Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Thrown back

There is much to discuss. I will divide it into multiple posts, for your convenience.

First, I approached my podcast partner with a question: Hyper Light Drifter or I Am Setsuna? He told me, in no uncertain terms, to purchase Hyper Light Drifter and then to fuck Square Enix right in the ear. Slight against my manhood aside, I took his advice and went with the kickstarted indie game.

It's, well, it's okay. I was not blown away, I did not fall in love. If anything, it reminded me how much better games are (in general) now than there were in the NES days because Hyper Light Drifter is little more than an NES game on steroids with a much better sound track.

Comparing it to the games of my childhood does not mean that it plays poorly. On the contrary, many NES games has crisp, clean, responsive controls and, in that manner, HLD does not disappoint. Movement, combat, dashing, shooting - everything is incredibly precise. The drifter does what he is told to do when he is told to do it. A side effect of this is that, for most encounters, all of his unlockable powers are unnecessary. The player, with enough skill, can survive most enemies with just the dash and the sword.

But for God's sake, unlock the multi-dash first.

The difficulty ramps up in the fourth and final area and the big bad expects you to have and have mastered most of the skills, which is fine. There is a reason that the first three areas can be assaulted in any order but the fourth is locked. The requirements of both player ability and unlocked skills made sense and had a reasonable curve and the penalty for death was minimal.

So why my lukewarm reaction? HLD takes more than just how in controls from its gaming heritage. It also looks like an NES game on steroids. Over and over I could see that, visually, it had something to say, but that message was lost in its pixel art and bland backgrounds. Hiding shortcuts and items behind shrubbery that you cannot see through was lame when it was invented and the game does it constantly.

And then there's the story, if you can call it that. There is a difference between mysterious and obtuse and HLD opts to explain nothing about the setting and events that lead up to the drifter's appearance. There was some sort of cataclysm, there were giants right out of Attack on Titan, something exploded, the drifter bleeds black monsters. It's nonsensical and frustrating. With just a little bit of effort, via, oh I don't know, text, the game would have made sense.

For better or for worse, HLD is a throwback to the days when blowing into the cartridge was part of getting your game to work. Things are better now, more is expected. The game plays exceptionally, too bad it doesn't have much else to offer.

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