A challenging action-adventure game with beautiful visuals. Some mechanics might be annoying, but it’s still fun nonetheless.
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Heart Machine
Publisher: Heart Machine
Release date: 31 Mar, 2016
Hyper Light Drifter takes on an interesting style with high-detailed pixel art with no outlines. As a fan of action-adventure games, I have been wanting to play this game for a long time despite my poor laptop spec. Now that I have one with better spec, it’s time to see how good the game is. Spoiler alert, the game doesn’t disappoint.
As I said before, the game has a unique take on its graphics by providing pixel art with no outlines and high pixel count. Backgrounds are fully detailed with breathtaking scenery, often with the use of lighting to give more impact to the scenery. Cutscenes are also cleanly animated and flow very smoothly – I was impressed with how great the quality is.
There is hardly any word in the game. The use of pictures to explain the story might look cool at first glance, but all I could see is confusion. I could only understand what happened from the given images which never mean much in the first place. However, if you are up for theory making, you’ll be able to piece the story together from the given hints.
The gameplay is simple to understand, yet hard to master. There is a tutorial at the start of the game which covers basic mechanics, which is not different from other games in the same genre. Despite the game having no words in it, I immediately understand where I had to go and the game is giving enough freedom for you to explore three out of four areas in any order that you want.
Exploration is also encouraged by adding a lot of hidden areas in the game. Hidden paths are usually hinted at from the square-like symbol carved on the floor. A follow-up may be needed to uncover these areas, either by holding the E button or shooting a projectile at the object far from it. It was fun finding these hidden areas, especially when you know that you’ll be rewarded with some collectibles when you find one.
Although you can finish the game without buying anything, additional skills can be purchased from shops to improve your arsenal. However, I found that most extra skills are useless due to their number and the difficulty to execute. You need to keep track of a lot of things in battle and remembering more complicated skills will just decrease your response time – I ended up remembering one or two skills as I played the game and let the rest of the skills triggered by luck, especially since some skills require you to press the same buttons in a different order.
Dashing is also one of the core skills in this game. It is very versatile, as you can use it to move faster or dodge an enemy attack. However, chain dashing, which is available from the shop, can only be activated by pressing the dash button at a certain interval. This can be problematic since you need to get the right timing to pass through a room full of spikes or avoid a boss attack. Moreover, the dev seems to love this annoying mechanic by introducing “challenge rooms” where you have to chain dash several times to reach a certain spot.
Although dash mechanic is usually used to cancel current attack animation in most games, it doesn’t seem to be the case in this game. Sometimes you won’t be able to dash in-between attacks, even after you repeatedly press the button. Dashing also doesn’t seem to make you invisible since you can still get attacked if you happen to cross an enemy’s attack while moving. To be honest, these restrictions seem unnecessary and just add more annoyances to the game.
Luckily, the game seems to be forgiving enough to let you die as many times as you want. Checkpoints are abundant and the game will automatically load you from the previous checkpoint when you die. Sadly, the respawn animation takes a long time to finish, even after using a certain button to speed it up.
The enemies in this game are not like your typical game where you can just spam the attack button to defeat them – you need to remember their attack patterns and/or utilize your skill to avoid taking damage. Hyper Light Drifter tends to throw you in a room full of enemies with varying attacks which will test your skill and patience. Some areas will also get locked until you can defeat all enemies in it, adding more challenge to the game. If you don’t like to get ambushed, however, you can always take them out one by one before the area locks you in.
Bosses are way harder than normal enemies. Not only do they have higher health, but they also have more varying attacks. Some will be easy although the others will take you several tries to beat even if you memorized their attack patterns. Despite it killing me a lot of times, I had fun learning the boss mechanic and beating them.
For those who want to have some challenges, the game has Hoarde Mode, a mode where you can defeat enemies in waves, and Boss Rush, a mode where you can defeat all enemies in one place. Although they might be hard for casual players, the Boss Rush is forgiving enough to let you respawn if you die in the middle of the fight, allowing you to try the boss over and over until you succeed.
Length and Replayability
I finished the game at 19.1h and played the game two more times to get certain achievements. Some of my playtimes were also spent in finishing the Boss Rush and grinding for a grindy achievement. The game has no replayability value except for a certain scene at the end of your second playthrough and the introduction of two more modes: New Game+ and Alt Drifter, where you can play the game with 2 and 3 health bars, after your first playthrough. I did finish the New Game+ for a certain achievement although I was too exhausted to play the Alt Drifter mode after my third run.
It’s hard to understand the in-game map. It might have a good-looking visual, but its functionality is limited. The game also seems not to pause if you open the menu in battle.
Intel Core i5-9300H 2.40GHz, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
Hyper Light Drifter amazed me with its great quality. Animations are smooth and battles are challenging. Although some mechanics made the game to be unnecessarily hard for casual players, it is still fun nonetheless, and I would recommend it to those who are a fan of the genre.