Congratulations, traveler, on your decision to (maybe) play Hyper Light Drifter from Heart Machine! Before you embark on your journey, I impart unto you this important piece of advice: Take the "Drifter" portion of the game's title very seriously.
Though Hyper Light Drifter doesn't bear anything close to a physical resemblance to The Legend of Zelda for the NES, the two action RPGs share a deep connection in another, less obvious regard: From the earliest moments of your journey, you are entirely responsible for deciding where to go, and what to do.
And Hyper Light Drifter doesn't even offer the mercy of garbled clues from senile old men living in black rooms. Outside of a few text cues instructing you on how to move, Hyper Light Drifter has nothing to say to you.
That's fine. In fact, the deeper you plunge into Heart Machine's lonely war-ravaged world, the more you come to appreciate the uninterrupted solitude. As you work your way through the game's environments, you subconsciously piece together the apocalyptic events of the past, sometimes with the aid of picture-stories "told" by the game's cast of animal-people.
But Hyper Light Drifter's vague nature isn't easy to appreciate at the outset. It's a tough game, and the lack of early direction makes for some big missteps and bloody ends. Even the game's all-important currency system, which you need to suss out for vital upgrades, isn't explained. To succeed at Hyper Light Drifter, you must feel it, experiment with it, explore it, and suffer through it (and maybe sneak a peek at the Steam forums for hints. Shh, it's OK).
Hence why I encourage you to drift. When you start your adventure, you find yourself in the world's hub, a peaceful town populated by the aforementioned animal-folk. You have your choice of exploring three areas: The ruins of the bear-people to the west, the ruins of the frog- and- weasel-people to the east, and the ruins of the bird-people to the north. All the game's areas must be thoroughly explored for triangular chips that play a central role in the game's plot, and open up secret areas within each of the ruins.
Each of the wrecked cities also host a boss character who provides you with a brutal fight, but here's an important tip: You're not obligated to take on those bosses until you're ready. You're free to clean out one area and move on to the next without engaging any of the big baddies.
So, drift. Go from place-to-place and learn how to move. Learn how your enemies move. Hunt down the yellow chips that fund your upgrades. Then learn how to use those upgrades, because they can make your life much easier when you're boxed into a small makeshift arena brimming with killer plants, werewolves, and gun-wielding cat-soldiers.
Upgrade your dashing ability, then learn how to use it without careening into a wall and losing your balance. This blazing, near-instantaneous movement is largely what keeps you safe against predators, especially if you purchase the upgrade that lets you slice into enemies as you fly. If you time your movements right, you can cause enemies to cannonball into each other. The move is a bit difficult to perfect, but is quite damaging -- and satisfying -- and is therefore worth the time and effort.
In fact, Hyper Light Drifter is very much worth the time, effort, and aggravation it costs you (and inflicts upon you). Its blistering speed takes some getting used to if your experience with action RPGs leans towards the likes of Zelda and Secret of Mana, but once you warm up to the icy slickness of Hyper Light Drifter, it quickly commits itself to your muscle memory. Within a few hours, you wonder how those punk werewolf enemies ever gave you such a hard time, especially since their attack cues are so slow and obvious.
Hyper Light Drifter is an easy recommendation, but I opted out of giving it a number score because of slowdown issues that seem to be the fault of my ancient PC. For me, the game sticks and hitches when the action gets heavy -- which is, like, all the time -- and while I learned how to work around it, it's still a cause for extreme frustration when frame-perfect precision is necessary for you to survive, e.g. boss fights.
If you're unsure about your own computer's performance, it might be best for you to wait until Hyper Light Drifter comes to consoles later this year. It's also coming to PS Vita and Ouya(!).
However you choose to visit Heart Machine's rainbow-colored world of ruin, make sure you take the time to wander, hooded warrior. Your life will be richer for it.
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