A while ago, I got the game Hyper Light Drifter for free on the Epic Games Store. It was referenced in Enter The Gungeon (a bullet hell roguelike), so I thought that I might as well give it a shot.
Hyper Light Drifter is an action-adventure game. The story is told entirely without words, so it’s up to the player to give the story meaning. You play as the “Drifter” who goes to different areas, collects various things, and fights enemies. You have four tools at your disposal – your dash, sword, gun, and bombs. While the game does have lots of combat in it, in my opinion the game’s strength is exploring each area.
There are four main areas in the game – North, East, West, and South. One of the perks of Hyper Light Drifter is that you can go to any of these zones (except the South – you need to do it last) immediately. You’re not instructed to go to a specific zone – which area you go to first is your choice. Every zone has a unique feel – the North is a snowy peak, the East has a lot of white architecture with water everywhere, the West is a forest with a lot of crystals in it, and the South is a desert. In each area, you need to collect specific triangle-shaped objects (called Modules) in order to fight the area’s boss, which will then allow you to activate some rectangular thing. You only need four Modules to reach the boss – eight are in each area, and getting all of them will open access to extra goodies. Modules are not the only thing you can find, however – you can also find yellow squares (called Gearbits) which allow you to upgrade your gear if you gather enough, keys, which allow access into specific areas, and health kits, which fully heal you and can be stored for later. The map you get isn’t very specific, so most of the time you’ll have to rely on your instincts or memory to determine where to go. The game itself is very open, so you’ll never feel like you’re going in a straight line and always like there’s more exploring to do.
Each area in Hyper Light Drifter is filled with secrets. While you may not find a lot of them at first, you’ll accidentally stumble upon a few hidden things every now and then. As you proceed through the game, you’ll become more and more wary of secrets, and by the end you’ll be much better at finding them then you were in the beginning. Even if you’re really good at finding secrets, there’s a pretty high chance you won’t find them all by the time you finish the game.
While I think Hyper Light Drifter is primarily an exploration game, its combat is an important aspect, as well. While many enemies appear in two or more zones, some areas are exclusive to a specific area, like birds in the North, plant monsters in the South, etc. The combat in this game feels very fluid, and is an important mix of dodging the attacks of enemies while also hitting your own. Your dash will soon become your best friend as you use it to avoid getting hit and get closer to enemies. You can either get in close and hit enemies with your sword, or stay at a distance and use your gun. Your gun doesn’t have infinite ammo, though – you’ll have to hit things (whether they’re enemies or objects like crates) with your sword to get your ammo back. At the end of each area, there’s a boss that you have to fight. These fights can be quite challenging to the unprepared player, but as you fight them more and more you’ll become more accustomed to their patterns and soon bring them to a swift demise.
As you progress through your adventure, you’re bound to collect enough Gearbits to purchase an upgrade or two. You can choose to upgrade your sword, gun, or dash, and also buy more slots for bombs and health kits. It’s completely up to you to decide what upgrades to get, so it comes down to personal preference.
However, there are a few minor nitpicks that I have with this game. Lots and lots of secrets are REALLY well hidden, so you’ll have to be constantly looking for them (and even then you’ll still miss some). This means that, while you’re traveling through the area, instead of looking at the pretty sights, you’ll be hugging a wall hoping that you find an extra Gearbit or key. Some of the bosses were also very challenging to me, and some were extremely easy. The soccer minigame in the town area is also pretty annoying but fortunately there’s a way to cheese it. At one point in the game, I was in a very inconvenient spot where every time I died I respawned in the middle of a fight with 1 HP against very tough enemies. That gave me quite a lot of frustration, and I wished that the game didn’t “save” while enemies were visible.
Even with those flaws, I still think Hyper Light Drifter is an enjoyable (but short) action-adventure game. The exploration in this game is top-notch, and the combat is the cherry on top. I’d definitely recommend this game if you enjoy fast-paced combat and exploration.
Overall, I give Hyper Light Drifter an 8/10.
Almost entirely non-linear
Secrets feel very rewarding when you find them
Smooth and fluid combat
Really impressive visuals for a pixel art game
Story can be confusing at times
Occasional difficulty spikes
Some secrets are almost impossible to find
Music really isn’t that good by itself
Kind of short