Sometimes in life we find that actions speak louder than words, and that’s definitely the same case for Hyper Light Drifter, a game of no written words as well as no spoken dialogue. Which in turn leaves the player to interpret the entire game however they believe suitable and worthy. You will be interpreting the events of the story from all the hidden secret messages along the way to the characters you will meet on your journey, including the nameless lonely soul you control, as you seek to understand what you’re fighting so desperately for, as well as trying to understand why the world is filled with death and misery. It was a risky move to leave the game up to the player’s interpretation, especially for an indie game, but that risk should be commended and respected. While the game doesn’t pull this off to its fullest potential thanks to its vague nature that doesn’t always work in its favour, Hyper Light Drifter is a worthwhile experience, and it would be a shame to miss out on this old-school, nostalgic title.
Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D action-roleplaying game developed by indie developers that go by the name of Heart Machine. This being their first gaming project, the studio has done an impressive job showing off their talent and will hopefully get better at making even more improved games in the future. One of the main reasons that Hyper Light Drifter works so well is because it mixes elements of certain games so well, but not only that, it pays major homage to the 8-bit and 16-bit era of gaming. Some of the games that inspired Hyper Light Drifter are The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a classic in the long-running series, as well as Diablo combined with the beautifully unique pixellated art style of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery.
You are first introduced to Hyper Light Drifter by one of the most interesting and mysterious intros I’ve seen in recent times. What seems like an ordinary, peaceful world suddenly erupts with a huge explosion annihilating everything and leaving behind nothing but chaos and death. Suddenly, our main hero appears from out of nowhere looking very ill and frail, coughing up blood, then fighting off what seems to be some kind of corruption. Barely escaping with his life, he runs deeper and deeper into a world full of decay with the corruption growing faster and stronger with every passing minute. Although the game doesn’t really have a story to tell with its lack of dialogue or written text, I was left fully immersed and intrigued about the world and our lone hero, going so far as to replaying the intro cutscene over and over again on YouTube trying to search for any hidden symbolism or secret messages. I would ponder on who the silent, blue-skinned humanoid that we believe to be “The Drifter” or “The Magician” is and where he came from. My other questions included me wanting to know who and what these “Titans” are, and what is this terrible corruption that’s spreading like wildfire across the land, and I also found myself anxiously seeking the answer to whether there is a cure for the disease and what the deal is with the Dog. Questions and thoughts…oh, so many of them I had to myself.
Combat and exploration play a major part in Hyper Light Drifter, and luckily, for the most part, the game succeeds here, which is essential as the majority of the game is fighting and slicing your way through hordes of enemies and tough boss battles. The main goal is basically laying waste to anyone and anything that gets in the Drifter’s way of finding a cure for the disease. Combat is fun, fast, and engaging. As you take a while to get used to the mechanics, you need to learn quickly on how to be precise and fast with your decision-making, as that will be the difference between life and death. Your arsenal consists of many weapons and gadgets. Your trusty energy sword acts as the primary means of offence; its quick slash will dispatch enemies quickly. But that’s not all, you’ll come across a variety of items and gear on your journey from pistols, heavy rifles, and high powered explosives to aid you on your adventure.
When you’re not fighting, you will be exploring and learning about the broken world. There are many different and detailed environments from snowy mountaintops and underground caves to the eye-catching blue lakes and lush forest areas full of trees and green scenery. These environments all show off the game’s beautiful pixel art in this colourful but dark and twisted interconnected world. You will come across hidden alternate paths that will lead you to secret loot and items needed to upgrade weapons and learn new, powerful attacks. You also have a very versatile dash mechanism that enables you to do a triple speed dash which has multiple uses: It can be used to evade/dodge incoming attacks, leap across gaps and chasms, reach hidden paths, and stun enemies during combat.
It would be a crime to review this game without talking about the killer soundtrack. It gave me goosebumps at times with its soft, atmospheric ambient sounds mixed with electronic tones and powerful bass. The soundtrack suits the mood and natural tones and brings the game to life. Adding more depth to Hyper Light Drifter, the tracks used for the boss fights are easily some of the best music used in the game. Hyper Light Drifter won’t be a game for everyone, though. The pixel art may not attract the attention of some gamers, and the same goes for the old SNES style of gameplay with no dialogue and increased emphasis on using music and beautiful visuals to tell a story. This vagueness isn’t necessarily a fault with the game, it’s a purposeful design choice, but some may not like the fact that some of the lingering questions and theories they have throughout the 8-10 hour game won’t get answered but will instead be left up to the player’s imagination.
Developer: Heart Machine
Publisher: Heart Machine
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 31st March 2016 (PC), 26th July 2016 (PS4, Xbox One)