Monday, April 4, 2016

Regarding Hyper Light Drifter...

So, Alex made me pretty jelly talkin' about Hyper Light Drifter on the podcast the other day.

Like super jelly.  Truly, I was not ready for how jelly.

That night, I retired - sleepy, and bored - and began watching a Darkest Dungeon stream with two Antiquarians in the party.  Turns out the Antiquarians have wicked +dodge buffs for the entire party, and this group was doing pretty darned well with just a Vestal in the back, a Bounty Hunter in the tanking position and two Antiquarians in between.  But as I was watching, I couldn't get the very idea of the possibility of playing Hyper Light Drifter out of my head.

There hasn't been much coverage of the game's launch, if you've noticed.  Maybe it's on account of Quantum Break and Dark Souls III reviews that are in need of websites' energies.  I've heard Heart Machine didn't send out review codes to the media until like the day before launch - and I've also read, in places, that while the game is fun and smart and enchanting, its bosses are hard as balls to the point that there is at least one professional video games journalist, working for an exclusively-PC site, who can't get past the first boss he met.  So he was like "okay, I guess I don't get to play Hyper Light Drifter."

The boss that defeated Rock Paper Shotgun's John Walker, by the way, is the same one Alex describes in the podcast.  It's this lovely creature - Lord Of All Bird Peeps.

So I'm layin' in bed, watching Darkest Dungeon, thinking about Hyper Light Drifter and Alex's (very generous!) offer to let me squeeze in to his Steam account to give it a shot, and I figure "fuck it."  I get out of bed, shuffle into some clothes, head over to the computer and give Steam twenty dollars.

I go outside, smoke a cigarette.  Let it download.

Head back in.  Peer hopefully at the computer.  It's installed.  I tell it to run.

I wait.  And I wait.

And it runs.


Before you even get to the start screen, it tells you that it plays best with a controller.  I have a 360 pad and a dongle that lets it work wirelessly with my PC, but that's been packed away since a move last September, so  - hoping against hope - I grab my PS4 charging cable, jack it in to my PC's usb slot, and plug the controller in.

It works.

Everything just worked out.  I can't remember ever having a smoother PC gaming experience.  Would you like to know how Hyper Light Drifter is?

It's amazing.  It's beautiful - intensely, artfully, simply, humbly beautiful.  It's wordless.  There isn't a single line of text or dialogue or tutorial information in the entire game - unless you count button prompts as language (which I kinda' do!).   It's elegant and sparse - incredibly sparse - but even without words, one quickly falls into Drifter's classic gamey sensibilities.

I wandered north, out of town, and got into some brawls with the local bird men.  I began finding these glimmering golden squares - I think they're some kind of currency - and for every four I collect, they'll combine into one golden ticket-thing.  With three golden ticket-things, I know from my exploration of town, I can purchase an upgrade.

I wonder if I can un-purchase one, to re-spec, as it were?

No matter.  Won't have to worry about that for a while.

The animations are phenomenal - the way the Drifter's cape whips to and fro as he lashes out with his gleaming light sword - the snappy impact of its strikes, the splatter of an enemy's blood against the ground.

The combat is wicked tight.  This is a game that will punish you for spamming, but is equally, generously rewarding to the spirit when you let a bird-foe sweep in towards you for a dive-bomb and smash him out of the air with one perfectly-timed swipe of your blade before blinking ten feet away, whipping out your pistol and letting off a volley of shots at a distant caster.

It throws combat scenarios at you that, at first, seem patently ridiculous, and require the utmost patience and calm to overcome, using everything at your disposal at the precise right moment.  Walking away from these encounters is a powerful intoxicant.

Towards the end of my first hour with the game, I set it aside.  I had already been sleepy, and it was too late to continue.  I would pick it up another day.

I fired an email at Alex, to let him know I'd grabbed it, and that I hadn't met a boss yet.

ALEX: He's north!

CHANCE: That's the direction I've cleared!

ALEX: Also, how cool is it that you can just jack in the PS4 controller?  It's like my absolute favorite controller ever.  So you didn't kill the bird mage in the pompadour wig?

CHANCE: Not yet, Spoiley Spoilerson.

ALEX: That's a bad habit.  I ruined Mordin's death to a friend once.


I told myself I would return to it after I'd finished Salt and Sanctuary, but tales of its unstoppable bosses kept needling at me.  I had to see for myself just how ridiculous this challenge was.

So tonight, I went to my gaming room to see about Salt.  Then I took my Dualshock 4 cable, plugged it into my computer, plugged the controller in to it, and turned on Hyper Light Drifter instead.

I explored in and around the temple this most fearsome of foes called home, picking up as many of those golden-ticket things as I could.  As soon as I had enough, I returned to town to cash them in for an upgrade that allows me to triple-dash, instead of the default single.  I hoped that would see me through, and I dove in to its domain.

The fights leading up to this thing were ridonkulous, and felt ridonkulously awesome to overcome.  Then, I stepped into his chamber, and stood before the Bird Monarch.  The Alpha and Omega of poultry.  Wizard King of the Avians.

With my sweet-ass triple-dash for evasive maneuvers, it did not take long to put him down.

I took a screenshot and sent it to Alex - like a monster's head on display.

Subject line: "Three Tries!"

I'm getting the sense that Alex was correct when he suggested it won't be a very long game - maybe six or eight hours, if it doesn't have a Link to the Past-style surprise up its sleeve.  But man.  Good things can come in small packages - and when it lands on consoles, maybe the enthusiast press will get off their hands and give Hyper Light Drifter the welcome it deserves.

This is one that needs to be spoken about, come December 2016.   Like a... like a good panzanella, the most incredible things can be constructed of simple, humble ingredients - if they're well-chosen, and well-prepared.

Shit, now I want to go buy a focaccia.  Anyway, Hyper Light Drifter is fucking awesome - and if my piece-of-shit PC can run it, chances are yours can too!


  1. THESE are the lords of all bird peeps:

    1. Alright I'll look, but if this isn't about those weird marshmallow Peeps you Americans like so much...

      Good. Good.