Hyper Light Drifter Preview – Neon Retro Hack and Slash


Developed by Heart Machine. Released in 2015. Available on PC, OSX, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, XBox One, Ouya. Preview code provided by Heart Machine.

Hyper Light Drifter is one of those Kickstarter success stories I’ve had my eye on for a while. After first seeing its trailer, I found myself intrigued by the brightly colored retro throwback aesthetic, the music and what looked like some good old fashioned hack and slash gameplay. There hasn’t been much news on its developments since the Kickstarter closed, but I did get the chance to check out an early build of the game on the PC to glimpse what the game might be like when it’s finished.

Sadly, the alpha preview is lacking in context as to what Hyper Light‘s narrative or setting is about. From what I could glean from the game’s Kickstarter, you play as a Drifter, explorers of a post-apocalyptic world who hunt for mysteries and lost technologies. The preview set me outside of what is probably one of the game’s first dungeons: a broken down research lab still populated by disarrayed equipment and bright red test tubes, some containing bizarre cybernetic organisms. Oh, and there are tons of weird creatures, too. I encountered green goblin-like monsters backed up by skull-wearing, rifle-wielding monsters and some creature I can only describe as a literal birdman.

Described as an action-RPG, the preview of Hyper Light was limited in focus to just the action parts of the game. Reminiscent of some of the older Legend of Zelda titles, the Drifter protagonist is equipped with a “hard-light” sword, and a dash ability that also serves as your way to traverse across chasms and floating platforms. Hacking and slashing your way through enemies while using dash to avoid attacks makes up Hyper Light‘s core, and as you explore you’ll often leave the pixelated corpses and neon red blood of many a foe in your wake.

You’ll also pick up several ranged weapons that help even out the Drifter’s arsenal, which currently range from a blaster, shotgun, railgun and a controllable grenade you can manually guide through the level. While you’re limited to only two at a time, they’re all versatile enough to be useful regardless of what kind of situation I encountered during my playthrough. The controllable grenade helped me in taking out bad guys around corners, and the laser shotgun was helpful against some of the tougher enemies, especially if used up close. You’ll definitely require some skill to get the most out of them, however. The railgun and the grenade will bring you to a dead stop while you aim and you’re likely to get killed if you break them out while you’re being swarmed.

Getting killed is definitely something you’ll have to get used to in Hyper Light Drifter, as I found it almost Dark Souls-esque in its initial difficulty. You can slice most foes apart in short order, but the Drifter isn’t very sturdy. It doesn’t take much more than a few good hits to deplete your health. As your opponents become more numerous and skilled, it’s easy to find yourself with an overheated blaster and a sword that just isn’t cutting through monsters quick enough. Using the dash becomes incredibly important as the game progresses, and once you get a good grasp on using it offensively, it’s incredibly satisfying to carve your way through a flock of birdmen with a mix of well-timed dodges, point-blank shots and sword slashes. It’ll be interesting to see what other kinds of melee and ranged combos you’ll be able to pull off once Hyper Light‘s RPG elements and other weapons are introduced.

As the preview version I played was just a small peek at some of the core gameplay, it’s hard to judge how Hyper Light will play once all of its elements are working. But I can say at least that anyone who loves the classic hack and slash style gameplay last seen in some older, classic 2D titles will want to keep an eye on this the game once it’s released to the wild. There’s no exact 2015 release date for Hyper Light Drifter, but you can pre-order it via Heart Machine’s website.

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