The moment that Hyper Light Drifter opened with its surreal visuals and ethereal score I knew that I was entering a rich and unique world that a medium like Video Games can create so well. Part of what makes the world of Hyper Light Drifter so intriguing is its minimalist approach to storytelling. We know that our protagonist is on a quest that relates to a strange affliction that he bares, and he must traverse the vast, ruinous landscapes to find this cure. However, the reasons as to why our hero has this affliction or why the world has seen much better days is something that the player must explore through their journey rather than being handed some second-rate explanation on a very cold and disappointing plate like the one you’d eat from at your Gran’s for Sunday roast.
Game Director Alex Preston and studio Heart Machine have created a unique debut that owes much to the 8-Bit adventure games of the SNES era such as A Link To The Past, Secret Of Mana and Terranigma, whilst also giving players something new through its expansive world and intuitive gameplay. I usually have to break out the mandatory eye roll when an Indie studio brings out a new game in that old school pixel art style, but the game is genuinely gorgeous and the use of colour in this game adds to the very surreal and dreamlike quality that this game has to offer, therein separating itself from its retro-revivalist peers. Inspiration from the game came from Director Alex Preston’s own heart disease both in the journey of the protagonist searching for a cure, and also in that he wanted to create a personal piece of art that players connect with. Although this may not come across in the story of the game itself, it is clear that this game contains all hallmarks of a labour of love, and this desire to create an empathetic experience for the player only enriches the game further.
On top of all this, the game is also a lot of fun to play. The combat, although pretty punishing at times, feels very fluid and fast but with a weight to the sword that you swing (which I should add is made of light… Its a lightsaber! How neat is that?!). The game does share something with the Dark Souls series and perhaps more so with Indie game Titan Souls which I also recommend, in that there will be a lot of trial and error when fighting enemies in this game, particularly the unique array of bosses. However, unlike the Dark Souls series where I often found myself bald from ripping out my hair, throwing my controller through my neighbour’s window and screaming “why God why”, I never felt that my missions were ever impossible, and that there was always a technique or a solution in reach.
I also need to give credit to Rich Vreeland, also known as Disasterpeace, who created a gorgeous electronic score for the game that truly compliments the visuals and creates a unique sonic landscape to accompany your playing experience. You may have heard some of his work before if you’ve played the Indie games Fez and Mini Metro, or seen the 2015 psychological horror movie It Follows. He has a knack for enriching the visuals of a video game by adding depth through his textured music, and it’s honestly a great experience listening to the score away from the game itself too. Give it a listen now and see if I’m not right!
Overall I found this game to be a genuinely unique, challenging and enjoyable experience without any desire to put the controller down and leave it to gather dust. The game lured me back after every session, up until its climax, wanting to explore and learn more about this surreal world and get lost in it, as every great game does. If you’re looking for a more straight forward, story driven experience then the ambiguity this game has to offer may not be to your liking, but for its boldness in telling a minimalist story through visuals and music alone, slick gameplay and originality I highly recommend this game. In short, its very good, but if I’d just said that it wouldn’t have been much of a review.
Written by James Burch