HyperParasite is an amorous love letter to the 1980’s. From the gaudy florescent pink and heavy abundance of glossy metal in its title screen to the plentiful pop culture references, Hyperparasite is eighties through and through, but does it have anything else to offer the player other than a passionate homage to a bygone era?
You take control of a giant alien blob, the design of which is straight out of a creature feature, all twitching tentacles and gaping teeth filled maw. Your mission is a simple one, body snatch your way through the ranks of humanity until you make it to the president himself. I made that sound easy though; HyperParasite is a roguelite twin-stick shooter, and as such it is horrendously difficult, entirely unforgiving and occasionally just plain mean. So, your badass alien is going to die. A lot.
Played from a top-down perspective, the HyperParasite has to make its way through a series of enclosed arenas linked by a network of corridors. In each arena you’ll have to gratuitously kill all of the inhabitants before you’re free to move on and do it all again. For a giant evil alient, the Parasite is actually pretty puny; its only attack is to launch a pathetic blast of ‘gloop’, it’ll also die in just one shot from the multitude of enemies. Fortunately, it’s got the ability to bodysnatch. With a tap of a button you can take control of any enemy and use all of their attacks and abilities as your own.
This mechanic is immensely satisfying, primarily because there’s a terrific array of enemy types on offer for you to command. You’ll soon be flinging newspapers with glee as a ‘Papergirl’, quipping your way to victory as a Bruce Willis-inspired cop, and launching pummelling blows as a buff boxer whilst yelling “Adrian” at the top of your voice. There’s superb variety in the attacks of the characters, so choosing the correct body to inhabit becomes vital to your survival. This brings some strategy and consideration to the run and gun gameplay, as certain bosses will fall in no time at all to the right character.
And this is where the roguelite elements are dragged kicking and screaming into the game. While any enemy is theoretically snatchable, you have to unlock the ability first. Occasionally a defeated enemy will leave behind their brain for you to grab. Take that with you to the shop between runs – they’ll bounce along behind you like an excited toddler in a toy shop – and you’ll then be able to gather together the cash to pay to unlock the fallen foes for future snatching. This is where I encountered some major frustrations with HyperParasite.
Cash drops can be far too rare, waves of enemies gunned down with only a few blood soaked dollars left behind. I understand that part of the appeal and the addictive nature of a roguelite comes from that ‘just one more run’ feeling, and that’s fine, but I was left with the sense of gaining too few rewards on each return to the game. Whilst I found the run and gun gameplay initially satisfying and moreish, the often slow progress served to undo Troglobytes Games’ hard work in this regard. Playing through the same section again and again to make some incremental gains on unlocking a new character just became a bit dull.
This issue was further exacerbated by the punishment for failure being particularly harsh. Whilst your body snatched victims can perish with little repercussion – other than the need to find another body pronto – if the HyperParasite is killed then it’s game over, man. On your next reload you go back to the very beginning of the game.
Make it to the second chapter in Asiatown, and regardless of how well you did in the first, you’ll now be confronted by a cabal of new enemies, all immune to your body snatching. There’s no returning enemies from the previous level that your Parasite can latch onto and the horde of ninjas, samurai and sumos quickly dispatch your Parasite. Each time you die, it’s back to the very, very beginning and a fresh trip through the first chapter. I now hate that first level. Even the procedural generation did little to alleviate the dulling sense of dejavu.
There is a local co-op option, which you think would help many of the frustrations found in single player, yet the developers appear to have entirely missed the main reason that people play co-op: to play together. If one of your dies then that’s it, that player is kicked from the game until the remaining player finds a specific pick-up to bring them back to life. This leads to an extended session where the defeated player has to sit on their hands until they are finally allowed back into the game. Why there isn’t an option for a Parasite to recover its pal and for the game to end only when both Parasites are defeated is beyond me.
It’s a shame these glaring issues had such a negative effect on my enjoyment of HyperParasite, especially as there’s some clever and fun design decisions made elsewhere. The brilliantly simple and effective map is a huge boon, clearly displaying any power-ups and allowing an instant warp back to a previously beaten room. I loved this map so much that I want it in every game I play. There’s also the welcome addition that the size and timing of explosions are represented by a gradually filling circle, mitigating any frustrations caused by uncertainty over whether your avatar is in a safe zone or not. Finally there’s a smart use of neon colours to highlight your player character, ensuring you never lose sight of your HyperParasite, even in the chaos of a bullet soaked and baddie filled screen.