Hyper Light Drifter – Three Reasons Why You Need To Play It



How I Got a Hyper Light Drifter Review Code from the Publishers

Ok, so first of all: BIG shout-out to Abylight Studios for the iOS version of Hyper Light Drifter which was released this year. And shout-out again for having won iPad Game of the Year Award 2019!

I’ll start off with the story of how that happened.

The Drifter looking out at the city on a hill.
Hyper Light Drifter is full of quiet, serene moments like this. When you’re not being dogpiled by monsters that is.

I did a poll asking the Twitter swarm what game I should review next: Hyper Light Drifter or SteamWorld Heist. Both were games that have been sitting in my Steam backlog for ages.

I ran the poll for a day, and Hyper Light Drifter won by an overwhelming margin of 74% to 26% out of 42 votes.

That’s when Barcelona-based publisher Abylight Studios saw my tweet and offered to DM me a review code of the iOS version which had just come out. I was really taken aback when that happened, I never thought a publisher would ever reach out to me!

Side note for you: for all of the inane garbage that happens on social media, this is one of the things that makes it awesome sometimes.

It gives you a way to talk to your favorite brands and content creators like they’re real people. I think that’s kinda cool.

So, big thanks first of all to Abylight Studios. You guys are the cat’s pajamas.

The Drifter exploring a ruin destroyed by a robot.
Hyper Light Drifter is a game full of mysteries and secrets

Hyper Light Drifter is Pretty Great – Get it for PC or Console

Hyper Light Drifter is a neat game and well worth your time. I’ll break down my three reasons why that is in a second, but it comes down to this:

The action-packed gameplay which was inspired by 16-bit games like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

The visuals are lovingly done and the care and attention to which come together to paint a portrait of a ruined civilization and the survivors who cling to life in it that raises eyebrows and glistens the eyeballs. I think the recent trend in pixelart style indie games is mostly attributable to the success of Hyper Light Drifter since its release in 2016.

After a victory in Hyper Light Drifter.
Boom baby! I love that cool thing you do with your sword when you clear a room.

This game will make you want to snap your controller in half more than once because it’s pretty challenging, but it rewards those challenges with bonuses, perks, and hidden secrets. Hyper Light Drifter is challenging, yes, but not unfair.

So yes, Hyper Light Drifter checks out all the boxes on the “good game” checklist.

Here’s the caveat.

I recommend you get it for PC or console.

Now, that statement comes with a qualification. I have a slightly outdated iPhone SE with a smaller screen size than what you find in most stores today. That may have impacted my experience somewhat by making Hyper Light Drifter for iOS harder to see and play.

But as much as I wanted to recommend the iOS version, I don’t feel that I can do so in good conscious because the fast-paced gameplay and low-resolution art style make Hyper Light Drifter almost unplayable on mobile devices, at least not without a controller.

I almost snapped my phone in half at several points in my early playthrough because it was just SO frustrating.

On the recommendation of the developers, I ended up getting an MFi controller. That made things easier.

As soon as I started playing with a controller the game became 10x easier and I was actually starting to get in the flow and have fun.

So, if you’re going to get Hyper Light Drifter for iOS then I highly recommend you do that. It seems to me though that doing so defeats the purpose of playing a mobile game.

Ok. Now that that’s out of the way, I want to talk about what I liked.

Hyper Light Drifter is Great at Visual Storytelling

You know how they say that the key to storytelling is “show, don’t tell?” Well, Hyper Light Drifter is ALL show and NO (or very little) tell.

Hyper Light Drifter tells its narrative by relying solely on visuals to give context without any dialogue or even many tutorializing text prompts to speak of.

A giant in Hyper Light Drifter
The art is really gorgeous in this game. Whenever I think of Hyper Light Drifter, this is the image I have.

You are a drifter. A lone wanderer. You are part a group of nomads and vagabonds who travel the world recovering the lost technology of a bygone world.

In the intro cutscene, you are in a surreal dream sequence where you confront three robotic titans after (moments? Days? Years? Centuries? It’s kind of hard to tell) they come to destroy the world.

The intro cutscene of Hyper Light Drifter

You are being chased by a shadow-monster made of darkness that is giving you an unnamed affliction that is wasting away your body. You’re on a quest to kill the monster and cure your disease.

Hyper Light Drifter’s story relies more on the emotions given by the surreal, dreamy cutscenes and leaves you to piece things together through world-building context. It’s similar to the way games like Hollow Knight and Dark Souls approach storytelling.

The game gives you just enough information to give you a vague, underlying sense of purpose.

It makes me feel alone with myself, and gives me a wistful curiosity about the world. I also relate to the Drifter’s storyarc of pursuing a goal that constantly remains just out of reach.

A fountain in Hyper Light Drifter.
The visuals in this game really make me go google-eyed.

What exactly happened to this place? Did the titans I saw in the intro cutscene at the beginning of the game destroy it? Were they man-made or the result of an alien invasion?

And as you progress through the game, you piece together that at some point the titans either broke down or were destroyed, and that’s how civilization managed to survive by the skin of its teeth.

What’s all that about anyway?

The subtext of Hyper Light Drifter is about creator Alex Preston’s (a.k.a. Heart Machine) battle with cogential heart disease. Preston’s lifelong struggle with cardiovascular disease and immune deficiency is the thematic core of Hyper Light Drifter.

Again, it’s a little hard to piece together what exactly is going on because Hyper Light Drifter doesn’t tell you much. It’s more about the sensations that you get as you watch cutscenes, look at the still images that take the place of spoken dialogue, and explore the world.

I’m being chased. I’m fighting an illness. I’m an explorer in a ruined world. I journey alone but there are other drifters like me.

That’s all you know. That’s all you really need to know for the game to work.

The world, the art style, the proto-cyberpunk pixel aesthetic and the celestial architecture all around you feel otherworldly and foreign. It’s like that.

It also has Fast and Intense Combat

Hyper Light Drifter has combat characterized by adrenaline-fueled, fast-paced action.

The game is set up so that you have to make split-second strategic decisions about how to survive when you’re surrounded by swarms of enemies.

You also get a little robot friend! Did I mention that?

Do you camp at a distance and take pot-shots? Do you zero-in on the stronger enemies and get them out as quickly as possible? Do you take out the weaker enemies first?

That’s not usually how I approach games like this. Maybe I’m just not smart enough for strategic thinking, but usually, I just gravitate towards one or two approaches that work for me and then I stick to those.

It’s usually some permutation of: “attack one enemy at a time, starting with the most powerful, wear them down with my guns and then hack at them with my sword for the killing blow.”

That seemed to get me pretty far anyway.

The action sequences are broken up by exploring the labyrinthine maze of dungeons that dot the landscape.

Aside from your sword, you can pick up additional guns and special weapons like bombs as the game goes on, leaving you the freedom to customize your play-style.

One minute, you’ll be taking in the lovingly animated view of a desolate landscape ravaged by monsters.

The next minute: OH SHIT, I’M BEING DOGPILED!

Hyper Light Drifter Reminds Me of Samurai Jack

The closest comparison I can think of to Hyper Light Drifter would have to be Samurai Jack – one of my favorite series on Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

Samurai Jack is similarly paced. Each episode starts with several minutes of atmosphere building as you take in the environment around you before you encounter the next robot or monster and things kick into 3rd gear.

Hyper Light Drifter feels a lot like that. Thematically and narratively, they’re somewhat similar. They both explore themes of a lone wanderer navigating a ruined and broken world in pursuit of a goal.

I had Some Niggles Though…

I did come across a few niggles during my time with Hyper Light Drifter.

Granted, there weren’t many. I enjoyed my time with Hyper Light Drifter a lot, and most of the gripes I did have about my experience revolved around the fact that I was playing it on my itty-bitty smartphone e.g. the frustrating touch-screen controls and the small screen size.

I guess the map is a little confusing. The Drifter’s position on the map doesn’t change relative to your exact position on the map, but rather pinpoints the relative position of the sub-section of the map you’re in. This was a little disorienting when I was trying to pinpoint an exact object or location.

I guess that’s it really.

My Recommendation


Hyper Lighter is a really neat game. As I said, I probably would have enjoyed my experience a little more on a PC or console screen, but if you’re going to get the iOS version I suggest you get an MFi controller like this one.

Hyper Light Drifter is available on Steam for $19.99 and on the iOS App Store for $4.99.

Of all the areas in Hyper Light Drifter (Lake, Crystal Forest, Barren Hills, the Mountains,) which was the one you enjoyed most? Comment with your favorite below!