One thing I love about smaller games is the chance to revisit and refine ideas from our past that larger developers have left behind. It's safe to say that the original Legend of Zelda left its mark on the industry, but I like to see developers outside of Nintendo leave their marks on the adventure genre. That's why I was delighted to take a spin with Hob, from Torchlight developer Runic Games.
Normally, I'd explain the premise of the game, but Hob is primarily visual. In fact, I don't remember seeing any text in the game during my demo. Everything you need to know is visually presented to you in some fashion, whether it's the small sprites that you're chasing through the demo's areas or the icons that relate game mechanics to you. You're just this small, red-cloaked figure with a mechanical arm, on a vast journey.
The environment tells the rest of the tale. While you begin in an idyllic forest full of carved stone, the terrain eventually gives way to a blight. Purple goo taints the world and vicious organic claws spring up around the countryside, trying to stop your progress. There's an invasion and you have to save your world, if not the entire world.
Of the concepts laid down by the first few Legend of Zelda titles, Hob is less about exploration and more about the traversal and puzzle mechanics. You'll run, leap, and climb across a landscape that continually morphs and changes around you. Stone spires jut into the sky, platforms twist into new shapes, and bridges float out of the mist into place. Visually, it's somewhat like Supergiant Games' Bastion, where the world built itself around you, but with more weight to it.
That weight extends to the movement of the player character. Runic has gotten the feel of the character's movement just right. When you leap out into space and your character grabs onto the ledge there's a moment where they fight for purchase on the surface. When you're grabbing a puzzle block and dragging it along, there's a subtle shift in weight as you pull or push. It's hard to put into words, but getting around in Hob is meaty and immersive. The combat is a bit off from that feeling though, with the sword swings coming across a bit light in comparison.
The demo was relatively short, but it gives you a good feel for the puzzles. Dragging blocks into position and hitting switches with the right timing to open up new ways forward. Around halfway through the demo, you gain your first Arm upgrade, which pulls you towards blue anchor points like Zelda's Hookshot. (Which is also used in the boss fight to pull armor off the boss.) I'd expect as you gain more upgrades, the puzzles themselves will become more complex, but you can't really get that across in a 15 minute demo.
Suffice it to say, Runic has me intrigued with this enchanting little adventure. I didn't notice that it was from Runic until after I had played the demo. Runic Games has been quiet since the release of Torchlight II in 2012 and the Hob section in the Indie Megabooth didn't have any huge indication that Runic was behind the title. It wasn't until I asked a developer for a business card that I was pleasantly surprised. I'm glad to see them on a new project after such a long silence and Hob has the makings of great adventure.
Hob is planned for release on PlayStation 4 and PC.