HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER reminds me of a very well made arthouse film; you don’t know if you entirely get what’s happening, but it honestly doesn’t quite matter because watching it is a joy in and of itself. The 2D action RPG is the first from developer and publisher Heart Machine, and makes for a fantastic entrance into the indie scene. The game has an OG LEGEND OF ZELDA feel in that it drops you in with little explanation, just a cryptic dream/nightmare of an opening sequence.

hyper light drifter fred hyper

According to Jung this represents a fear of powerful forces beyond one’s control. According to Freud this represents a fear of marauding giant cyber dicks. Also you’re super gay.

The world of HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER has a surreal post-apocalyptic cyberpunk atmosphere, illustrated in bright neon colors that refuse to let the eye go. The aesthetics are truly something to behold and fall in line with the types of games that set out to prove what can be done with 2D pixel art, pushing the boundaries of the style rather than utilizing it for visual shorthand. DRIFTER’s world, much like the game itself, is a highly complex yet beautifully simplistic construction, with distinct environments and areas that further the enigmatic story of the game.

hyper light drifter narcissistic dog

It’s actually an allegory for a world ruined by narcissistic dogs

One thing that struck me about the game was how intuitive it was, as well as the relative simplicity of the mechanics. The game has no real dialogue, with conversations illustrated with images and strange nonhuman sounds. Only minimal text instructions appear on the screen to inform the player how the menu works, how to switch guns, and the existence of warp points. Other than that, the game makes heavy use of visual narrative and player curiosity to drive the plot and the desire to explore, and, as surreal as the opening cinematic is, does an excellent job of establishing and setting up that desire. Much like a Zelda or Souls title, this is a game where functions and gameplay are discovered rather than presented, enhancing the prevailing sense of mystery while remaining fairly easy to pick up.

hyper light drifter diamonds

“So there are these diamonds, right? You might die getting them, everyone else wants them, and now you do too.” 

“Well, I’m convinced.”

It’s also very important to note that HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER can be pretty goddamn ruthless at times. I’m not the best at video games, frankly, but I can guarantee that you will die in this game, and die a lot. The bosses are incredibly challenging at first, often just plain daunting to watch. Fortunately, they’re pretty reliant on patterns that can eventually be predicted, and once that happens they’re far more manageable to beat. In addition, DRIFTER makes use of rooms filled with mobs of powerful, health-filled enemies that swarm the player at once, making for tense combat situations, as well as lethal environmental puzzles that require precision timing and maneuvering. That being said, the penalty for dying isn’t entirely steep; the player loses neither items nor experience, but starts the room over from either the beginning or the screen just before they entered combat. At one point I ended up restarting a room at least eight times because I couldn’t time a run between massive blocks properly, but the trial-and-error format ensured that the struggle never became overwhelming.

While the game can be buggy at times and has been the recipient of multiple patches since it released at the end of last March (some players complain that the visuals and framerate induce motion sickness), HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER is still, in my opinion, one of the best all-around Indie games available right now. Everything comes together splendidly; the mechanics, the visuals, the music — my God, the music. I could zone out all day and listen to the undulating tension and calm present in the game’s melancholy OST. Heart Machine has done a truly remarkable job bringing the world of HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER to life with such an expert hand. It’s a rare experience that can be better qualified by the emotional contentment it was able to create in me, rather than the critical sum of its parts. HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER is one of those games you’ll want to marvel and occasionally swear violently at for a while to come.

Verdict: Recommend

Reviewed on PC

Steven Porfiri is a Crossfader guest contributor that has been slowly learning what true patrician culture is about after spending a lifetime in Bakersfield, CA. In addition to Crossfader you can find him at Top Shelf Gaming.

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