Review: Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter may be the most aptly named title ever made. Within the first few moments of Heart Machine’s latest game, you are treated to a cascade of color and sound as you introduce yourself to the character and the world you are about to explore. The opening scene is wordless, instead replaced with haunting, atmospheric music. The game creates more questions than answers at the start and instantly sets out the theme HLD is trying to put forth. You must find your purpose within it’s the world.

This 2D, old-school, action RPG is soaked in neon colors, making Hyper Light Drifter one of the more beautiful games I’ve played. The digital aesthetic HLD contains in its natural settings cause the world to connected, even with the variety of environments the game offers.  You’ll navigate wastelands, underground bases, crystallized forests and more as you try to piece together your past and your mission. Each of the different areas features unique enemies; adding variety to the game’s fast, precise action. 

Hyper Light Drifter’s combat is precise, requiring you to use the drifter’s sword attacks, dashes, and guns in every way possible to gain an edge in the game’s multiple battles. I found myself practicing the timing of ashes and counting the number of hits each enemy takes to kill to move through conflicts efficiently. I’ve learned these tactics through perseverance, as HLD surely does feature unforgiving fights. But never did I feel like the game was unfair. Every time I died it was my fault, and I had to adapt to move forward. Beyond your character’s base set of attacks, new skills, such as chain dashing or the ability to reflect back projectiles with the swing of your sword, are available for purchase using collectibles found in the environment. While these new skills aren’t required to proceed the in the story, they are extremely helpful; especially in the latter parts of the game. But people seeking the extra challenge can attempt to complete the game without any upgrades used. The game also features an interesting take on a new game plus mode, offering all upgrades unlocked at the start of the game, at the same time leaving you with reduced health, making survival depend explicitly on your skill alone.

Heart Machine has an apparent love for classic video game boss fights, as Hyper Light Drifter features fun, epic battles at the end of each area. Patterns are to be learned, and timing is to be practiced to defeat and navigate these tough bosses. The game does a great job of making you feel accomplished, as your character flourishes whenever you destroy a boss fight or complicated battle. It’s a small detail, but one I certainly appreciated. It’s as if the drifter is sharing in your joy and celebrating your victory.

That is what HLD does best. The game does a great job of capturing you in its world. Exploration is rewarding, but it does get a little tiresome at times. This frustration is due to HLD’s map system. The map gives you only a general sense of your location in reference to an area. This design choice makes finding your way difficult at times as you have to guess sometimes if you’re going the right way. Whereas giving me the exact location would give me a general sense of direction or quickly identify hidden areas littered throughout the world. And while I thoroughly enjoyed the environments, sounds, and combat HLD has to offer, a lot of the game’s story is up for you to interpret. Maybe a little too much. The game is wordless, with conversations reduced to pictures of incidents, and cut scenes that leave much to the imagination. I’ve played through the game three times by now, and still, have a lot of trouble piecing together a story. By leaving out most of the details, the game creates a sense of discovery and wonder, but I can’t help but feel this game would be much better with just a little more direction or clarification. By the end of the game, I completed one of the most epic adventures I’ve experienced, but I still don’t understand what I had done. All I have are theories as to what transpired in Hyper Light Drifter, but I know I definitely had fun.

Hyper Light Drifter creates a vibrant, dangerous world for you to explore. The lush colors and musical swells captivate you in between frantic and exhilarating fights but is ultimately held back by leaving it up to the player to find their purpose.