One of the first console games I ever owned (read: probably pestered my dad into buying) was Legend of Zelda on NES. It remains one of my favourite games to this day. In fact, I still own it and the memory on the cartridge is still in tact with my childhood saves on it. Happy days! Some of you will also know that I really enjoy the Souls/Borne series for their challenging gameplay and detailed world. How happy I was to find out that Hyper Light Drifter, a game that I feel fuses these two series, was on offer for £8! Cheap and very, very cheerful.
We begin with…well…I’m not sure. We have a cut-scene with a door and some Egyptian style dog statues (Anubis!) followed by the Drifter standing on a mountain with some giant killer robots. Then there’s an explosion and the robots melt and the Drifter is wrapped up in some sort of black slime. And that’s about it. I have no idea what’s going on, but it looked damn cool! It was like watching an anime with the sound turned off. At any rate, the Drifter waking up on a mountain top and the adventure begins.
The world is split into 4 regions in which a number of nodes need to be found and activated to unlock the path to the area’s boss. Defeating the boss will raise a tower and once all towers are raised, the path to the final boss will be opened. One of the first areas we find is a town that acts as a hub for the main areas, as well as having shops to upgrade your items and abilities. We can choose to travel North, East or West (South is locked to begin with). Much like Dark Souls, the choice is yours and you’ll be given no direction, but you will likely find that some areas are too challenging early on.
The game plays much like a top down hack and slash RPG, just much more methodical and deliberate. You can (and will) die very easily if you’re careless. You have a sword attack, a gun (several by the end of the game), a grenade and a dash/dodge. All of these can be upgraded by finding gear bits to spend in town. Combat is similar to Dark Souls in that you need to learn your enemies attacks and time a counter well. There are a good variety of enemies, from close range brawlers who lunge in to attack to long range rocket firing gits who will ruin your day. Deciding who to take out first is a key part to most encounters, especially later in the game when enemy combinations become more complex.
There are, of course, bosses throughout the game who will test your ability at the end of each region. You will often need to combine your sword and gun skills with care, whilst dodging constantly to emerge victorious. All of them are thoroughly different and offer their own challenge, often based on the enemies you have faced in the run up to the encounter. Death, whilst frequent, does not set you back far, meaning that defeat in a boss encounter won’t cost you as dearly as in a Souls game. You will normally appear back at the room entrance, ready to challenge again. I found each one very enjoyable (in spite of losing constantly in the final battle) and never felt like quitting and giving up. The battles are hard but fair, and most (not all) losses feel as though they are due to your own mistakes.
I say most as I found the controls a touch slippery at times. Occasionally a dodge wouldn’t register, or a grenade wouldn’t throw as fast as I would have liked. Perhaps the game needed to finish the previous animation before beginning the next one, I’m not too sure. But I did suffer the odd death because of this. As I mentioned though, death isn’t a huge setback unless you are going for the no-death achievement.
The world looks absolutely beautiful. There’s a lot of pixel art games around these days but this one uses it so well, with gorgeous and varied environments populated by different characters and monsters. The backgrounds are phenomenally detailed in spite of not being entirely relevant to what you’re doing. This is rather important to the world though, as the world building this game does without a word of dialogue is amazing. I still have no idea what the actual plot was, but the use of imagery in the backgrounds, the destroyed environments that point to a historic war and the picture based conversations with other characters paint a picture of the world and its residents in a fascinating way. Finding a giant corpse with a blood train means very little, but the pictures another character offers up later seems to tell the tale of killing that very creature to rescue two other people. I love this kind of story telling, even if it doesn’t really tie into the main plot. I understand that the game’s collectibles offer up more story on the world’s history, but I didn’t have the time to find them all sadly. There’s so much depth if you’re able to find it. You can even play football, find different clothes and befriend a snail if you really want to.
Hyper Light Drifter was developed by Heart Machine. I played the game on XBox One and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the Souls series or top down adventure games. Just don’t expect to have a clue about what is going on. Even the magic halo dog couldn’t explain it to me.