Splatoon 2’s Salmon Run is the Most Fun Wave-Based Co-Op I’ve ever Played

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Bam Rants

 

Co-op in games has been a back and forth trend through video game’s young but beautiful history. In the arcades or on the NES we had plenty of games that took advantage of good old “player two.” Once three-dimensional games came into the picture, it seemed that co-op took a bit of a back seat to either single player epics or competitive multiplayer action. Who can forget the hours, nay days and months and years that many of us put into games like Mario Kart 64 and Golden Eye? Playing cooperatively in that era of gaming was slightly less popular than knocking your buddy out of first place with a blue shell.

Thankfully, like the ebb and flow of the tide, co-op games have found a nice place in modern gaming. One of the reasons to be thankful for that is the wave-based hoard style co-op games that have found their way into many shooters over the past decade. Although this feature was sprinkled into several games, it was arguably Gears of War’s “horde-mode” that helped popularize the game-mode. And soon after, games like Halo, Mass Effect, Killing Floor, and Call of Duty all adapted a similar style of wave-based co-op fun.

My own personal start to the wave-based subgenre was in Halo 3 ODST’s firefight. I wasn’t at the time the biggest Gears fan, but when Bungie gave its own spin on it, I was in. And wow was it fun! I was instantly hooked. My next step was backtracking to Call of Duty: World at War, and this is where my love for the Zombies mode took off like a forest fire. To this day it is my favorite of all the “horde” style modes. Now obviously each of these games has their own spin on the game mode. To directly compare Gears of War’s Horde mode to Zombies in Call of Duty isn’t really fair. It’s sorta an apple to oranges comparison, but apples and oranges are still both fruits after all. Just a few sentences ago I made a statement about my favorite “horde” style game—I may have to walk that back already. Because in actuality I’m finding out that there’s a new wave-based co-op game that might be taking the top spot. If it’s not my favorite, it is certainly the most fun. And fun is the bottom line for video games, isn’t it?

 

On April 12 (2017), in a Nintendo Direct dedicated to Splatoon 2, Nintendo announced a new mode coming to the inktastic multiplayer shooter. That mode is called “Salmon Run.” And while I was instantly intrigued by its announcement, I can say that now that I’ve put weeks into the game mode, my love for Salmon Run far outshines what I even imagined.

The original Splatoon for the Wii U was a surprising success and one of my personal favorite games on the failed console. So to see Splatoon 2 doing so well on the Switch, with a trajectory that looks to be the complete opposite of the Wii U, I can’t help but be happy for Nintendo. Splatoon 2’s regular online multiplayer is so enjoyable, and it’s one of the kings of the “one. more. game.” epidemic that many gamers deal with (me included). However the more I play this marvelous multiplayer, the more I realize something that shocks me. I think I like Salmon Run even better! As practically perfect that the inkredible gameplay is for multiplayer, it is somehow suited even better for Salmon Run. When I play Splatoon 2, I only want to do one thing, and that one thing is shooting the green guts out of Steel Eels, Stingers, and Scrappers!

 

Now that I got the confession out of the way that Salmon Run is my favorite thing in Splatoon 2, I want to talk about why and how it compares to other wave-based game modes in other games and why it’s the most fun.

Let’s start with the negatives. Obviously, Nintendo’s online infrastructure hinders the game. I’d love to be able to chat with friends as I do on my Xbox easily but it’s just not as simple. The smartphone app undoubtedly helps, but it doesn’t completely fix the problem either. But to be honest,  given the parameters and limitations of the Switch, Splaton 2 and Salmon Run couldn’t do it any better. The timed openings for Salmon Run is kinda weird. As previously stated the number one thing I want to do in Splatoon 2 is play Salmon Run. But I can’t. Salmon Run is only open at specific times every day. They are open for 12 or 24-hour windows from times like 8pm-8am est. It’s such an odd choice by Nintendo, I can’t grasp the reasoning behind it. The cool thing is that during that time-frame I can collect bonuses and work my way up to a higher pay-grade. And it makes it feel like a mini-event whenever Salmon Run is open for business. But the timing choice could have still been handled differently. Imagine if the bonuses were just time based, that every 24-hours they would reset, but Salmon Run was still always open. It would create a similar strategy as far as allowing players to work hard for a short period of time and gain some cool prizes.

Rewards include currency to be spent in the stores, tickets for multiplayer bonuses, gear, and more

 

However it’s not all negative, the fact that Salmon Run is only open for a specific time creates a sense of urgency that suits the style of the game mode really well. For that small period of time, I have to rush in there and play as many matches as I can to get my prizes, and that adds to the slimy, grimy almost shady and sinister feel of the game mode. Something’s going on with Mr. Grizz. I’m not sure if he eats all those golden eggs or if he sells them on the black market or what, but even when you receive your bonuses from the man…bear? statue guy? he laughs ominously which is creepy and confusing. The whole game mode fits this peculiar and bizarre feel in the best ways possible. While the regular game of Splatoon 2 is all bright, colorful, flashy, and fresh—Salmon Run is run down, kinda gross, and a bit grim. It just feels dirtier, but its appeal is still undeniable. While competing in Splatoon 2’s multiplayer my squid kid is playing and having fun. In Salmon Run, that same squid kid is going to work and risking his life! And Mr. Grizz honestly doesn’t care. He just wants more golden eggs! Also, the music is horrible. But amazing. It sounds like a seven-year old learning to play the violin, but it also is music to my ears. I don’t know how to explain it, it just AGAIN fits the feel and style of Salmon Run perfectly.

On top of having a somehow seductively foreboding flair, one of the best aspects of Salmon Run is the enemies’ diverse and delightful design. Salmonids are the standard enemy in Salmon Run, they come in all shapes and sizes and can easily switch from being cannon fodder to overwhelming and obnoxious. They look goofy and are just amusing to shoot. The bosses are where the real challenge is, and where Nintendo’s seemingly endless fountain of creativity is shown off. There are Steelheads that throw gigantic explosions out of their head. Flyfish levitate in the air and launch missiles from the sky.  The Maw swims under the ink and jumps out of the deep like a killer whale. The Drizzler jumps in the air and rains down ink from above. Each of these bosses is hilariously designed. Some of which seem to have dangerous natural abilities like the Maw. While others, like the Steel Eel, are simply robotic creations controlled by a tiny Salmonid driving it around like an oversized bicycle. Whenever a boss has been killed, it drops three golden eggs, and to win a wave, the team must collect the quota of golden eggs which can be anywhere from 7 to 15 or so.

Every boss also has to be taken down in different ways. This is another way that Salmon Run is unique when compared to many of the other wave-based co-op games. In something like Halo’s Firefight or Call of Duty’s Zombies, unloading bullets into the enemy until they are dead is the way to go. However, in Salmon Run, there’s much more strategy than that. Some bosses need to be shot in specific areas, like Steelheads explosive skull. The Scrapper needs to be disabled first before you shoot at his behind to splat him. The Maw can only be killed by throwing a grenade at the exact location it’s attempting to launch out of the ink to devour the inklings. All of this diversity in taking down the enemies creates a required knowledge and skill—it also makes the game incredibly frantic when there are half a dozen bosses attacking at once. One round of taking down baddies can go flawlessly, and the next can be a total bleep-storm of insanity. One minute I feel like me and my team have it down pact, and there’s no way we will lose. The next minute there’s two drizzlers raining down on us, a Stinger sniping from a distance, and Maws and Steelheads at every corner. As a team, if just one or two bosses is neglected suddenly it becomes a race to finish the round alive.

The layout of the levels change round by round as well, something else that most other wave-based games don’t do. In round one, the tide may be all the way down, and there are bosses coming from every corner. But in the very next round, the tide could be as high as it gets and there’s barely anywhere to move. On top of crazy bosses and changing tides, there are rare special rounds with new bosses and surprising changes that genuinely caught me off guard the first few dozen times I saw them. And in fact, even though I am a “profressional, which is the highest rank that I can tell, just two days ago saw one of these special rounds for the first time (and with updates Nintendo could possibly add more). When these special rounds start, the sun goes down, and the eerieness rises. Motherships come to steal the golden eggs. Grillers mow me down with difficult hit points and tiny salmonoids as henchmen. World War Z zombie like salmonoids rush at the inklings a billion miles per hour as we fight to survive. Some of these special rounds that randomly appear can be absolutely brutal, I think I’ve only won two mothership rounds out of a dozen, but it’s still so much fun.

The mixed bag of miscellaneous bosses, levels of tide, random special rounds, and multiple levels (with more rumored on the way) truly creates a feeling that each match of Salmon Run is fresh and unique. I never play multiple games in a row and feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over. There’s even a mix of four random weapons that each days’ run of Salmon Run gives the players, so it forces new strategies and game plans. If I play one round with a slosher I have to play the next round completely differently when I use a charger. Sometimes it makes the game much more difficult, but it’s never detracted from the satisfaction.

All of this forced variety abolishes boredom from the equation.

I mentioned earlier that each round there is a quota of power eggs to fill. This again is something that set’s Salmon Run apart from other games of its type. Usually, the goal is just to kill all the bad guys in the round and survive. But in Salmon Run, there is a specific timer and quota that must be filled. If the time runs out and that quota isn’t filled, we lose! This creates a different kind of tension and excitement. I can’t count the number of buzzer beaters I’ve witnessed and been a part of where I’m dodging ink rain from above, swimming past a dozen Salmonids and dumping the last golden egg in the basket with a second to spare. It’s exhilarating! There’s also been plenty of times where the opposite happens, where I’m inches away from the basket and time runs out!

One of the greatest design choices in the game is the fact that Salmon Run is only three rounds. Again, this is a distinctive feature compared to other wave-based co-op games. Most of them either have endless rounds or a very high benchmark for the goal. In Salmon Run, it is only three rounds. Only three rounds mean a match is done in less than 10 minutes. A 10-minute match of COD: Zombies or Gears’ Horde is a failure. Only three rounds mean that I get stuck in the aforementioned “one. more. game” mentality and I just can’t put the game down. Only three rounds mean I can mix it up with the standard multiplayer of Splatoon 2 and have fun doing different things; as opposed to dedicating my night to one or the other. Only three rounds mean if I had a rough match with a group of bad teammates or an unlucky roll of the dice of special rounds and bosses, I can jump into the next game instantly and not feel like I wasted half my night. And maybe most importantly, only three rounds means that I feel successful after a good match! In COD: Zombies when I finally die, I rarely have a sense of accomplishment. If I only could have lasted one round further! With just three rounds for Salmon Run, I can pump my fist of triumph as I know, I kicked some tail and did the job well. If I lose in those three rounds, I want to jump back in and try again. If I won in those three rounds, I think to myself, that was awesome let’s do it again.

Salmon Run is definitely a relative to Horde Mode and other wave-based co-op game modes out there. But it stands out with unmatched charm and distinctiveness. I’m not sure if other games should mirror what Salmon Run has done or if Nintendo just knows how to do its own thing in its own way. What I do know is that Salmon Run is a blast. It’s weird. It’s fun. It’s strange. It’s adrenaline-charged. And it’s just so Nintendo. I’m constantly amazed by the Big N in this regard. Nintendo gets blamed at times for being behind the times with features and functionalities. But when Nintendo finally decides to dip their toes into something that they haven’t done before, they always create something that is special and unlike its contemporaries. Splatoon is an example of this in shooters. Arms is a recent instance as well. Smash Bros. created a subgenre of fighter types. When Nintendo creates, they either pave the way with a fresh idea that no one saw coming (dual screens anyone?), or they follow up on an existing idea and create something entirely new and delightful. Salmon Run is the newest illustration of Nintendo’s genius. Yes, sometimes Nintendo makes me want to yank my hair out with utterly confusing ideas. But usually, they craft captivating creations that blow me away and keep me coming back for more.

Salmon Run is clearly the latter… just. one. more. run

 

 

If you’d like to watch a sixty second review of the full game, check out this video

Review: Ironcast

Ironcast
<
574 MB
Cost
$12.99
Format
Digital
Size
Available On
Switch [Reviewed], PC
Release Date
08/10/2017
Developer
Deadbit
Publisher
Ripstone
Modes
Single Player

Sixty Second Review

With SO many games out there we are introducing a new series of reviews! We will still do the old fashion reviews as well but if we think we can cram in all the info and create an enjoyable informative sixty second (give or take a few) video then we’re gonna do it!
– Enjoy!

PROS:
1) Deep strategic gameplay
2) Steampunk setting

CONS:
1) Outdated graphics
2) Deep learning curve

7.3
Good

 

Review: Overcooked: Special Edition

Overcooked: Special Edition
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
748 MB
Available On
Nintendo Switch [Reviewed] Xbox ONE, PS4, PC
Release Date
7/27/2017
Developer
Ghost Town Games
Publisher
Team 17
Modes
Single and Multiplayer

Sixty Second Review

With SO many games out there we are introducing a new series of reviews! We will still do the old fashion reviews as well but if we think we can cram in all the info and create an enjoyable informative sixty second (give or take a few) video then we’re gonna do it!
– Enjoy!

PROS:
1) Simple yet brilliant gameplay
2) Some of the best co-op out there
3) Boiling over with charm

CONS:
1) Single player not quite as fun as MP
2) Touchy controls at times

8.5
Excellent

 

Review: Splatoon 2

Splatoon 2
Cost
$59.99
Format
Retail and Digital
Size
5.5 GB
Available On
Nintendo Switch
Release Date
7/21/2017
Developer
Nintendo
Publisher
Nintendo
Modes
Single and Multi-player

Sixty Second Review

With SO many games out there we are introducing a new series of reviews! We will still do the old fashion reviews as well but if we think we can cram in all the info and create an enjoyable informative sixty second (give or take a few) video then we’re gonna do it!
– Enjoy!

PROS:
1) Same inkredible gameplay from the original
2) Salmon Run
3) Bursting with charm
4) Just so fun

CONS:
1) Nintendo still behind on online MP features

8.9
Excellent

 

Review: Little Nightmares

Little Nightmares
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
6.39 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PC
Release Date
04/27/17
Developer
Tarsier Studios
Publisher
Bandai Namco
Modes
Single Player

Sixty Second Review: (Sorta…. this game is too good, my video went a bit longer this time by a few seconds!)

With so many games out there we’re trying a new format for some games to try to cover a larger amount of content. Not all reviews will be done in this style–but if there’s a game we can cover in detail in a fun sixty second video then we will give it a shot!

PROS:
1) Incredible eerie tone
2) Beautiful art style and sound design
3) Smart level design

CONS:
1) Slightly clunky and imperfect controls

9.0
Phenomenal

 

Review: Arms

Arms
Cost
$59.99
Format
Retail and Digital
Size
2.2 GB
Available On
Nintendo Switch
Release Date
06/16/17
Developer
Nintendo
Publisher
Nintendo
Modes
Single Player, Local and Online Multiplayer

Sixty Second Review:

With so many games out there we’re trying a new format for some games to try to cover a larger amount of content. Not all reviews will be done in this style–but if there’s a game we can cover in detail in a fun sixty second video then we will give it a shot!

PROS:
1) Simple fun gameplay
2) Fun vast character design
3) Nintendo charm
4) Great online modes

CONS:
1) Poor single player
2) Simple random gameplay

7.8
Good

 

Review: NBA Playgrounds

NBA Playgrounds
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
7.4 GB
Available On
Nintendo Switch [Reviewed], Xbox One, PS4
Release Date
03/09/17
Developer
Mad Dog Games
Publisher
Saber Interactive Inc
Modes
Single and Multi-player, Online and Couch

Sixty Second Review:

With so many games out there we’re trying a new format for some games to try to cover a larger amount of content. Not all reviews will be done in this style–but if there’s a game we can cover in detail in a fun sixty second video then we will give it a shot!

PROS:
1) Large cast of current NBA players and classic legends
2) Fun NBA Jam style gameplay

CONS:
1) Little depth and replayability
2) Unlocking players is a random chore

6.8
Average

 

Review: Graceful Explosion Machine

Graceful Explosion Machine
Cost
$11.99
Format
Digital
Size
295 MB
Available On
Switch (Timed Exclusive)
Release Date
04/06/2017
Developer
Vortex Pop
Publisher
Vortex Pop
Modes
Single Player, Online Leaderboards

Graceful Explosion Machine is a shoot ‘em up developed by Vertex Pop. It is a colorful, fast paced space shooter that tests the gamer’s skills, reflexes, and sometimes patience. The game, in general, is rather simplistic. It doesn’t have deep gameplay or a plethora of variety in-game modes—but its core-gameplay is pure fun. As the first “shmup” on the Switch and at a fairly low price-point, it is definitely worth your consideration, and it’s a great addition to the Switch library.

Graceful Explosion Machine’s gameplay is both simple and fresh. The shooting mechanics are smart and genuinely fun. Each of the four face buttons (a,b,x,y) control a different weapon. The standard blaster shoots out small bullets that are great for taking out weak enemies or spraying into a massive hoard. The sniper beam is perhaps the most satisfying to shoot, and creates a massive “Kamehameha” like blast that is essential for taking out the toughest bad guys. The energy sword is the most versatile weapon. When used it creates a quick barrier that circles around the ship. This also slices every enemy it touches as well as deflects incoming bullets. The missiles are the deadliest weapon, as it seeks out and hits enemies all over the screen. The standard blaster runs on a cooldown; if shot too much it will overheat. Meanwhile, the remaining three weapons run on energy that can be collected by picking up yellow orbs that each enemy drops. There is also a boost that allows for quick dodges in and out of trouble by flying through the enemies without taking damage. However, a bullet will still kill. At first, all of this is rather overwhelming, but the initial world is easy enough that I was able to pick up the skill and improve rather quickly. By the second world, the game gets very intense, and the battles are just plain fun. The dance of cycling through different weapons, boosting out of trouble, picking up orbs, and blasting through enemies is very rewarding. On a pure gameplay perspective, Graceful Explosion Machine is smooth, responsive and refined. Rarely did I feel like my death was my own cause, instead it feels like every moment I am in total control and my deaths come from a split second poor decision or a bad move.

In true SHMUP form, the game also runs on a high score and online leaderboard system that adds to the entertainment. The added pressure of trying to keep a combo going only amplifies the fast-paced, frantic action. There are four worlds, and at the end of each world, there is a warp level. These levels have no check points. Normal levels work on a three phase system; each phase saves your progress. But the warp levels are much more challenging and stressful. I would have liked a boss at the end of each world, some massive creative alien monster that is stimulating and different. It’s a bit disappointing that the climax of each world is just a level that is slightly more difficult than an average level and that’s it. Once the world is beaten, a score attack version opens up in that world that gives a bit of a different feel. There’s also a warp + level that is an even more challenging version of the warp levels. All in all the gameplay is so much fun; I just wish there was another game mode or two that changed things up a bit.
The enemy diversity is another strong point. Very quickly I learned all the different enemies and how they attack in diverse ways. Finding out the best way to take them down plays out like a puzzle. Meanwhile, when the screen is filled with hundreds of enemies the challenge of taking down each diverse enemy strategically and ruthlessly with the different weapons is satisfying.

The graphics are good, but not overly special. They don’t have the same “pop” that a game like Geometry Wars has or the same polish and gorgeousness of Rezogun. However, the simplistic art style is very appealing. Enemies stand out and don’t seem to get lost which can sometimes be a problem in this genre of games. Explosions look fantastic. And no matter how insane the action got, I never had a framerate issue or hiccup in any way, and that is impressive. The music is rather dull and not memorable, it’s one area I would have liked to see an improvement in. But the sound effects are great. The “HD” rumble features were bragged about by the developer, but I personally didn’t feel a difference between this and any other “rumble” in any other controller.

Overall Vortex Pop has a fun game on its hands. Graceful Explosion Machine has very satisfying fast paced gameplay that is a great mix of challenging and fun. It doesn’t have difficulty that seems unfair or over the top. But it gets more challenging by each level, and it paces itself in a way that by the third world the difficulty seems insane yet totally doable and incredibly gratifying. Graceful Explosion Machine is simplistically pretty and satisfying to the eye. It’s not deep when it comes to modes or replayability and the music is dull. But the second to second gameplay trumps all and it’s a game I recommend if you like frantic fast paced fun.

PROS:
1) Fantastic Fluid Gameplay
2) Simple pretty art-style
3) No frame-rate issues

CONS:
1) Little varity in game modes
2) Bland music

7.3
Good

 

Review: Has-Been Heroes

Has-Been Heroes
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
752 MB
Available On
Switch [Reviewed], Xbox ONE, PS4, PC
Release Date
March 28, 2017
Developer
FrozenByte
Publisher
GameTrust
Modes
Single Player

Has-Been Heroes is a rougelike action strategy game developed by Frozenbyte and published by GameTrust. It’s available digitally for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. A physical release is available exclusively at GameStop. The premise is very simple in nature, there are some old heroes that have been summoned by the king for one last mission. While starting that mission the villain of the game starts his apocalyptic plan and it’s up to the old heroes to save the day. And right along the line of a true rougelike, there is only one live and one try for the player to save the day. One party member dies and the game is over. The gameplay itself is unique and creative, Frozenbyte has something cool on its hands here. However the game feels unpolished and ridiculously difficult. There’s a grind and many deaths that the player needs to go to before they can even understand and move forward in the game and I’m afraid that after an hour or two most players will give up before they can get to the aspects that are somewhat redeeming.

Gameplay is king in any video game, at its core a game needs to be fun. Has-Been Heroes gameplay is very cool but incredibly difficult to grasp early on, and the simple tutorial section doesn’t do a good job of explaining itself. Basically there are three heroes running through the levels at max speed and as the battles start the game goes into “slow-mo”. While in battle enemies are running towards our heroes and each character is controlled with a different button on the controller to attack and rotate. Enemies can block and have stamina, it will almost never work for one hero to wail on an enemy to take it down, the enemies need to be weakened by one hero and finished off by another. Once the stamina is depleted after a couple of hits, it becomes vulnerable for another hero to swoop in and do damage. It’s a fun and novel idea, but it certainly takes some getting used to.

The game’s difficulty is of the charts, and for the first 3-5 hours it seems like it is completely unfair for multiple reasons. One reason is that the learning curve is really taxing, it honestly takes a few hours to get a grasp of how to successfully take on dozens of enemies on screen. The second reason why the game seems unfair at first is because there are a ridiculous amount of unlockable items and spells and these can only be unlocked by playing the game and getting them over time. So you are better suited to fight the wave of bad guys after you’ve played the game for 5 hours and have better goodies to fight with. Speaking of spells and items the way you collect them is a bit strange. Basically there is an over world to travel through and each area might have a battle or it might have a treasure chest or a merchant selling things. The treasure chests and merchants are the ways to get items and collectables, but if you are unlucky in what they are selling or what is available to you than you might be screwed when it comes time to battle. Those spells and items are key, without them there is no way to beat the boss levels. So that’s where the repetitive and difficult gameplay comes in. It’s basically a crap shoot for the first few hours before you unlock the ability to possibly collect good items and spells—and even if you do unlock them you might not get lucky enough to collect them during a play-through so again you’re kidna screwed. I had quite a few play-throughs where I had no chance because I just wasn’t lucky enough to collect the right spells and items and that luck factor just doesn’t seem fair. And to make matters worse the over world map has different paths and choices you can go to, so you might think hey I should just go on every possible path to find every item and spell before I face the boss! However there is a silly and unexplainable design choice where if you backtrack to an area you’ve already gone to that area will be covered in darkness. The only way to survive this darkness is to have a candle, and I’ve yet to fully understand how to get more candles. Basically you are forced to not be able to explore the whole map because you will die in the dark. Why will you die in the dark? Who knows there is zero explanation. So if you’re hoping that you can backtrack on different paths to find more items and spells you are out of luck because the dangerous and ridiculous darkness will kill you… And I thought we were taught to teach our children to not be afraid of the dark…. I digress…

If you somehow manage to beat the boss of the first world you will be treated to a second world that feels identical in nature with pretty much the exact same bad guys. The final boss who is some kind of pirate king from the underground world is ridiculously hard, and again I felt like the only reason I beat him was because on my run I was lucky enough to get a few really helpful spells. Once you kill the pirate zombie king guy you beat the game! Sorta… Basically by killing the pirate king dude (I really don’t know his name) you unlock a new character to play with, you basically bring him back from the dead. And now you can set off on your adventure again! This is the nature of rougelikes, you have one life and when you beat the game you unlock stuff to help you go beat it again. If the game’s gameplay loop is superb than this can be truly fun. Along with setting one of the old heroes free and being able to play with him/her, you also unlock a bunch of new spells and items that are attainable on your play-through. You also unlock new enemies to fight. This is bitter sweet because the enemy diversity is absolutely awful at first so having new guys to fight spices the game up a bit, but it also makes the game much harder because these new enemies are that much toughter. Again this is all normal in the rougelike gameplay loop. Also once you beat the game for the first time the next time you have to beat three worlds instead of two. And the next time you have to beat four worlds instead, I suppose it continues but I couldn’t beat the next boss, I’m working on it.

The animation, art design, character design, enemy design, and overall graphics are horrid. They are just really bad. It reminds me of early Xbox Live Arcade games from a decade ago. The characters are also genuinely uninteresting to me, they are supposed to be diverse and lively but instead they just feel like they came out of a strange and boring cartoon from the early 90’s that didn’t catch on. The cut scenes, if that’s what we want to call them, are boring at best and unprofessional. The story is also just goofy and bland. That might not matter a whole lot but it would have helped the game for sure to be a bit more cinematic. The music really confuses me. The first few worlds have unequivocally terrible music, ear-wrenching and repetitive. But then the third world has good music, really catchy and eerie and fun. By no means is it going to win any awards but it sounds nice. It’s confusing to me that a game that is so difficult and repetitive would have awful music early on, just another reason for a player to give up on the game early. All of the visual, musical, and story-telling flaws are especially disappointing to me when I take into account the developers. Frozenbyte made a game called Trine, along with its sequel Trine 2. The Trine games have a nice little story, really pretty graphics, and a great eerie soundtrack and tone. Trine is a puzzle platformer and a hidden classic in my eyes, and part of the reason is the overall presentation with its great art style, tone, and music. It’s sad that Has-Been Heroes gets a big fat “F” grade in comparison to Trine. I’m not sure why Frozenbyte dropped the ball this badly when their previous series did it so well.

Has-Been Heroes is a disappointing game. I played it on the Switch, although it’s being released on all major consoles, I felt like it could be a great fit and a fun little game for the Switch with its home-console/portable crossover attributes. However the game falls short in a multitude of ways and just doesn’t live up to what Frozenbyte has created in the past. It’s really unfair, difficult, and is based far too much on luck. The art style and music certainly don’t add anything to the experience, on the contrary they hurt the game. If you can fight through the repetitive and difficult first five hours or so of the game you might find yourself really enjoying the gameplay loop. I started to enjoy the difficulty and fun unique gameplay after I drug myself through the early monotonousness. But to be honest, if I wasn’t reviewing the game I might have given up before I found some of the hidden fun baked into Has-Been Heroes. I do give Frozenbyte some credit for the gameplay that really feels fresh and different. If you like rougelikes and you like to try new things than maybe fighting through the steep learning curve and generally unpolished nature of the game will be worth it for you. But to be honest I might wait until the game goes on sale—especially if you’re like me and anything that pulls you away from Zelda feels like an unpardonable sin.

PROS:
1) Unique challenging gameplay
2) Fun gameplay loop (after the first five hours)

CONS:
1) Lackluster art-style and music
2) Based too much on luck and unfairly difficult
3) Not easy to learn and doesn’t feel like you can master

6.2
Average

 

Review: Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
1.24GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, Windows, OSX, Linux
Release Date
7/25/2016/th>
Developer
Heart Machine LLC
Publisher
Heart Machine LLC
Modes
Single Player

Hyper Light Drifter is an old-school 2D action adventure game with RPG elements that harken back to the original Zelda on the NES. Funded by Kickstarter, the game smashed its original $100,000 goal and raised over $640,000. The game is Alex Preston under the developing name of “Heart Machine.” Preston has had a terminal heart condition since birth and wanted to tell his story through his game. Hyper Light Drifter is an incredible game that feels simultaneously new and refreshing yet somehow classic and nostalgic. Every aspect of the game is developed with love and care, and it’s bursting with a personality unique to itself. Few games leave me thinking and feeling the way I do about Hyper Light Drifter. And fewer still remain in my mind and heart for years to come; I believe Hyper Light Drifter is one of those few true treasures in gaming.

After a short cryptic opening sequence, the game plops the player into the world controlling a nameless hero known as a drifter in an open-world. From the start, the player can go in any direction in any order to progress through the game and story. There are four main areas to discover; North, South, East, and West and it’s up the player to choose in which order to explore. This truly open world feels a lot like the original Zelda for the NES to me. The game begins in a small lively town hub. There isn’t a single piece of text in the whole adventure, the fantasy is told through the world and through interactions with the characters of the world. Even the NPCs communicate through storybook style static images. Although the story is very mysterious, it’s incredibly interesting and thought-provoking. And the added knowledge of understanding that the developer has a terminal condition fleshes out the story in even more intriguing ways.

The gameplay of Hyper Light Drifter is fluid and challenging. The primary weapon is a sword but in time guns and bombs can be earned. The drifter has a dashing ability that can be used to dodge and maneuver around enemies. There are multiple weapons to collect that all have varying attributes like a long range sniper and a powerful up close spread shotgun (my personal weapon of choice). Back in the hub town, there are shops that sell upgrades to the guns, more room for health packs, new dash and sword moves, and more. These upgrades are purchased with yellow collectibles that are hidden throughout the world. Speaking of things being hidden, Hyper Light Drifter is showered with secrets, yet another aspect that reminds me of old-school classics. There are hidden things everywhere, and there’s always a reward at the end of the rainbow. The game can get perplexing at times, as there are few clues as to how to get to each objective. But it’s incredibly rewarding discovering the answers to the various puzzles, and they never feel unmanageable. Enemies are diverse and clever. Each enemy seems to have its own character and style and learning how to dodge and attack each enemy is key to survival. And surviving is not easy! The game is very challenging but in an entirely fair way. I never died and thought that I had been screwed over or that the game unfairly attacked me, if I died it was my own fault for not managing the situation properly. And if I did die, it would always place me at a checkpoint that wasn’t too far back from where I was. There’s a fine line between a satisfying and challenging combat system that feels amazing to master and overbearing impossible gameplay that drives the player crazy. And Hyper Light Drifter walks that line to perfection.

The world of Hyper Light Drifter is gorgeous. Every aspect of the game seems like it was hand painted–like it belongs exactly where it has been placed. The game was partially inspired by Studio Gibli’s “Nausicaa of the Wind” and it can’t possibly look any better. Created in amazing 8/16bit, it feels both like something that could have been on the SNES or NES and like something that those consoles wouldn’t have dreamed to create. The enemy and character design are flawless, they all feel real and full of life. The carnage after a bloody battle is awe-inspiring and even with the entire screen filled with enemies and projectiles the game never even hiccups. The music and sound design are also remarkable, it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard, and it fits the world perfectly. The sound design and music fit the tone like a glove, and it never lets up. The quiet, somber moments are met with ominous music reverberations echoing through the game. And the action packed moments are met with powerful melodies and sounds.

Overall I can’t say enough about how remarkable Hyper Light Drifter is. The gameplay is perfect. The story is cryptic and mysterious in the best ways possible. The art direction and music are unique and beautiful. Every aspect of the game is married to itself perfectly. Often times I play games that don’t agree with themselves. The world and gameplay and story and art direction just don’t fit; there’s always something that just doesn’t feel right. Hyper Light Drifter is that EXTREMELY rare game that somehow manages to pull everything together to create a game that fits perfectly in itself, every aspect of the game feels like it belongs and fits perfectly in its world. I haven’t played a game this magical for a very long time. Hyper Light Drifter looks and feels and sounds and plays like a game from a lost era, almost as if the 3D world of gaming never happened and this is what 2D games have progressed to. In fact, Hyper Light Drifter feels like a dream—or possibly nightmare. Like the type of dream, you wake up from wondering and wishing if it could be real but thankful that it’s not, but wishing you could somehow return.

PROS:
1) Flawless Gameplay
2) Gorgeous art style and music
3) Engaging cryptic story-telling
4) Perfectly executed tone and feel

CONS:
NONE!

10
Perfection