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To Survive Hyper Light Drifter's Brutal World, You Must Wander

Heart Machine's action RPG rewards players who learn by travelling, fighting, and dying.

Review by Nadia Oxford, .

Congratulations, traveler, on your decision to (maybe) play Hyper Light Drifter from Heart Machine! Before you embark on your journey, I impart unto you this important piece of advice: Take the "Drifter" portion of the game's title very seriously.

Though Hyper Light Drifter doesn't bear anything close to a physical resemblance to The Legend of Zelda for the NES, the two action RPGs share a deep connection in another, less obvious regard: From the earliest moments of your journey, you are entirely responsible for deciding where to go, and what to do.

And Hyper Light Drifter doesn't even offer the mercy of garbled clues from senile old men living in black rooms. Outside of a few text cues instructing you on how to move, Hyper Light Drifter has nothing to say to you.

That's fine. In fact, the deeper you plunge into Heart Machine's lonely war-ravaged world, the more you come to appreciate the uninterrupted solitude. As you work your way through the game's environments, you subconsciously piece together the apocalyptic events of the past, sometimes with the aid of picture-stories "told" by the game's cast of animal-people.

But Hyper Light Drifter's vague nature isn't easy to appreciate at the outset. It's a tough game, and the lack of early direction makes for some big missteps and bloody ends. Even the game's all-important currency system, which you need to suss out for vital upgrades, isn't explained. To succeed at Hyper Light Drifter, you must feel it, experiment with it, explore it, and suffer through it (and maybe sneak a peek at the Steam forums for hints. Shh, it's OK).

Hence why I encourage you to drift. When you start your adventure, you find yourself in the world's hub, a peaceful town populated by the aforementioned animal-folk. You have your choice of exploring three areas: The ruins of the bear-people to the west, the ruins of the frog- and- weasel-people to the east, and the ruins of the bird-people to the north. All the game's areas must be thoroughly explored for triangular chips that play a central role in the game's plot, and open up secret areas within each of the ruins.

Each of the wrecked cities also host a boss character who provides you with a brutal fight, but here's an important tip: You're not obligated to take on those bosses until you're ready. You're free to clean out one area and move on to the next without engaging any of the big baddies.

So, drift. Go from place-to-place and learn how to move. Learn how your enemies move. Hunt down the yellow chips that fund your upgrades. Then learn how to use those upgrades, because they can make your life much easier when you're boxed into a small makeshift arena brimming with killer plants, werewolves, and gun-wielding cat-soldiers.

Upgrade your dashing ability, then learn how to use it without careening into a wall and losing your balance. This blazing, near-instantaneous movement is largely what keeps you safe against predators, especially if you purchase the upgrade that lets you slice into enemies as you fly. If you time your movements right, you can cause enemies to cannonball into each other. The move is a bit difficult to perfect, but is quite damaging -- and satisfying -- and is therefore worth the time and effort.

In fact, Hyper Light Drifter is very much worth the time, effort, and aggravation it costs you (and inflicts upon you). Its blistering speed takes some getting used to if your experience with action RPGs leans towards the likes of Zelda and Secret of Mana, but once you warm up to the icy slickness of Hyper Light Drifter, it quickly commits itself to your muscle memory. Within a few hours, you wonder how those punk werewolf enemies ever gave you such a hard time, especially since their attack cues are so slow and obvious.

Hyper Light Drifter is an easy recommendation, but I opted out of giving it a number score because of slowdown issues that seem to be the fault of my ancient PC. For me, the game sticks and hitches when the action gets heavy -- which is, like, all the time -- and while I learned how to work around it, it's still a cause for extreme frustration when frame-perfect precision is necessary for you to survive, e.g. boss fights.

If you're unsure about your own computer's performance, it might be best for you to wait until Hyper Light Drifter comes to consoles later this year. It's also coming to PS Vita and Ouya(!).

However you choose to visit Heart Machine's rainbow-colored world of ruin, make sure you take the time to wander, hooded warrior. Your life will be richer for it.

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Comments 27

  • Avatar for Mooglepies #1 Mooglepies A year ago
    The game gives you very little guidance, so seeking and sharing knowledge with others is a good idea. And don't be afraid to stop exploring in one area to go to another as well, although you should understand that none of the abilities you can buy are required to beat the game, only optional stuff like getting all of the collectable.

    I completed my first playthrough over the weekend and am now working towards 100% in it. A good game with a few mis-steps that stop it being great. Some odd and frustrating collision/platform detection issues and some bugs with checkpointing stop me from an unreserved recommendation.

    On the other hand it nails atmosphere in an outstanding way, creating tension and sometimes even fear at a whim, and the combat is very well balanced. The mountain climb in the northern area is one of my favourite places in games in recent memory.Edited 3 times. Last edited April 2016 by Mooglepies
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  • Avatar for FunkyJunk #2 FunkyJunk A year ago
    This sounds like my kind of game. I am finally getting a PS4 next week (shipping now!) to play Dark Souls 3, but this is going on my list of other games to check out on the system. Thanks Nadia, I trust your take!
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #3 The-Challenger A year ago
    Shovel Knight eat your heart out!
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  • Avatar for mobilesworking #4 mobilesworking A year ago
    First Salt and Sanctuary, now Hyper Light Drifter. I'd be retreating for Stardew Valley or another chill-out game about now.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #5 nadiaoxford A year ago
    @mobilesworking You'll never guess what game I'm playing again.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #6 The-Challenger A year ago
    @BigPrimeNumbers Well, you made me laugh.
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  • Avatar for seanmitchell #7 seanmitchell A year ago
    Im loving it, its like if zelda was a bullet hell game. I don't think its really that hard once you get a couple upgrades. I like how it gives you almost no guidance. I happen to be playing the original zelda alongside it and they both have things in common. Although it made me realize how good the original zelda is as an adventure game
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