Hyper Light Drifter is one of those games that I’d been itching to play since its release, but never got round to. One of the reasons was that I was waiting for the PlayStation Vita version, but when that never came to be it just fell under the radar for me a bit. Well, now it’s made its way to the Nintendo Switch and I’ve finally got to play the stunning finely-crafted adventure it turns out that… well… I love it. It’s actually one of those games that I’m almost a little resentful to review with the best approach being to say ‘it’s amazing, go buy it’ and letting the player discover everything by themselves. Still, it won’t hurt to talk about the things I liked the most, right?
Hyper Light Drifter puts you into a beautiful yet desolate world, with the player taking on the role of the Drifter – a hero who finds themselves suffering from a strange ailment. With a basic idea given to you as to what to do, you’re tasked with discovering more of the world and perhaps finding a way to cure yourself. Or at least that’s what I made of it initially.
You see, Hyper Light Drifter isn’t the kind of game that goes into great depth about its world and events directly, but expects the player to uncover all of these details themselves. You’re given the freedom to explore the large world as you please, so heading into every nook and cranny is essential if you want to learn more about what is going on. Most of the narrative is conveyed through imagery too, which adds to the mystery of the alluring tale yet somehow feels like the most fitting way to tell it. There are simply a ton of things to discover in the world and they all seem to have a little story woven into them – discovering them all and even making your own perception as to what they represent is one of the best things about the game.
Gameplay-wise, there’s a strong focus on exploration, though there are plenty of different enemies to take down too. Combat mechanics are simple: you have a sword to slice out at enemies with, a gun to blast at them from afar, and a dash ability to quickly leap out of the way of incoming attacks. There are clever little twists applied to combat to keep it interesting to stop players from focusing on one method – you can’t constantly use your gun for example, with the player having to actually slice at enemies with their sword in order to re-fill their ammo. There are two extra weapons included in this version of the game too, and they both add something a little different to combat.
The combat of Hyper Light Drifter is incredibly satisfying throughout, with the controls slick and the constantly changing array of enemies keeping you well on your toes. Putting together combinations of attacks whilst weaving in and out of incoming ones just feels great, whilst the fact that enemies often attack in bunches leaves a lot of encounters feeling action-packed and hectic. Of course, one wrong move can result in your death, but thankfully as you progress you’re able to upgrade your gear to make it more efficient. You’ll need to too, because Hyper Light Drifter can be a pretty brutal game at times…
Hyper Light Drifter is known for being tough, but it’s actually something that caught me off guard on more than a few occasions. There’s this freedom to the game akin to the Dark Souls series where you can quite literally go anywhere you want from the get-go, but if you end up at the wrong place at the wrong time it can have severe consequences. Basically, you’re likely to die. A lot.
Whether it’s thanks to the onslaught of tough enemies out to get you or the deadly environmental hazards that seem to be littered everywhere, survival in Hyper Light Drifter isn’t always easy. It never feels unfair though, whilst overcoming the challenge is yet another aspect of the game that makes it all the more enjoyable to play. Each death I suffered never came from sketchy controls or from an overly unfair enemy, but from my own mistakes – with each death I learnt something new and it ensured that my next attempt would be a lot more successful… well… sometimes anyway. I’m not saying you won’t need patience because the high difficulty and the game’s lack of guidance ensure that Hyper Light Drifter isn’t always an easy game to get into, but when you do you’re guaranteed a fantastic experience.
Of course, this is the Special Edition of the game so it comes with a few neat extras, including an outfit, two weapons, and the ‘Tower Climb’ which challenges the player to work up a tower that becomes progressively more difficult with each floor. It’s fun and the reward for doing so is neat, so it’s definitely worth checking out. There have also been refinements made to the gameplay experience to make it feel more balanced, though in honesty since I didn’t play the game when it originally came out I can’t comment on them too much.
It’s worth mentioning that the game can also be played in local multiplayer, with the Switch version of the game accommodating this by allowing each player to use one JoyCon. It’s actually pretty neat to play with a friend and it certainly helped out in some of the game’s trickier sections – that being said, I think it’s worth seeing the game through to its conclusion on your own at least once, just to experience how finely-tuned each element of the game actually is.
Visually, Hyper Light Drifter looks pretty spectacular. It’s a world is full of tiny little details, be it the inclement weather hitting the ground around you and lighting up the skies, the wildlife dashing through trees, or just the creatively designed neon-lit artifacts that feel so unique – everything just comes together nicely to make for a world that genuinely feels alive. There’s so much to see and discover, but the fact that it all looks so impressive gives more than enough incentive to head off the beaten track and actually do it. The character designs are all creative and charming too, with a host of wonderful inhabitants and foes to see that fit the fantastical world perfectly. Add to that the fact that it runs at 60fps (although there is the occasional dip during some busier scenes) and it really makes for an impressive looking game.
Developer: Heart Machine
Publisher: Abylight Studios
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux