Hyper Light Drifter for the Nintendo Switch
At almost three decades old, I still think of myself as a capable gamer. While there are definitely genres I’m horrible at, I do excel in others. For instance, I’ve always thought of myself as passable in Action oriented titles. In fact, my biggest achievement to date is beating the God of War Trilogy on the hardest difficulty. So, when Abylight Studios returned all my calls for a review chance, I was over the moon. Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition is a game that initially released to critical acclaim back in 2016. I remember watching The Game Grumps play it and ever since, I knew this was my destiny. Two years later, the prophecy is answered and while this game taught me that with age, comes poor reflexes. I now also understand why this is so highly praised.
Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had before. This was because it’s narrative was handled exclusively with visuals. It chronicles what’s happening through beautifully drawn images or short animated scenes. Hell, even the NPC’s in the game spoke entirely in nothing but portraits, proving that photos truly are worth a thousand words. From what I’ve gathered, a cataclysmic event has caused the world to rot. This is shown when our protagonist stares-down three large robotic creatures. One second, they look menacing and intimidating but the next, their disintegrating. These same robots do actually make a later appearance in the game but I won’t spoil it. As for your character, he’s suffering from an ailment that you’ll uncover through the story. Just don’t be alarmed if you suddenly begin coughing up blood. No, you weren’t wounded in battle, you’re just really, really sick.
Without a doubt, the pixel art found in Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition is just so, so alluring and pleasant. As far as the eye can see, you’re slapped in the face with vibrant colors and an enormous amount of detail. One aspect I’d really like to recognize is the water, something many developers struggle with. Heart Machine, albeit using a restraining art form, had no issue. With the aid of sound effects and tiny ripples, it helped a bit. What especially aided this was the way platforms reflected upon the ocean’s surface. Although it was subtle and mostly done with shadow, they used it expertly, creating an illusion of depth that the platform continued further down. The best part though is the mirror you come across rather early in the game. It’s fully functional, flawlessly programmed, and the inner narcissist loved being able to check myself out between battles.
For all the old-timers that played Legend of Zelda on the NES, you’ll find the overall presentation here quite familiar. From an overhead view, you guide your character through the world, cutting down bushes along the way. Whenever an enemy spots you, they’ll be instantly magnetized to you and charge. You are equipped with a trusty sword and a gun, both of which are up-gradable. You do this by collecting a specific currency that’s hidden throughout the world. Sounds like quite a tedious journey but isn’t thanks to snappy controls. By pressing the “Y” button, I swung my sword, while “ZL” allowed me to take aim before firing with “ZR”. The “B” button activates a speed dash and when linked with “Y”, I felt like a bad-ass. Controversial to some, the “L” button allows you to inject yourself with health. No, it’s not a needle, drugs are bad, mmkay?
The absolute high point of my time with Hyper Light Drifter has to be the excellent sound design. All the tracks were perfectly married to the accompanying scenario and never seemed out of place. For example, say you’re in a battle, you’ll hear harder hitting music that while not too different, does have subtle tone shifts. What I really appreciated was when you made contact with an enemy; the sound is so satisfying. I could feel the impact because of how the effect made each blow feel heavy, as if there was weight behind it. I really loved how authentic the nature sounds were, like the water I eluded to earlier. What I really appreciated was that, instead of overpowering the background music, it almost added an extra element to it. I loved it, was one of the highlights of this title for me.
While I did thoroughly enjoy Hyper Light Drifter, I’d be a fib teller if I said there weren’t flaws. Wait, don’t freak out, it’s nothing that renders the game unplayable. For starters, when you’re fighting several enemies at once, I did notice minor slow-down. It was nothing much and to be honest, I didn’t notice at first. It was only after dying several times that I began clueing in to it. In other ways, my old man reflexes guided me towards this minor frame-rate drop. As long as you aren’t like me, chances are you’ll
My final issue lays with the map; I found that it was very difficult to read. While it showed the general area your character was in, it never showed the exact location. What this meant is that there were times when I’d have to keep pressing “-” to know where I was or going. Sometimes, I just couldn’t do it either way and this lead to some aimless wandering. There was also white diamonds that we’re scattered on the map. Maybe I missed an explanation but I had no idea what they represented initially. It took me an impromptu bathroom break and sheer, dumb luck to finally figure out that, hey, those are elevators. I feel like a Legend of some sort would have helped oblivious gamers such as myself.
In conclusion, Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition is a really fun romp but is relentless in its difficulty. I never felt like it was in an unfair light though but more my inability to fully pay attention. I also really loved the way they implemented the Switch exclusive feature, HD Rumble. It reacted in time with the heartbeat whenever you had low-health. It was almost like you were the character, breathing heavily and heart racing, as you dodged and weaved through enemies with your last heart. For me, this game is absolutely worth the price tag and I urge everyone to consider this as their next purchase. It’s a no-brainer but if you ever find it on-sale, it’s a steal at that point.
Reviewed by Fernando on the Nintendo Switch. Game provided by Abylight Studios.