Hyper Light Drifter Reviews

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 483
Posted on 11 July 17 at 09:33
This review has 3 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Hyper Light Drifter is a top-down (or perhaps more accurately, a 3/4ths view) action game. You play as the drifter, a swordsman with the power to dash (or perhaps, “drift”) a fair distance in a straight line, which is used for platforming (of sorts – there is no jumping, but many gaps need to be cleared) as well as for dodging attacks and navigating over some hazards.

It is a stylish game with solid pixel art and a decent variety of enemies and environments.

Unfortunately, it also is a game where some seemingly minor control issues cause some frustrating problems, and several bits of content feel like they are vastly more difficult than the rest of the game, making them take a long time to beat and stretching out the game’s length far beyond what it should be.

The core of the game is the dash, the sword, and a small repertoire of guns. You start out with just a basic attack with your sword, but over time you can buy the ability to charge up your sword attacks, make dash attacks, deflect projectiles, and even do a multi-dash ability where you chain together dashes one after another.

The guns are okay on the whole, but sadly, it is unlikely that the player will use most of them; the starting pistol, the shotgun, and the rifle are the three best weapons, due to their speed, damage, and penetration respectively. The other three weapons all feel of pretty marginal value and to generally be outclassed; I only tried them out shortly before replacing them, and unfortunately the shotgun’s high damage is just so useful for dispatching high-hit point enemies you’re likely to use it most of the time after you get it.

This multi-dash ability, however, is likely to be a source of great frustration to players. The timing on it is very precise and isn’t very regular; each consecutive dash has to be done faster than the last one (well, up to a limit of a dozen dashes, after which point it reaches a limit, but that’s mostly irrelevant in actual gameplay) and the timing is very specific. If you press too early, you can’t press again and dash; you’ll stop. If you press too late, there is lag on the end of the move that prevents you from doing another dash, even though there is no animation associated with said lag period.

And this is extremely frustrating for the few sections of the game where this ability is required; players may spend an inordinate amount of time on six or so puzzles in the game which require the multi-dash. Half of them can be overcome by heavy use of healing kits if you are struggling, but the rest simply must be done correctly, or else the player must start them over.

Over and over and over again.

This can potentially absorb very large amounts of the player’s time, and is not much fun. Indeed, I nearly uninstalled the game after the first multi-dash puzzle I encountered took me a very long time to complete.

There are also some other weird aspects to the game. For one thing, the player does suffer hitstun from some attacks, and the invulnerability period on getting hit is quite short. This means that the player can be combed by certain enemies attacking them multiple times, or even a single enemy hitting them repeatedly in some cases. This can be kind of frustrating, though it is largely avoidable outside of the arenas, where the player is more likely to get cornered and swarmed, but it happens on occasion, including on the final boss, and it can be a little irksome when it happens.

More annoying is the fact that sometimes inputs simply don’t register for some reason, or an attack passes through an enemy for no apparent reason. While this is an infrequent occurrence, there were a few points at which I used a gun in close quarters and a bullet went right through an enemy, or where I attempted to use a bomb attack and the bomb attack never registered.

This is most noticeable in the arena section of the game. A bit of content in the town unlocked after getting 12 keys, you find a series of rooms that send waves of enemies at the player. You must survive ten waves of ever increasing numbers of enemies to win. Doing this for ten rounds wouldn’t be that bad, but instead you must do it for ten rounds *five times*, in five different arenas.

This, combined with the multi-dash bits, feel like something intended to eat up the player’s time and make the game longer, but it doesn’t feel like it added a whole lot of fun to the game, being rather repetitive and pulling me out of the experience.

That said, the game isn’t all bad. The game includes four major areas, each with its own distinct tileset and set of enemies. There are eight bosses in the game, all of which feel distinct from each other and all of which are reasonably fun to fight against. Fighting against groups of enemies in varied environments is largely satisfying, and the game does a reasonable job of keeping things fresh for a good chunk of the game, though it does feel like all of the areas were maybe a few sets of rooms too long.

On the gripping hand, there’s also the secrets. If you don’t bother with the secrets, the game is not very long at all. The secrets mostly are of the “walk through the black wall space to find a secret area” (ALA old Final Fantasy games), “find the invisible platform”, , “hit/shoot the hidden switch”, or “follow the just barely visible trail off-screen”. The secrets are generally marked with little environmental clues, usually a square marking on the floor indicating a nearby secret, or scattered stuff on the ground to indicate that a wall can be walked through.

Unfortunately, I said “generally”. While most of the secrets can be found in this way, there are a number of fake “stuff on the ground” clues that means that you will spend a lot of time walking into non-passable walls. Worse, some of the clues are just slight bits of wall which aren’t straight and flat – which, unfortunately, is also extremely common.

The result is that if you want to find all of the secrets, you more or less have to walk along every wall in the game to see if you can pass through them, as well as walk along the edge of every platform to make sure the screen won’t scroll over to the side to reveal more stuff. There’s even a couple secrets where there isn’t even that, and you have to simply make a leap of faith off-screen to find them.

Finding some of the secrets feels satisfying, but some of them feel like you’d need a walkthrough to find them, and the game itself gives few hints to the locations of most of them. You don’t even have a running in-game tally of them by area, save for perhaps the monoliths (I’m unsure on those), and that tally is only visible by travelling into a secret area.

The game also is very stylish, but it is lacking in much in the way of greater substance. The game tells its story entirely without dialogue, but there isn’t really much of a story or characters you are going to care about, and the game’s plot is not particularly clear about what is really going on. While it certainly looks cool from an aesthetic standpoint, it feels like it hits on the same note about what is going on repeatedly, and it doesn’t really ever explain itself very well in the game.

All in all, this isn’t a game I can recommend. It isn’t awful, but it isn’t great either; the frustration of certain sequences spoiled the game on the whole for me, and it never really felt like it actually passed into the realm of greatness. The opening sequence was solid, and it was neat starting to explore the world, but after about an hour or so the game became pretty routine, losing its initial luster of “this is a new thing” and falling into a pretty standard pattern for a game of this genre, and I feel like I spent more time on stuff that wasn’t fun than I spent on stuff that was. Correcting some of the control input issues with the multi-dash would have reduced the frustration on that front, but I'm not sure if even fully polished this would be a "good game" rather than merely okay.
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