The First Few is a series where we take raw unfiltered first impressions of the game and write down exactly what we think within the initial hours of it. Whereas a review covers the experience as a whole, The First Few focuses on the opening act of the title or more commonly known as the “hook”.
The Opening Act, Someone Talk To Me…
As I downloaded Hyper Light Drifter, anticipation began to rise just as fast as progress on the download bar did. As I fired into it, a moderately lengthy cinematic played to set up the world. Without going into spoilers, it was absolutely craaaazy. It gave me a distinct Evangelion style vagueness and as I took control of my unnamed hero, I found that the game itself was rich in it.
The world itself was flush with detail and the music was very inspired to say the least. As I made my way from the starting camp fire, I played with my buttons like I normally do. The controls using the Xbox 360 controller were pretty common place; A button to do a fairly long distance dash/dodge, X to slash with your sword, Y to perform an action, etc. I yawned through the early game screen prompts saying “You can hit enemies with your sword,” or “You can heal yourself with left bumper!”. However, as I continued with my first hour, I noticed the hints started to slowly go away. Eventually I hit a point where I found myself waking up in a bustling city which was a complete opposite to the desolate and vicious terrain I had fought my way through to get there.
I wandered about, bumping into people and mashing my Y button to which they just mumbled something unintelligible. Then I found a guy who had a different option for when I annoyed him. It was at that point I began to pick up on the real beauty of this game. He conversed only in giant pictures that illustrated what he was “saying” but there was no actual written text.
One picture I saw had some bad ass in a helmet fighting off monsters in a forest and then some mountains. I’m not entirely sure but I ended up running into a guy with a helmet near the first temple which happened to be in the mountains. Another picture showcased a town on fire and an evil looking bird sorcerer who I guess razed the villager’s town to the ground and slaughtered his family.
It’s something so simple but when I have to actively piece together the story it awoke the detective dormant in me! More importantly, it added to the feel of the world. The opening video already had my head in a spin and now that no one was saying a damn word to explain anything…. I was left to my own devices and abilities to sort through what was actually going on. I still had the question in my head…. Who am I? Also… there was this thing floating behind me… no clue.
My First Boss: Death Edition
So, this game claims to be inspired by the Legend of Zelda but I can honestly say that Hyper Light Drifter has killed me more times in just two hours than any other Zelda game I’ve EVER played. And that’s a good thing.
My initial hour was fairly calm but as I stumbled up the mountain, I was introduced to the many mini dungeons that lead into one giant dungeon. Each mini dungeon I cleared unlocked a little triangle on this beacon (I think) which would then power a place in town. So, as the diligent lad I am, I set out to save the world. Maybe. I still wasn’t sure why I was here.
As I journeyed through my first area, I began to learn those simple controls I mentioned earlier were simple for a good reason. They are meant to get you comfortable swinging a sword and moving around so it can throw everything it can at you. That was no less apparent when I had my first “giant” encounter. Similar to Zelda, there are times where a huge group of dudes just pop out and they are real jerks. I think my first encounter of this style took me two tries but it was against about twenty or so enemies in a very very claustrophobic area. Later, I would fight thirty or so enemies in a bullet hell style arena match and the game doesn’t look like it’s planning to stop there.
The way combat unfolds in Hyper light drifter is very old school with a few tweaks. You attack using your sword primarily which means getting close to enemies. Enemies have clear signs telegraphing when they’re going to strike and you’re forced to learn every single attack pattern if you want to proceed. For instance, one bird monster will jump forward, shine some purple lights and then use a ray of energy to damage you. Your job is to learn to wait for that jump, dodge away and hit him before he can recover from casting a spell.
Hyper Light Drifter doesn’t make it that easy though since I was in battle with about six of those at a time. It pushes you to account for just about every monster in a room at any given point. It’s a pure unadulterated frustrating chaos of a combat system but it’s very rewarding.
As I continued my way through the beacon quest, I found myself at a door with a red horned face on it (sound familiar?). As I entered, a giant bird mage that looked an awful lot like the picture I saw in my first hour appeared! Finally at a boss and knowing that the game wasn’t easy, I began my assault and promptly died. That event kept repeating for well into my final hour.
Master Of His Domain
Let me just put this out there. This game has probably one of the best game designs I have experienced in a long while. Every hit, every dodge, and every health recovery attempt matters. Your sword has a three hit combo that leaves you vulnerable after its completion so you have to actually count how many swings you’ll need to fight. If you use them up and only one connects, you’ll get punished. It’s such a small tweak but it excels at making a fight feel visceral and serious.
As I continued my duel against who I now refer to as Magic Flappy, I began to understand the finer points of the game. Magic Flappy had a lot of damn health but also a pretty unique way of attacking. Every move he did had a set pattern but then he’d double or triple it so you’re forced to deal with all of them at once. The game taught me about this earlier when I fought a far smaller bird who threw one block on the ground at a time and I learned, don’t stand in it. The boss now used those very same blocks (in far greater numbers) to pin me into a corner and force my hands and brain to keep moving no matter what or suffer defeat.
Ask anyone about teaching a player through gameplay how to fight a boss without needing outside assistance or a direct hint and they’ll tell you that’s good game design. Hyper Light Drifter stops holding your hand very early on and I believe that’s where the comparisons between Zelda and itself are really clear. The old games just let you go and do your own thing with the adventure you’d have during it becoming the focus. Not the “epic cut scenes” but the actual game itself would inspire and create experiences that you’d never dream of having.
As I began to lose my mind after a good thirty minutes of fighting, Magic Flappy met with demise as my character posed on his corpse triumphant. The feeling of accomplishment washed over me akin to the first boss in Dark Souls. As I trotted out with my spirits high, the map lit up showing me what I had done and from there, I set out to explore even more vistas. It looks like Hyper Light Drifter has at least four main areas that are similar to temples. Each one has a few different nodes to light up and a boss fight. Rather, that’s all I can tell so far from my short time with it. I imagine even more will unlock of the world once I complete these four but only time will tell.
I’m eager to get back to the game but definitely want to leave you with my final thoughts. Get this game and give this man money! Seriously! If you’re a fan of fairly difficult Zelda style art games, this is the one for you. Story aside, the game play is tight and very satisfying with plenty of places to explore and no condescension from the developer. Just a pure adventure game with a mysterious backstory
Platform: PC (Steam)
Control Method: Xbox 360 Controller
Time Spent: 3 Hours
P.S. This is a game I’ll be streaming since I actually have stuff to talk about in it. If you’re interested in seeing me suffer in this and other games, go ahead and follow us on Twitch to see when we go live!
Andron (or Ace as he likes to call himself) is the so called "Head Honcho" of Bombchu.com. He has a deep passion for video games primarily RPGs, Fighting or Adventure. When not gaming, he's furiously typing on his keyboard or coming up with new schemes.