Developer: Heart Machine
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Besides Rain World, Hyper Light Drifter was perhaps my most anticipated game funded through Kickstarter. Not only due to its wonderful pixel art, fast-paced combat, and intriguing world, but also because it was the game that introduced me to crowdfunding. So my expectations were quite high, and thankfully Heart Machine's debut project succeeds on every level, delivering a challenging action-adventure through a mysterious sci-fi world.
This elegance of the subtle storytelling also weaves its way into the world. Each area is one of gorgeous pixel artistry, lavish details, and vibrant colors: the gargantuan remains of titans now choked with flora, technological ruins, windswept peaks, bustling town square, dim subterranean tunnels. An abstract map guides you through these environments, but it's the sense of discovery and mystery and allure of secrets that drives you onward.
To the new Drifter, this onslaught of enemies, as groups encroach from all angles, and bullets and lasers threaten to chip away at your precious five hit points.can seem overwhelming. But soon the lessons become clear. Never slash mindlessly, but with confidence. Always watch for enemies' telegraphs and tells. Shoot from afar to even the odds before you engage up close. While Hyper Light Drifter's combat is fast and fierce, it isn't hectic. Precision, timing, carefully timed dodges, using the environment to split up or funnel groups, prioritizing enemies, knowing when to slash or shoot or when to break away and heal. Every encounter is manageable, every enemy able to slayed. Once you've mastered the rhythm and pacing of the combat, clearing areas with expert evasion and combos of blade and bullet never ceases to feel satisfying.
And yet even with the intriguing environments and fast punchy combat, it's the little details that can make a great game, special. The way you can sit down at any time to just relax and admire the environment. The snowy footprints and pools of blood you leave in your wake. Your cloak flying and fluttering with each strike. The fancy sword flourish the Drifter performs after a particularly challenging battle. The dust-throwing skid at the end of a dash. The charming animations of town NPCs.
Hyper Light Drifter is available on Steam, Humble, and GOG. Console versions are coming later this year.