Hyper Light Drifter Special Edition Review – Drifting onto the Switch
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Developer: Heart Machine
Publisher: Abylight Studios (Special Edition)
Release: 6th September 2018
Two years ago, Heart Machine released Hyper Light Drifter, an action game widely praised to this day. Even though I was always enchanted by the art and style, I never got around to picking it up, except … when it´s Switch port was announced. So, I waited patiently since this was one of the very best games to enjoy on the go and it was definitely worth it.
Hyper Light Drifter´s world is a ruin, telling myths of long gone heroes, events and destruction. What remains are a few people who are still alive and the lonely Drifter, solely searching for a way to cure his illness before he too falls into ruin. On the way he slowly uncovers some of the old tales still lingering in the minds of few, discovering what greatness was before this age of darkness.
In a lot of ways, Hyper Light Drifter resembles From Software´s approach in Dark Souls. We´re an insignificant person, in a giant, dead world and piece by piece reveal its past. On the way, we meet new characters, who tell us their stories, help us or even attack us. Like only a few, it captures this feeling of loneliness through the giant landscapes, destroyed environments and the constant sense of something far greater existing before you were even born. However, all of that is told without words, solely relying on its visuals in every way, for better or worse. While concepts like the Drifter´s disease don´t need any text to impact the player, when he´s coughing up blood and merely pushes his way forward, only hoping to overcome the obstacles in his way, the NPC´s dialogue suffers from time to time. Since they all still tell their stories, the game relies on pictures and cryptic paintings, often seeming like an inferior way of storytelling, used because they just didn´t want to use text. As a result, some things aren´t mysterious or open to interpretation but just not clear.
Though maybe that was their goal, considering the cryptic, vast open world. Despite the clear four goals marked on the map, Hyper Light Drifter is clustered with secret rooms, collectables and optional people to meet or defeat. Sometimes the game presents them right in front of you when you search for the activation buttons needed to open each of the four big temples. Naturally, in most cases, you have to find them by exploring or thinking around the corner. While I´m sure I didn´t find nearly all of them, none of them felt like lacklustre discoveries, rewarding you with anything, ranging from shops to “mere” currency or new interactions.
Nonetheless, the main part will be the classic 2D action gameplay. There´s one button to slash, dodge and shoot with the pistol, yet don´t be fooled into thinking Hyper Light Drifter isn´t a hard game, it definitely is. There are tons of different enemies, all with their unique speed, attack movements and quirks. Due to the fact, the Drifter can only take a handful of hits before dying and restarting the room, learning all those enemies is a necessity. Luckily, the combat is fluid enough to provide you with the tools to do so. Everything is just so direct, fluid, fast and fun, that controlling your Drifter feels great in every way. The speed is similar to, let´s say, Bloodborne, relying on an aggressive playstyle. Especially since the pistol, that allows for some quick shots from a safe distance, can only be charged by hitting enemies.
Additionally, the game doesn´t solely exist of arenas full of enemies either, many don´t even have to be cleared if you want. Instead, Hyper Light Drifter uses smart level design to sneakily force you to fight. Through moving blocks with enemies in the safe zones, little platforms where yo can´t properly manoeuvre without defeating them and more, it makes use of the natural gameplay flow, instead of artificial brick walls. At the same time, every one of the four big areas teaches some kind of passive skill more or less, from properly timing your dodges or how to effectively navigate. Unfortunately, most of the mistakes in these areas are often punished by instant-deaths, making the otherwise fun experience somewhat more frustrating than necessary.
In particular because Heart Machine added some new stuff to this Switch release, like two new skills and a new outfit. Skills and outfits work similar to typical upgrades and can be purchased by the currency you find here and there. On the one hand, there are a ton of moves for your general combat, increasing your general effectiveness once you mastered those. On the other hand, the special skills are more like powerful moves, able to turn the tide of a battle. For example, one of the new ones can freeze enemies in place, rendering them vulnerable to your attacks, which can save you quite a few times. Even though it´s not a super hard game, some people surely profit from the added options to make it easier. It´s always great to have options after all.
Last but not least, the elephant in the room: Hyper Light Drifter is an unbelievably beautiful game, featuring one of the best pixel artstyles I´ve ever seen. First of all, the whole thing just screams of details, every object and character features more animation, details and what not than many other titles. Combine that with the amazing neon colour palette, granting the game a very unique, bright, colourful look and you get breath-taking visuals, easily stunning you in panoramas or during some of the giant ruins or devastated statues. On top of all that is a super cool soundtrack, underlining the whole thing more than I would´ve anticipated.
Frankly, I don´t think the Hyper Light Drifter Special Edition will have much worth if you´ve already played it on other platforms. However, if not and you somehow overlooked it all this time or never got around to buying it, the Nintendo Switch port is definitely the way to go. Featuring an enhanced version of an already impressively polished and overall amazing game, there´s no better version available.
[A Review Code was provided by Abylight Studios]