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Love Letter Reworded

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    Hyper Light Drifter

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Love Letter Reworded

    If you’ve ever played Zelda: A Link to the Past, I think you’ll draw some parallels between its game play and Hyper Light Drifter. Both have a strong focus on active battling and like to turn environments into puzzles. They also like to hide things from you that you feel clever for finding. However, Hyper Light Drifter is definitely a game all its own. While A Link to the Past kept dialogue to a minimum, Hyper Light Drifter leaves it out completely. And while Zelda sometimes has its dark moments, Hyper Light Drifter bathes itself in pixelated blood.

    Full disclosure: I didn’t 100% complete this game at the time of this review, and don’t know if I ever will. And I think the reasons why I’m okay with that are probably the most telling when it comes to understanding what makes this game tick. You see, Hyper Light Drifter is a simple game, and it is the great kind of simple. You watch a cutscene that lasts no more than a few minutes, and then you’re right into playing the game. The game starts you out basic: You generally attack with your sword, and you can dash out of danger. Then you soon have a ranged weapon, which allows you to protect yourself from things that are dangerous at close range, but the weapon also helps you solve environmental puzzles and activate switches at a distance, increasing the amount of terrain you can cover.

    The combat in Hyper Light Drifter is very satisfying. Your gun only has a few shots before it must re-load, and it only re-loads if you attack things with your sword. So you use your gun as often as possible (because that’s just smart), but you learn to save ammo for the most opportune times, and then get in close with your sword in the remaining cases, dashing into position or out of danger when necessary, but being careful because your dash has limited stamina (you have a brief recovery window after dashing that can get you into trouble if you stop in a dangerous location). Meanwhile, the maps are excellent, littering areas with both traps and cover, ensuring that you can battle strategically (for the most part), and I appreciated that. Like Zelda, you acquire new items and upgrades such as grenades, dash-attacks, and even the ability to reflect bullets with your sword, which make combat even more interesting. The best part is that you gain these abilities by finding upgrade currency that is hidden around the world, and it is plentiful, if you know where to look. And exploring really is half the fun.

    So why didn’t I go find everything, then? Well, it’s mostly just because the way the game is set up makes it fun to explore the first time, but kind of tedious to re-trace. First of all, the map is quite difficult to read. It’s purposefully cryptic, which is fine initially, but by the time you reach the moment where you could take on the final boss, you realize that you’ve come across dozens of well-hidden items and paths that you were proud of finding at the time, but have no idea where they are now. The map didn’t mark that you saw them, and it shows the area like it is fully explored. So, I guess you could go look for it the traditional way, but an irony of all the power-ups the game offers is that all of them give you extra options, but none of them really keep you from remaining fragile. The enemies that you barely survived the first time are still lurking in those areas you want to explore, and if you go back, they’ll kill you just as fast, and all the effort might be for nothing if there really is nothing left that you missed in that area. As much as the combat is very good in this game, there were a few sadistic encounters with groups of enemies that I was glad to be done with, and I didn’t want to go a second round.

    And that brings me to the bosses. Some of them were AWESOME. Actually, they all kind of were. But while most were awesome in the sense of, "I’d totally do that again," at least two that I can remember actually made me realize some of the more annoying aspects of the game, and I won’t play "Boss Rush" mode simply because I have no desire to fight them again. One was a knight with a sword that just followed me around the map, and I HAD to dash to avoid him. However, like I said earlier, the dash action always ends with a moment of vulnerability (specifically, you can’t move or attack for second), and that guy just laid into me, or I missed my opportunity to counter-attack and went right back on the defensive. The other boss was the worst, though. He made the platforms under me turn into death squares that just followed me around the room constantly, at a speed that I had to dash to avoid. Worst of all, he had minions waiting to pick me off (or knock me back onto the danger tiles), and they FLEW out of my reach most of the time. I feel like blind luck got me through both of these battles, and if I hadn’t been able to start right before each of these bosses, I might not have bothered to finish the game. You’d think that buying health increases would help for these battles, but I must remind you…this game is like Zelda, but it ain’t exactly Zelda. In Zelda, you just rack up a grip of heart containers and absorb it all, but in Hyper Light Drifter, your life is only 5…the whole game. Sure, you can stock up on potions (up to 5 of them, for 30 total hit points), but you’re still dead after you lose all five blocks of life if you forget to use your potion (no automatic fairies here, buddy). Unfortunately, WHEN you use a potion, you stand still for a second (and it can be a LONG second during tense moments in the game) before it takes effect, and if you take a hit, you’re still dead. And if it was only partially done filling your life, it STOPS activating (though it is still used up). I realize that this was probably intentional – to ensure players act strategically when fighting and don’t just blindly absorb damage and manically swing the sword, trading hits until the boss is dead. However, in these two boss encounters, the frantic nature of the battle kind of nullified the point, and just made the experience frustrating for me.

    Okay, take a moment to look at my score again. I liked this game; don’t forget that. However, I like to be truthful, and this game can get a little rough. This isn’t a game you buy for the story (it actually has no outright plot; you’re left to figure out what it all means, and believe me, many people are still guessing). However, it is definitely an EXPERIENCE. Even if the story is yours to imagine, you’ll surely FEEL something. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll play with fervor until you’re done. Maybe you’ll go back and find everything, or maybe you’ll just blast your way to the end as quickly as possible. More than likely, you’ll savor the hunt of finding secrets in your path, bask in the satisfaction of unleashing of a new attack move you just purchased, and continually pat yourself on the back for surviving dangerous battles with a certain degree of skill. And then, at some point, when you’ve had your fill, you’ll take on the final battle and that will suffice.

    Hyper Light Drifter is cool. It isn’t perfect, but it is nevertheless great. Unless you find the game too hard or too violent, you’ll likely find it a pleasure to play.

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