Saturday, September 22

Review: Hover [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Jet Set Radio remains as one of the most memorable games of its generation. Blending a distinctive sense of style, engaging action, and a load of attitude it stood out among its peers and remains highly regarded to this day. That it took so long for someone to take a serious crack at replicating that formula, and then to try to improve on it, is a surprise but that’s precisely the goal the people behind the Kickstarter-backed Hover had in mind. How successful it may be as a whole can be questioned, but there’s no doubt that for fans of that original title there are a few key things it absolutely gets right.


After a relatively helpful introductory you’ll have the essential skills to get your clone (yeah, it’s not a big deal, just a detail, but explains how you and everyone else can control the same characters) around the initial city. What you’ll immediately notice is the sheer size of the environment you’re working in, and the degree of verticality it has. Exploration is a key part of what can make the game compelling, and missions where you’ll race against others to move through checkpoints are probably the highlight of the game because of this. You’ll need to work to keep on track, perform your slides and combos to keep up your energy and speed, and look for whatever opportunities you have to cut corners. Of course, at first your goal will be to just not take a major fall (though the game has an excellent rewind mechanic that helps you out in these situations greatly), but with time you’ll get a feel for your limits and how to move as effectively as possible with the multitude of skills you have at your disposal.


Aside from the races you’ll have a few other options for missions, including what are essentially deliveries that will help force you to learn how to effectively get around, and then what I’d consider one of the game’s worst features, the sport of Gameball. While I’m positive there will be people who’ll somehow be attracted to the missions revolving around this I consistently found every time I was forced to play it painful. Where, in theory, each team could employ some strategy to move the ball around the mechanics of throwing the ball in particular really make it a pain. The result is often a bit chaotic as people bump into each other, dislodging the ball often, and then racing after it, creating a pretty constant mash of chaos until someone scores or the ball gets dropped fresh in the center. I just tended to be successful by hanging back, trying to make sure to keep the ball away from the other team, and then try to hope I could do anything of value to help the CPU score for us. Too much happening too quickly and your method of aiming to throw the ball is cumbersome and slow, not a great combination for success. Of course in intense situations, and in particular in handheld mode, hiccups in performance don’t do you any favors either.


Aside from that mode probably Hover’s worst problem is an overall lack of meaningful structure and motivation. There’s a ton of stuff you can choose to do, whether trying to find posters to spray your grafitti on, taking out powered signs, or even finding what are essentially small Gameboy units hidden about. You’ll be able to unlock new areas and characters by completing missions and diligently moving through things. You do have opportunities to then level up and enhance your character but this is all done very incrementally, improving your stats in some key areas but it's mostly number crunching, tweaking up by a few percentage points, rather than something truly of interest. The problem is that after a bit no matter how great the movement in the game may be or having access to a new area to do tricks around there’s not much that’s compelling aside from just randomly moving around and having random fun. I suppose that could be the point, and it can be entertaining in bursts, but overall Hover just doesn’t quite feel fully realized when it comes to purpose. If you’re really jonesing for something that has elements of the classic Jet Set Radio Hover will no doubt help satisfy your itch, just understand that for the most part the satisfaction is only temporary.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Most of the areas are interesting with a fair amount of verticality and things to discover
  • Race challenges can be a blast, especially if you’re able to play against other people online
  • Overall the mechanics of movement that let you traverse the city and do a variety of tricks are sound

Cons:
  • The honeymoon of enjoying something that has many great elements of something like Jet Set Radio isn’t terribly long before the game’s shortcomings start to become more apparent
  • The sport of Gameball is generally a mess and not terribly interesting
  • Performance overall can be spotty in some situations, with handheld mode seeming more prone to issues