There are a lot of comparisons one can make for Hyper Light Drifter, the most obvious being The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls. HLD follows the efforts of The Magician as he journeys through a harsh wilderness to activate mythical pillars in the hope of discovering a cure for his disease. When the game starts up, it recommends that you use gamepad and comes with a full control set up for PS4 and Xbox One controllers. For me, it was just plug in and play—completely painless.
Combat is extremely simple. You have a short sword combo, a gun, a dash, and grenades should you unlock them. The sword doesn’t swing as fast as you can press the button so keep that in mind as a horde of enemies charge you. There are several different types of guns and you’ll get new ones as you defeat bosses. The dash allows you to evade enemies and move across small gaps to reach new places. All of these abilities can be upgraded to get new abilities and powers but don’t necessarily overturn the game.
Oddly enough but most importantly, health isn’t upgradable. While you can maximize the number of health vials you can store, you are unable to increase the size of your health bar. This design decision allowed the team to create and balance a wonderful game that never makes you question whether or not you have enough health for an area or cause a zone to feel too easy because you have so much. Everything is balanced right in the middle. I’ve lost count of the many times I’ve thought a particular room was too hard to beat, but by rethinking my strategy and using everything at my disposal, I pulled through. Health drops are often scarce and require the player to explore to find them hidden behind something or in a room off to the side. Keep an eye out for small ledges that you can dash to; they often hold little secret items and health vials, making exploration extremely rewarding.
Hyper Light Drifter manages to find that perfect sweet spot of challenging but not overwhelming. Bosses may seem intimidating at first, but after you learn their attack patterns you can make short work of them. The final zone features mini-bosses and that’s something I wish the earlier levels included too. They helped to break up the monotony of the level and add an extra flair of challenge. While earlier levels aren’t boring by any means, mini-bosses would have been nice to see.
Hyper Light Drifter features a soft synthetic soundtrack that helps to perfectly set the mood and tone. While I personally found some tracks were a little whiny and not my cup of tea, they were mostly offset with tracks that I loved. The music helps to establish the setting and sits in the background rather than be a bombastic addition.
The over-world and subterranean dungeons are excellently designed and look amazing. Each one is a drastic shift in colour that makes for a varied experience. To the north is a snowy mountain, to the west a forest. The east is an aquatic zone and the south is a desert. In the middle of that is the central town where you purchase upgrades and view your progress. What I love is the simple ability to warp from any location to one of these zones if you’ve found the warp pad. The over-world is absolutely littered with things to find and discover. I imagine there will be a great sense of pride for those who love to fully complete a game, and this is definitely one of those titles.
Unfortunately, the game still has some bugs. During my playtime, I’ve had the screen turn a solid pink as a certain enemy fell off a cliff and the world to go black upon revival in a specific location. While I’m sure these will be patched in future (And may have already), it did impact my play as I died several times as a result of the first bug.
I’m not sure what to say about the story. The story is presented in a series of images and starts off with a full pixel art cinematic, something I can’t recall seeing anywhere else recently and it looks fantastic. NPCs share their information in the form of pictures, encouraging the player to decipher the meaning. Aside from upgrade screens, the game is basically textless with nothing explicitly telling you what you have to do, but clever placement and repetition of imagery helps teach the player what they need to know. In each area, players are required to collect diamonds to fill out a space in the inventory; three are required to reach the boss and four will reveal a small cutscene and open another door. There isn’t much in the way of characters though. While there is another person like your character who will aid your quest, not much is known about them or yourself. Much of Hyper Light Drifter is still unknown to me in terms of who and why.
Despite being relatively light in narrative, that shouldn’t stop anyone from playing this. The focus is clearly on combat and exploration, both of which are excellent examples of great design and execution. I will come back to Hyper Light Drifter when it lands on PS4 later this year and I’m sure I’ll keep playing even before then. For fans of tight combat and exploration, this is a definite buy.