There have been many games lately trying to recreate the pixel art beauty of retro titles and nearly two years ago one such game managed to not only meet those expectations but exceed them. The title in question was Hyper Light Drifter, and now you can play it in all its glory on the Nintendo Switch with the Special Edition. In this version, players will have access to exclusive outfits and weapons that will actually make the game more enjoyable. Hyper Light Drifter is already one of the best indie titles ever created, in my opinion when I had played and completed it on PS4, and the Switch version is without a doubt the best way to play.
Hyper Light Drifter takes from many inspirations, including Diablo and, of course, The Legend of Zelda. In fact, just by looking at some of the locations and the map, you can see subtle references to Nintendo’s powerhouse series. The graphics remained faithful to that pixel style, and I never ceased to be amazed by the sheer amount of detail packed into every screen. Wherever you look, there is always something amazing going on; whether it was ancient giants rising from the ground, the remnants of an old past war, or the remains of weird science experiments gone wrong that were left to rot in abandoned laboratories.
The story is very vague in presentation and left for interpretation, but beautifully rendered cut-scenes and coming across occasional NPC’s fill in the lore nicely. Hyper Light Drifter takes place in four different temples, each centered around a main town hub. It’s here that you shop to upgrade your character, learn new moves, boost your health, or buy new grenades. The most important task you perform here though is by leveling up attack or hit points and other abilities. Currency comes in the form of gear bits and are occasionally dropped by enemies or found in secret areas. Finding four gear bits provides you with an upgrade bit and this was useful in any of the shops.
Getting around the map is made easy by a convenient warping system for when the warp points are found. Much like how Link could warp between different points using a bird system in A Link to the Past, Hyper Light Drifter also incorporates a similar warp feature. Going between the town and the temples you’d previously visited could be done at any time and this made for a more streamlined experience. I also appreciated how the map came pre-filled with an in-depth legend, and this made it almost impossible to get lost and even made finding secret easier.
While there were some limitations as to where you could go, the world was fairly open from the start. Most of the time to get to new areas, you’d just have to complete a temple and some of the walls would come down allowing entry. This would lead to new secret areas and provide you with more gear bits.
The combat may look simple on the surface, but there is certainly skill involved. You can attack three times before briefly pausing and basically you just want to make sure that after your three strikes were up, the enemy was dead or you had dashed away from a counter-strike. Using the dash is just as important as using your sword and is your main means of defense, as well as being able to traverse through some traps and hazards.
Not only do you use a sword, but you also come across many different types of guns on your adventure. These were great to use for keeping a distance between you and the enemy, but most were not that powerful and it took some time to get used to the aiming. Aiming is controlled on the left stick when you hold down the right trigger, rather than on the right stick like in most twin-stick shooters. Clip sizes were low, although hitting an enemy with your sword replenishes your ammo negating the need for having ammo pickups.
The more deliberate nature of the combat may be a turn-off for some players, but I found it satisfying once you mastered switching the actions between blasting, slashing, and dashing. Abilities can also be purchased, and to make dealing with enemies using projectile weapons easier, I recommend purchasing the rebound shots ability first. Being able to reflect enemy shots away or back at the enemies early on made a huge difference, especially against some of the bosses.
Hyper Light Drifter seems to have the Dark Souls designation as “too difficult”, but just like my favorite series of all time, if you come across each combat scenario with patience and poise, no battle is unfair or frustratingly difficult. The difficulty for me wavered, but I encountered no ruthless difficulty spikes and didn’t find too many sections frustrating. If you’ve played other similar titles to this, you shouldn’t have too much trouble acclimating, but more casual players may feel a little more overwhelmed.
Narrative-wise, the plot was told through cut-scenes or stories told by NPC’s. Little pictures would appear in dialogue boxes, giving you a glimpse of the lore and backstory. There were no voice actors used, but with how well done the storytelling was handled you did not need to hear anything. New locations would become highlighted by possibly talking to some of the NPC’s and this subtle way of dealing with conversations made for a more authentic way of communicating.
It should be stated, that as you play as a character known as “the Drifter”, he is dealing with a terminal illness of some sort. You’ll see signs of him suffering at certain stages throughout your adventure. This wasn’t used as a plot mechanic, but instead was incorporated from lead developer Alex Preston who had been dealing with a heart condition.
Overall, Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition is a beautiful and captivating title that does the whole retro genre right. It takes what made the classics great and elevates them to be at home in a modern time. Hyper Light Drifter still feels new and fresh on the Switch even after being released two years ago and is another indie gem for the ever-improving catalogue of Nindie titles.