Did you know that our game consoles are actually infected by viruses but that there are creatures that stop them from spreading and corrupting our games? It’s true. What if I told you that there was a particularly bad one known as the Nanobyte Virus that was going to bring all consoles to an end thanks to just how vicious it is? Terrifying, I know – I’ve put far too many hours into Final Fantasy XIV and Rocket League to see all my progress go to waste.

Fortunately, that’s just the story behind HoPiKo: the quick-paced platformer from developer Laser Dog that’s all about speeding through a variety of levels as you aim to bring an end to the Nanobyte Virus. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to play too, though a punishing (and sometimes frustrating) difficulty might be enough to put some players off.

HoPiKo’s gameplay is all about traversing across levels by zipping between obstacles, with the goal being to reach a virus-infected… um… square? I don’t really know what it is, but I know this: you’ve got to line up jumps with the left analogue stick and release it to launch yourself at different platforms, whilst a quick press of the trigger button will launch you in a fixed straight direction. It’s an incredibly simple setup that makes it easy to jump right into the game and get playing, though the constant introduction of hazards and an emphasis on speed ensures you’ll be kept challenged as you work across each level.

HoPiKo

Admittedly, the early levels of HoPiKo are pretty straightforward and won’t test your skills too much, but it doesn’t take long before the likes of moving platforms, insta-kill platforms, lasers, and homing-missile enemies start causing you problems. In fairness, the game does a really good job of constantly introducing different hazards too, so you’ve always got to be on your toes because you just don’t know what you’ll have to look out for next. Whatever you face, it’s always introduced in a way that never feels unfair to the player, whilst some tight level design ensures the whole experience remains fun throughout too – even if you can expect to die a lot.

HoPiKo emphasises reacting quickly and accurately, so if you aren’t on the ball you’re probably going to fail – you’ve really got to be precise with your movements and one wrong step can quickly see your attempt at clearing a level end quickly. It’s the sort of thing that’s been present in speed-focused platformers like Super Meat Boy and N++, so if you’re a fan of those you should feel at home with HoPiKo.

HoPiKo

There is one twist though: each stage is made up of five levels and if you die during one of those levels you have to start the stage again. This is where most of the game’s frustrations kick in, especially since there’s an element of trial-and-error involved in each level where you have to learn what works best for you. Sure, it’s not a problem on the first level of a stage, but when you’re struggling on the third or fourth level and have to replay the first few to attempt it again, it can get both a bit repetitive and annoying. It takes away that learning curve that comes with similar games in the genre and whilst it’s still mightily satisfying to actually clear a stage, the journey to do so could be a little bit too frustrating at times.

Whilst it has its fair share of difficult moments though, it’s not all doom and gloom in HoPiKo. As mentioned, it’s never unfair and once you start to figure out how each hazard works you’ll find yourself clearing some levels on the first attempt. They’re all structured to be cleared in a way that suits the player too and in some particularly clever ones you’re able to find a few sneaky shortcuts that can help you get through some of the trickier sections. There are collectibles to find too, so those who’re feeling brave will want to venture off the ‘typical’ route through a level to gather them all. It shows a lot of thought went into the level design and it’s not just a case of constantly testing the player, but also making the journey to the end a more thoughtful one.

HoPiKo

There are five worlds in the game in total that each consist of ten stages, so there are plenty of levels to get through to complete HoPiKo. Those who want more of a challenge will want to give the Hardcore mode a look though, which tasks you with beating all fifty levels in a world without losing a life. It’s bloody tough and I’m not ashamed to admit that I haven’t managed to do it yet, but those who like a bit of punishment in their life will want to give it a go.

There are an additional selection of bonus levels to be unlocked too, though they’re bit of an odd addition. Rather than seeing you jumping across levels like normal, you instead guide a vehicle through awkwardly designed courses – it’s nothing bad by any means, but it’s so out of place compared to everything else in the game.

HoPiKo

Presentation-wise, HoPiKo keeps it simple with colourful retro-style visuals. It all looks pretty enough and it works thematically, but you shouldn’t expect to be wowed by its simplistic approach. The sound design on the other hand is great, with a banging chiptune soundtrack on show that fits in perfectly with the game world. You may have to replay some levels over and over, but at least you’ve got some genuinely brilliant music to keep you entertained along the way.

Developer: Laser Dog
Publisher: Merge Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac