Hyper Light Drifter was one of the first games I backed on Kickstarter. It was promising right out of the gate, and the pixelated art style and Zelda-like exploration is what drew me to supporting the indie title years ago.
Now here we are, 2016, and Heart Machine has finally delivered Hyper Light Drifter to the Steam/PC/Mac/Linux audience (With consoles to come). Does it live up to its initial promises? Well, let’s dive right in.
Hyper Light Drifter is unique. Right off the bat, we are introduced to an extremely simplistic, yet retro menu with an entrancing soundtrack. Upon starting, we are introduced to the game by a stunning visual storybook of how our hero, The Drifter, is overcoming some overwhelming internal pain as he begins his journey into the Lands of Buried Time. Chaos begins to happen, The Drifter is constantly on the run and defending himself, and then a vision of pillars is shown before him. As he enters the pillar, he sees a diamond made by four interlocking triangles. He reaches for them, only to be held back by the darkness.
And this is only the beginning of Hyper Light Drifter’s creativity and brilliance. There is not a single word uttered or written throughout the entire game. The story is simply shown to you and allows you, the player, to interpret it however you want. Strangely, you are able to quickly understand and connect the visual puzzle pieces as you move through the game, and these simple visual clues are what aid you in your journey through the Lands of Buried Time.
Hyper Light Drifter is truly a journey in the purest way. You enter it with the simplest bit of information, but you are positive of your direction. You can’t communicate with anyone with words, and yet you understand everyone’s stories and instructions. This form of communication even carries over into the shops, where a simple video illustrates what the item will do for you upon purchase. In this way, Hyper Light Drifter is for anyone and everyone, as even my 4-year-old son was able to understand the messages conveyed.
Purchasing upgrades comes through collecting gold tokens throughout the game from enemies and chests. For all upgrades, you need to collect 12 gold tokens to exchange for any one upgrade. Like with the story, upgrades and how they are purchased and work are easily and perfectly communicated.
But where one perfectly universal tool sits, the other side of Hyper Light Drifter is not for the faint of heart. This game is HARD. Capital H - A - R - D, HARD. It has a steep learning curve, and this might be a huge turn off for the casual gamer. Death is all but inevitable with your first enemy encounter, as you still learn the basics of combat. However, right as you think you are becoming a combat-master, you run into your first large wave of enemies. This is something Hyper Light Drifter does really well is that it coaches you throughout each area, warning you in many ways to the danger that lies ahead, and that danger is frustration at its best each time you reach a boss.
Boss fights in Hyper Light Drifter will kick your ass. Not because you suck, necessarily, but because the bosses are almost always as fast as you are, they are much stronger, and of course, their health is miles longer than yours. It takes a lot of patience, skill, and understanding to really map out the bosses’ movements, patterns, and attack methods, but once you kill a boss, it is almost like a Dark Souls-level of relief and immeasurable joy. Victory is truly rewarding, and it makes the ride to each boss feel significant and meaningful.
Although the combat and controls can take some getting used to, they are very tight and responsive. I never once in my 11 hours of playing the game got mad at the game itself for “screwing me”. Each and every time, I know it was my fault when I died, because I recognized the error of my movement and attack method. The controls are perfectly mapped out (Played with a PS4 controller), in my opinion, and I couldn’t have been happier with how the game played.
The environments are gorgeous, ranging from bright colors representing the new, futuristic aspect of the world to the lush greens and reds of nature that spread throughout the different regions. Images of destruction seem poetic as you traverse through the numerous areas in Hyper Light Drifter, and like with Zelda games, you rarely have a sense of feeling lost, as you slowly begin to map out the areas in your head while playing. And on top of the gorgeous environments, Hyper Light Drifter’s wide array of enemies and their movement are fantastic, fluid, and help to create a great mix of approach and attacks within the game.
Another great aspect of the game is the massive amount of secret areas. I can’t even count the amount of times I traced back to an already I had already been to and ended up finding tons of stuff I missed the first time around. And while collecting items in each area, I noticed all too often that I was still missing stuff. This made traveling, exploring, and thinking all the more important during your time playing Hyper Light Drifter. Just like in Zelda games of old, where we found secret entrances, great fairies, and piece of heart locations, Hyper Light Drifter is filled with its own secrets that are scattered all over the place. Some that enhance you and some that enhance the story. Either way, they are valuable secrets that add so much more time to your already jam-packed playthrough.
It’s rare when a crowdsourced game exceeds our expectations, and I can boldly say that Hyper Light Drifter has exceeded mine and then some. I was hoping for a new 2D, Zelda-like adventure game, and what I got was that and so much more. Fast and fluid combat, beautiful visual storytelling, a simple and beneficial upgrade system, challenging yet rewarding boss fights, and an experience you won’t forget any time soon.
I give Hyper Light Drifter an EXCELLENT rating (On a scale of SUCK -> MEH -> DECENT -> GOOD -> EXCELLENT). It’s well worth your time and money, and if you are a fan of old-school Zelda games, this should be right up your alley.
This is a game that deserves a second round of play, and I’ll be doing that right now.
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Lord Disco is a video game addict and has been playing since the ripe young age of 5-years-old. He is married to an awesome wife, has two fantastic kids (Named Logan Tiberius and JoJo), and currently lives and works in Tokyo, Japan. Not necessarily a writer by trade, but he enjoys sharing his opinions with the world, whether they like it or not. Check him out on Twitter @TheLordDisco.