Heart Machine and particularly its lead developer, Alex Preston, had no idea in 2013 that his little Kickstarter project, hoping to capture the best elements of The Legend of Zelda and the Diablo franchise, would go on to be released on virtually every platform known to (wo)man. You see, Alex Preston has congenital heart disease. He has been fighting immune-system and digestive problems that have left him hospitalized throughout his entire life. The main protagonist’s visibly failing health is one small example of how this game is meant to represent the connection that Alex feels through the art of his craft and what he has sacrificed to get there. The story of how this game came to be is heartwarming to say the least. It attracted the attention and assistance of fans and known industry developers that is a feel good story in a time with fewer feel good stories. Not only are all of the original features and details pixel perfect, but Hyper Light Drifter feels right at home on the Switch.
If you’ve seen any of the press for this game or even glanced at a screenshot, you know what you’re getting into. This game and it’s creator have made no qualms about this being a love letter to the SNES era adventure games. More specifically, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the past. The plot sees you take control of a mysterious drifter who is able to control ancient technologies that had been forgotten by the world’s residents. All the while the main protagonist suffers from a critical illness as you progress throughout the game. It’s the way the story is told that really makes it worthy of the 16 bit era. All NPC interaction and quest information is illustrated with no spoken dialogue really driving the senses to be seduced and allow the player to soak into the game world naturally, as opposed to being lead there. The reason that happens naturally is because of how aesthetically pleasing the audio/visual presentation is. The colour palette of HLD is just perfect for the dilapidated ruins of an ancient civilization just dripping with style complimented heavily by Disasterpiece’s hypnotic soundtrack.
With a smart checkpoint system that autosaves throughout each new area you enter, which makes picking up and playing this game much easier for those who choose to play on the go in short bursts. Those who find comfort in its portability will unfortunately lose some of the incredible detail which scatters the 2D/3D hybrid landscape. Underneath all of the great art and music are tight controls. A lot of a games development resources are allocated towards the way a title looks and sounds. However, few can really seal the deal with a fluid control scheme that feels right. Thankfully Alex Preston has done his homework and everything feels as it should. The dash mechanic coupled with some light melee and ranged combat options make for fun exchanges when in battle, especially for the few boss fights you encounter which might feel punishing to some players. The same thoughtfulness and consideration has been put into the standard progression of the game which sees you collecting mysterious shards in order to unlock new areas and new quest rewards.
The only thing really hindering your quest is the map which you will use, a lot. It can sometimes be hard to read, especially if you’re scouting for certain collectables or trying to access a new area. It might be frustrating for some players, but Hyper Light Drifter does not hold your hand. That same mindset has been applied to the myriad of secret areas and collectables that have been cleverly placed throughout the game world in order to encourage discovery and reward players who venture off the beaten path.
Compared to other versions, this seems to be the most complete edition available. With exclusive new content for the switch, and the co-op feeling tight with the ability to use both Joy-Con controllers, this is quite the value on the eShop. This port may not attract those who have already paid and experienced this game on another platform. Switch owners looking for a tight yet expansive game that honours 16 bit RPGs and that really offers a great value with incredible style and polish need look no further. A hand crafted labour of love that should be experienced by those with a thirst for adventure.
Forged in the 8 bit era, Duarte can be found quietly contemplating the future of the games industry. Wondering what the exhilaration of digital achievement will look like on the next horizon.