loss is felt in the game itself.

Normal is boring. This is meant to be a bullet-hell of our own making, but much of that personal responsibility is removed by the fact that our ship shoots automatically. Right away the game abandons half of its premise. The player never has to synchronize moving and shooting, so what in concept sounds like an action game version of rubbing your stomach and patting your head, becomes simpler and less interesting in execution.

Theoretically, much of the challenge should come from the shape of your cage. The shape varies with each level. Sometimes the level features a simple circle or square or a more complex spiral or hourglass or even a maze of moving walls with breakaway barriers and other surprises. It’s an impressive variety, but the shape is mostly irrelevant as it forces no change to gameplay or tactics.

You’ll realize early on that the most efficient means of survival is to hug a wall and move slowly around the perimeter. On Normal this never fails, so while the premise suggests this will be a frantic game of dodgeball with myself, in reality it’s a test of patience to see how slow I can move an avatar.

On Hard, your bullets survive longer before fading away, so you might actually have to dodge one or two. The increase in difficulty is slight, and if the game continued at this same pace, it could have gracefully prepared us for the chaos of Impossible. It could have been a game that ramps so slowly that we don’t even realize how much it has changed until we go back to the beginning to see how far we’ve come. The subtlety between Normal and Hard suggests this could have been possible, so when the game jumps to the five-star Impossible, it feels like the developer simply got lazy and skipped the middle steps.

Impossible is simply frustrating. On one hand, it is the frantic game of dodgeball that I asked for, but it’s a frantic game of dodgeball against experts. The game seems completely uninterested in helping me reach their level.

Don’t Shoot Yourself is a pleasant distraction, but it’s never particularly fun. Instead of teaching us how to create a pattern and rhythm with movement and bullets, it throws away half of that interesting equation and just asks us to look for patterns. Even then, those patterns are painfully simple to see on two of its three difficulty levels. Circle the perimeter. No matter how much your cage may change, you’ll just be doing the same thing level after level, and without any comfortable challenge, the game becomes monotonous. If you do go looking for challenge and try the third difficulty level, the game smacks you down, as if punishing you for your ambition.

Ambition shouldn’t be punished, and a game with this many bullets shouldn’t be this boring.

Don't Shoot Yourself!

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