Hyper Light Drifter's Combat Goes Beyond the Expected Old-School Homage

Hyper Light Drifter's Combat Goes Beyond the Expected Old-School Homage

This upcoming indie might look plucked from the 16-bit era, but its heart beats with the pulse of modern games.

When I sat down for a good half-hour with Heart Machine's Hyper Light Drifter, its Legend of Zelda-style overhead perspective did a great job of misleading me. After walking into battle under the assumption that enemies would fall just as quickly as Link's brain-dead foes, I quickly had my butt handed to me roughly a half-dozen times as punishment for my presumption.

The retro aesthetic is a popular one for indie games—I said as much in my recent write-up of Nicalis' Castle in the Darkness—but, in many cases, it can often be misleading. Some developers use this style to help prospective customers understand, exactly, the type of antiquated experience they're trying to capture: Take one look at Shovel Knight, for instance, and it's not hard to determine its direct inspirations. Hyper Light Drifter, though, is attempting something a bit different. Rather than trying to emulate an older style of game, Heart Machine uses older works like Diablo and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as jumping-off points rather than a foundation.

"I don't know if we follow the path of just trying to remind you of certain games," says Alex Preston, Hyper Light Drifter's main creative force. "There's definitely tenets, some traditional gameplay components that we've taken from Link to the Past and things like that—older games that we love. But it's the modern day... [A]nd we keep that in mind, and we use a lot of modern sensibilities with our game design and with the way the we structure the game, and that way that [it] feels and plays. It hardly plays like an [older game]. Go back and play Secret of Mana—that game's pretty clunky these days... That's not at all what we're going for; we want something that feels great to play."

Hyper Light Drifter's combat—which made up the bulk of my hands-on session—indicates just how much this game portrayed in chunky pixels strives to feel like a modern experience. Rather than presenting enemies that follow simple routines and move seemingly at random, Hyper Light Drifter's are much craftier than you'd expect—and, at times, downright mean. Going on the offense also entails keeping defense in mind, sort of like what you'd find in any Platinum (Bayonetta, The Wonderful 101) game: Here, dodging is essential, since even the wimpiest enemies tend to strike back immediately after taking damage. Once combat clicks, Hyper Light Drifter has its spry hero darting from enemy to enemy, getting in a hit or two before zipping away to the next target of interest. And once you figure out how to effectively take out a mob of foes that once tore you apart in seconds, it feels good.

Of course, having only checked out the combat of Hyper Light Drifter—and not necessarily the connective tissue—I can't speak much to any other element of the game. It's been in the works for quite some time, (before its 2013 Kickstarter, even), and what Heart Machine had on display looked like a production years in the making. If they manage to stick the landing, Hyper Light Drifter will definitely make for an indie worth investigating when it releases (at an undisclosed time) later this year.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Related articles

For Honor Preview: A Whole New Sword Game

Jaz plays Ubisoft's upcoming sword fighting game, and talks to creative director Jason Vandenberghe about how it was developed.

Dragon Quest VIII 3DS Preview: New Characters, New Dungeons, New Challenges, Black Sabrecats

Though Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the Nintendo 3DS isn't a ground-up overhaul the way Dragon Quest VII 3DS is, there's still tons of new stuff to get excited about.

Will Final Fantasy XV's Big Twist Ruin The Game?

Early details about about FFXV's endgame have emerged, to much consternation.

Final Fantasy XV Travel Diary, Final Day: Stray Thoughts and Observations

There's still plenty to see and do in Duscae, but it's time to close the book on this massive RPG (until November 29).

You may also like

The Console Wars Are Almost as Dumb as Actual Wars

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Phil Spencer says tribalism could drive him out of the industry.

Cuphead's Delicious Last Course Pushed Back Until It's Ready

The final sip will need to steep a while longer.

Super Mario Maker Support on Wii U is Coming to an End Next Year

That means it'll also be removed from the eShop soon.

Microsoft Is Working to "Identify and Resolve" Performance Issues in Xbox Series X Games

A Microsoft spokesperson says that developers are "just now scratching the surface" of what the new Xbox consoles can do.