Hyper Light Drifter


Hyper Light Drifter is a game that does the immediate very well. The art is top-notch, inspired by 90s pixelart but using shades and light in a subtle manner that makes it look evolved and modern without ruining its heritage. The combat is well paced and has heft – different weapons have different use cases and different enemies require vastly different strategies. Combinations of different enemies, or even higher numbers of the same enemy require yet more strategies. It is difficult enough that you will not get far if you do not play smart, yet forgiving enough to give you ample opportunity to learn how to fight and room for a few mistakes. In short, the simple acts of walking around, dashing, slashing and shooting are immensely satisfying.

What makes it curious is everything else – and I am not quite sure how much of this is an intentional attempt to be a game that has depth, difficulty and is always full of secrets. It’s not like the inspirations for Hyper Light Drifter were more forgiving, had less obtuse puzzles or easier-to-use abilities, but we are mostly talking about games that are some 20 years old here and accessibility is at a higher level these days. For instance, Hyper Light Drifter will mostly hint that there’s a secret around, but sometimes it will not – essentially meaning that you’re going to have to dash off every ledge and check every wall if you want to find everything.

Bringing me to the second point, that of health. Hyper Light Drifter does the Dark Souls bit with health kits you have to activate manually in calm moments during a fight – this works really well as a source of interesting economical choices and combat pacing, but there is no simple way to replenish them. At first it seems like the game is encouraging you to think about the long-term economy a well, but it quickly becomes apparent that you can farm full healthkits in a few minutes in a number of places, but that’s still a few minutes you need to opt to waste if you want to be better prepared for the next encounter.

Finally, there’s the matter of abilities – Hyper Light Drifter has the requisite setup of extra ammo and health, charged slash, dash-slash and a variety of ways to shield yourself. Some of these are immediately useful, like the upgrade that lets you deflect bullets with a slash, but most are really tricky to get the timing right for and usually punish you if you fail so they are not particularly useful unless you practice a lot. Which would make sense if there were anything to practice for, but I would guess most players would be good enough at avoiding attacks and dishing out damage to breeze through the entire game long before they become proficient with the charge slash.

There’s no real point to mastering difficult techniques, there’s no reason for the game to force you to collect health kits rather than just give them to you in safe areas and trying to find secrets is more punishing than rewarding. Again, the game is taking a cue from older faire but in this day and age it feels like it is pretending to have more of a challenge than it actually does.

That said, it is a great game for the simple reasons that it plays really well and has an excellent presentation. Most of the game is balanced just right. If you’re not a completionist that’s going to be bothered by the last 10% being artificially tricky to get, there is little reason not to play it. It is also very possible that I’m mistaken about the kind of challenges the game offers, or that more will be patched in.

Posted on Apr 11/16 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »