Hyper Light Drifter was out of this world when it originally launched a couple years ago. Despite cyberpunk and oversaturated neon aesthetics being a little overplayed today, they were still fresh enough back in 2016 that Hyper Light Drifter was able to make a striking impression with its inventive art style. Like a copy of Legend of Zelda bitten by a radioactive nightwave album cover, Hyper Light Drifter is a foreign and fantastical world with trademark gameplay and immersive story design.
An already impressive package has been made even more enticing with the updated Special Edition on Switch, and while the new features in-tow aren’t enough to warrant an additional playthrough from existing fans, newcomers will find this to be the definitive way to experience a modern classic.
Hyper Light Drifter is a neon-dipped reflection of the real-life struggles of its creator, Alex Preston. As a person living with a heart defect, he transformed his daily struggles and path through life into a fantastical, Lovecraftian adventure about all-powerful beasts and mysterious relics. You play as a nameless drifter suffering a terminal illness, who finds themselves embroiled in an adventure across harsh lands and foreign environments to make good use of what little time they have left.
The narrative of Hyper Light Drifter is intentionally vague, with not a piece of dialogue or recorded voice-over in sight. Instead, characters interact through actions and pictures describing past events. It’s up to you, the player, to decipher this and piece things together to come to a conclusion as to what’s really going on. Hidden treasures and trinkets in the game world will give you further insight into the intriguing lore, but you’ll only get as much out of the story as you put in. Breeze through and avoid critical thinking, and you’ll be left confused and unsatisfied when the credits roll without a clear indication as to what happened.
That vague presentation of info carries over into your gameplay experience and serves to create one of the more naturally immersive game worlds I’ve experienced. Hyper Light Drifter has upgrades, medkits and items needed to further your progression, but you won’t be told any of that plainly. You’ll wander the central hub and find a building with a vaguely sword-shaped illustration on its front. Inside, you’ll talk to an NPC who shows you potential upgrades, a number of weird yellow blocks, and a deck of filled or empty slots below it.
You need to collect yellow blocks to afford upgrades, and you currently have none. The game leaves it up to the player to decipher what they need to do, and it ends up feeling a lot like navigating a foreign country you’ve never heard of. The language is alien and confusing, but as you continue to traverse the world, you’ll attach meaning to repeated images and behaviours. Just like that, you’ve become a part of the world.
Being involved in this world requires you to do battle with an enormous array of enemies. Some are humanoid, some are dog-shaped, and others are hard to draw any sort of natural comparison to. You dash, slash your sword, and later gain access to a gun with a limited number of rounds. These simple tools form the basis for challenging, twitch-momentum combat that will quickly defeat you if you don’t keep your mind moving as fast as your character is. Blade attacks feed into giving your gun ammo, and adept players will learn to flow between the blade and the bullet seamlessly to maximise their performance.
The Special Edition of Hyper Light Drifter sees some additions that help add an extra layer to the already satisfying and varied combat. You can go to the Tower Climb zone and challenge increasingly difficult waves of enemies in an attempt to unlock new weapons like the Blade Caster and Crystal Shot. The Blade Caster gives you a pair of spinning blades to launch at enemies, while the Crystal Shot can freeze them in place to give you a chance to line up a meaty combo or get out of a hairy situation. There’s also a new outfit for The Drifter that makes environmental secrets and hidden upgrades more noticeable. A lot of the charm of Hyper Light Drifter comes from discovering these, but the outfit is a nice accessibility option for players who can’t quite deal with searching for those items completely blind.
Whether you’re playing the game docked or handheld, you’ll have a buttery smooth experience the entire time. I never experienced a frame rate drop or freeze in my time with the game, and loading times seemed as regular but short and unintrusive as they are on other platforms. Hyper Light Drifter makes no compromises with it’s port to the Nintendo Switch. On the contrary, adding the ability to play one of the most iconic games of 2016 anywhere and anyhow you want makes it easy to call this the definitive version of Hyper Light Drifter.
Hyper Light Drifter is a jaw-dropping experience no matter the platform you play it on. What started as an engaging masterpiece in 2016 continues to be just as rewarding and worthwhile of a video game in 2018. With the Nintendo Switch you get the valuable bonus of being able to take this journey with you anywhere you want and believe me when I say this is a journey you will not want to step away from once you start it.
Version tested: Nintendo Switch
Original releases on PS4, XBO & PC