14. That’s the number of new swear words I invented while playing Hyper Light Drifter. This game is frustratingly tough indeed at times, but is not unfair. Sometimes there maybe way too many enemies, more than your mind could process, but it’s just another obstacle that can be tackled. I completed this game, and so can you. The trick isn’t finding a shortcut to success, but to practice and get better at the game. Basically the motto of this game is “GET GOOD OR GET REKT”
The game is made in GameMaker: Studio, the same engine as Sword and Sworcery, Spelunky, Hotline Miami, Nuclear Throne, Gods Will Be Watching, Undertale, the upcoming Death’s Gambit. And if you’ve seen or played these games you know what the game may feel like. Gorgeous pixel art and tight, responsive gameplay like an old Nintendo game. The game is presented in full 2D at all times. Hyper Light Drifter is mostly silent and doesn’t provide you with a tutorial, but the basic functions like Dash, Walk, Attack, Shoot and Heal are present. And these functions are enough to get you through the entire game. Sometimes you’ll feel it’s impossible to reach a certain ledge by light dashing, it’s possible to reach there, but… you may be on the wrong path.
Which leads me to… hidden stuff. Lots of collectibles and areas are hidden expertly in the game, sometimes they are worth it, sometimes they’re not. Lots of off-screen goodies you could collect, but most annoying are the walls you have to go through, and the rare dash on the invisible platform that I need to perform to get to them. While I personally love scanning a level for every hidden thing possible, keeping a main story item hidden in an area behind a wall is just terrible world design. Luckily that happened only once, but people not used to the idea will definitely need a walkthrough.
Now I’ll get to the combat, which seems easy at first as you go hacking through little black blobs, but slowly increase in difficulty. Enemies range from Birds that try to peck you and Samurai Frogs that’ll throw shuriken at you, to Crystalline kings twice your height with swordsmanship equivalent to Geralt of Rivia. There’s even a Hawkeye dressed as the grim reaper who shoots laser bolts at you, the enemies are superbly thought out and have unique attack patterns that remind me of the boss fights old games used to have. The bosses seem tough at first but if you’ve played old games you’ll know it’s all about figuring out ‘the pattern’, and you could defeat them without losing a single heath pack.
Coming to fights and difficulty, it’s not as difficult as Dark Souls, as you don’t lose much progress if you die. But you will die a lot. The enemies one on one aren’t that tough, but when you see shotgun bullets, lasers, a missile and a crazy plant tackle you at the same time you will lose health even with the light dash at your disposal, that’s when you’ll want to toss your controller out the window and cry. Healing isn’t instantaneous either, I’ve been killed so many times WHILE using a health pack, it hurts. But unlike Dark Souls your character never has an increase in health or attack power. He gets guns and can learn attacks but that’s it. The game wants your skills to level up, not the character. By the end of the game, your character will be almost the same as when you started, but you’ll automatically be battle hardened for the final fight, and I love that. Your skill is the only thing holding you back in this game.
BTW: After you complete the Main Story, NEW GAME + is unlocked where you have to complete the whole game without being hit more than once. (Dark Souls is for Nuubs) Autosaves do exist but the limited health makes it difficult on a whole new level. I’d eat nails with milk for breakfast than complete this mode. The dev officially cranked the difficulty up to 11, but I bet there will be some twitch gamer who’ll try to complete this mode using only his legs, with an Oreo biscuit as his controller.
Graphics wise, the game is very artistic and retro, uses specific themes for every area. Contrasting colors, detailed sprites, good animations and transitions, beautiful gradients, and entrancing backgrounds that tell stories, show that Heart Machine‘s hard work in the art department paid off very well. Even with all the pain around you,the game looks as calm as a Studio Ghibli Movie. The City Centre looks fine with details of disorder like a mugged guy in an alley, or a junkie hiding in a corner. The North area looks frigid, cold and white, like the Himalayas, while the West is more of a forest biome corrupted with unknown crystalline growth, the East area has the theme of the ocean, while the South clearly looks like a desert. One theme does stand out from the entire game world that it experienced a huge disaster/war recently, and I think the Titans in the intro scene were responsible for it. The game runs at a smooth locked 30 FPS, and the lower frame rate is forgivable as the dev would have to work twice as hard on every 2D sprite animation to get it to play at 60FPS. The game engine is very optimized and doesn’t need a lot of firepower to play (Rejoice, people with lower end cards!) which is very obvious.
I haven’t yet talked about the story cause there isn’t really much to understand, as it is very abstract. Mini stories by NPCs are shown in the form of pixel art pictures, so they are understandable, and most follow the same lines that they’ve been wronged in some way or another. The abstract story is for you to understand, but I could lay the groundwork for you. You are a drifter by profession and are here to bring back society from the chaos created after the Attack of the Titans. A few entities have taken advantage of this situation and it’s your duty to stop them. The Dog God (Anubis, Apparently) will lead the way towards destroying the origin of this chaos lodged deep inside the center of the world.
This game is around 7 Hours long (Perfect) and has a calming soundtrack, while it’s worth paying Rs.565, you could wait a bit if you don’t have the cash. This is a great game to play until the new Dark Souls is out, and lovers of the SNES era should have their fill of retro with this game. I wish Heart Machine makes more games like these, as it shows how powerful retro inspired indie gaming can be. Surely a candidate for Retro Game of the Year 2016.
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