Hyper Light Drifter (2016)

Without a doubt, one of the most influential series in history is The Legend of Zelda. The early top-down adventure games are immensely popular and hundreds of other games drawn inspiration from them. One of those inspired games is Hyper Light Drifter. Hyper Light Drifter is a top-down 2D action-adventure game. You shoot and slash your way through a futuristic post-apocalyptic environment. This game is brimming with fast-paced action and satisfying combat.

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What originally drew me to Hyper Light Drifter was just how similar it looked to Furi, which has quickly become one of my favorite games. I absolutely adore the sci-fi samurai aesthetic. To be honest, Furi and Hyper Light Drifter are so similar in their styles that its somewhat unnerving. Both games are top-down action titles featuring a futuristic swordsman wielding a glowing blue sword, a pistol, and a red cape. Both the characters seem to have unclear goals and motivations. And both games were released within a few months of each other. Spooky. That observation aside, Furi and Hyper Light Drifter have quite a few differences in the gameplay department. Furi is a boss rush and solely focuses on perfecting each boss encounter, while Hyper Light Drifter includes more adventure, world building, exploration, and combat outside of bosses.

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Hyper Light Drifter is a top-down adventure game in which you work to unlock a seal by defeating bosses and activating obelisks. There are four areas, and at the center is a town and the seal that you are attempting to open. Each area is a labyrinth with multiple layers that you must explore to unlock the boss in each area. These areas consist of ruins, landscapes, futuristic tunnels and laboratories, and a variety of secrets to unlock. You can find shortcuts that make the maze easier to navigate, new guns to use, and diligent exploration will yield tokens that can be used to purchase upgrades. These upgrades come in a myriad of options such as sword abilities, gun upgrades, additional dashing effects, and some other choices. I enjoy these upgrades as they are generally new abilities to add depth to combat rather than just strict damage or health upgrades.

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The combat of Hyper Light Drifter is extremely fast-paced, and the scarcity of healing resources make even the smallest encounters challenging. This is because you can only carry a few health-packs at a time, and you have to find them scattered as you explore. This leads to you trying to avoid any and all sources of damage so you do not have to waste a health-pack. I quite like this as it makes even simple encounters more interesting because I was trying to not get hit at all. The player has a number of tools in their kit to fight enemies. The sword being the primary method of attack, and the gun being a nice long-ranged weapon to sprinkle in some damage. The gun has limited shots that refill when you hit enemies as to stop players from just shooting at enemies and forces you to get up close and personal. The dash is obviously used for evasion and to close the gap between you and distant targets. On top of the base combat, the previously mentioned upgrades add a ton of new mechanics to be utilized. All this makes for engaging and fast-paced combat as the player swiftly dodges in and out of projectiles, avoids melee attacks, and returns fire with a barrage of bullets and sword strikes.

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The storytelling of Hyper Light Drifter is completely wordless, and relies entirely on visuals for the player to deduce the story. I personally like vague and cryptic styles of storytelling that let the player piece together a narrative, games like Dark Souls do it well. Unfortunately, Hyper Light Drifter is a little too vague for its own good. There’s not a lot of story, and most of it is told through quickly flashed images. It feels like the developers had a clear idea of what the plot was, but failed to portray it in a cohesive manner. With some code deciphering, the story can be interpreted, but most people will not go through the trouble.

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Other than the incomprehensible storytelling, my other big issue with Hyper Light Drifter was a performance problem. Apparently, a few versions of the game (namely the Twitch and GoG clients), have a bug which makes the game unplayable after a short period of playtime. I received the game through Twitch, and after about 45 minutes, the game entered a bizarre slow-motion state. I had to restart the game after every 45 minutes to prevent this issue from occurring. Its not a big deal, but it was a pain. Especially since at first, I thought the slow-motion was an intended mechanic and I played in slow-motion for about 10 minutes before I realized that it was very obviously a bug. I’ve read that this issue does not happen on the Steam version or console versions of the game. Hopefully, the developers fix whatever is plaguing the Twitch and GoG versions.

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As a whole, I really enjoyed the setting and gameplay of Hyper Light Drifter. The fast-paced action and neon-samurai feel are the absolute core of the experience. Even with the lacking story elements and technical issues I still had a blast. It is for these reasons I give Hyper Light Drifter an 8/10. Hyper Light Drifter is a quintessential top-down action game that definitely should be tried by everybody.

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