Hyper Light Drifter (or how I learned to be a Ninja) Review for PC
- Beautiful pixel shaded graphics.
- Immersive use of Music and Sound FX
- A unique & original story.
- Boss fights are as fun as they are frustrating.
- Great soundtrack!
- Slight learning curve for controls.
- Can be very difficult in later stages.
- Cannot change difficulty setting.
- Moderate back-tracking can occur.
- Pixelated art style may restrict you from seeing obvious pathways and ledges.
Imagine the beautiful worlds provided by the Masters such as Miyazaki and Rintaro, better yet imagine exploring and residing in these realms. From the first frame, you’re dropped into a world that is at once beautiful and strangely broken. A Post-apocalyptic scenery inspired by the best anime of the last 20 years. When you finally manage to lift your jaw off the floor, you’ll have a journey ahead of you that demands completion.
Hyper Light Drifter, developed by Heart Machine, has the player starring as the Drifter, a silent protagonist with a severe illness. Coughing up blood and losing motor functions, the Drifter travels through the game’s world unraveling the mystery that has befallen him and the world, as the remaining populace face a similar malady.
The visuals of this game are magical, with harmonious color palettes, sharp sprite animations, and an absurd amount of attention to atmosphere; bringing life into otherwise sterile blocks. Hyper Light Drifter pushes the genre of pixel “indie” games into the realm of High Art. The sprite animations for the Drifter and enemies are very well done; on par with leading anime studios albeit pixelated.
There’s no spoken dialog in the game, leaving the player to interpret narrative and mission through musical and sound effect cues. Music plays a heavy role here, sometimes becoming the protagonist, explaining more than dialog ever could. Disasterpeace, composer of Fez fame, supplies an intriguing, ominous and luminous soundscape to this pixel world. You can feel the weight of this post- apocalyptic land with every scene transition. Disasterpeace eases off the musical intensity with moments of silence that further engulfs the player into the Drifter’s journey. Lead developer, Alex Preston, described the game as “a combination of Zelda: Link to the Past and Diablo“, and it deviates from both in glorious fashion, becoming a unique experience that doesn’t need you to know either reference point. What you’re left with is a game that holds your hand through the menu screen and leaves you to your own devices immediately after. You got this.
With Energy Sword in hand, the Drifter confronts foes of varying difficulty and with upgrades called Gearbits you can take on the most intimidating of baddies with relative ease. These Gearbits allow you to expand what the Drifter can do including more powerful sword attacks, supremely satisfying dash attacks, and health upgrades. The controls have a slight learning curve as button timing is critical and enemies are merciless. If you are familiar with Run-and-Gun games, you should be alright.
Not to be disillusioned by spectacular visuals and striking story, there are instances where Hyper Light Drifter leaves something to be desired. After many hours, dashing from platform to platform can still go wrong, resulting in a loss of composure and cool points. Sometimes the pixelated art style restricts you from seeing obvious pathways and ledges. That said, you may be unaware of possible cover and left completely exposed to attack. As you progress through the different zones, you may get wrapped up in exploring a particular direction, potentially leaving you without a needed key, or Gearbit for upgrades.
Moderate back-tracking can occur, and with it enemy respawns. The enemies can be frustrating, with unyielding attack patterns, but not abusive like in Ninja Gaiden. And like Ninja Gaiden, you will die many times, becoming buddies with the short loading-screen and swearing vengeance on a boss’s attack pattern with the millisecond opening that led you to this new friendship. A careful observance can keep a lot of headache at bay. Try not to destroy your controller.
Something should be said for the creator, Alex Preston; for this game might very well not have been made at all. The game’s narrative is an interactive metaphor for the health problems Preston has been battling all his life and throughout production. The Game serves as a catharsis to being dealt a bad hand in life. Diagnosed with congenital heart disease, and a regular at hospitals, Preston had been very protective about the game until a hospital stint in 2013 pushed Alex to reconsider his position. Heading a Kickstarter project the following year, he quickly received more funding than he had anticipated. After the successful campaign, work began with a few snags, due to health problems; the game has since been released for Linux, PC via Steam in March 2016, with a release later this year for PS4 and Xbox One.