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Angel Pop brings cutesy chaos to Playdate in a highly addictive bullet hell

This is it, the first game to nearly make me throw my Playdate against a wall. Angel Pop, a bullet hell shoot ‘em up that landed on the Playdate Catalog last month, is utter chaos. Playing as an adorable little girl, you must fend off a nonstop barrage of enemy fire over the course of 50-or-so levels, trying to clear each stage of all enemies within a limited span of time as projectiles bombard you from every direction. It moves at breakneck speed, and at some points, there may be as many as 1,000 objects on the screen. Basically, it’s everything a person could want in a bullet hell, and I’m completely addicted.

Angel Pop really tests the limits of the Playdate, with so much happening on screen at all times, but it plays with impressive smoothness. The game is set in what developer NNNN describes as “a surreal dreamworld,” and the art juxtaposes the cartoonish player character and enemies with moody backdrops like dark cityscapes, to beautiful effect. It really nails the arcade feel of things.

It uses a combination of ever-changing difficulty and points bonuses that give you additional lives to keep things challenging without being entirely unrewarding. You might start out a round in Normal, but play a little too well and you could soon find yourself in a much harder mode. Or, there’s the option to only play in Nightmare mode, which locks the game at the hardest difficulty setting (Death). You can use either the crank or the D-pad to control the direction of your bullets, which are unlimited, and you’ve got a finite supply of bombs that you can drop for close-range attacks when you’re in a tough spot.

Angel Pop makes a great case for shmups on Playdate, and I’m now inspired to go check out all the others after mostly playing slow-paced games. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of frustration — I’ve only made it about halfway through so far, and there’s been a lot of screaming involved.

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