Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review: HoPiKo [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Depending on the genre and gameplay controls can pretty well either make or break a game. Especially if you’re playing something where the action is intense and accuracy is critical any small misstep in the scheme can hold back or even cripple the experience. It’s in that area that I struggle with the twitchy action of HoPiKo, a game that mechanically feels a lot like last year’s Dandara but stripped down to just the core experience. While people in search of a challenge that can be enjoyed in quick bursts, outstanding chiptune music, and crazy minimalist graphics may well fall in love with it the pacing and weakness in the aiming controls may scare others away.


Getting down to it HoPiKo is absolutely an intense experience that stimulates the senses. While its look is pretty minimalist overall the color palette swaps can give everything a very different look every few levels and works nicely. As I mentioned the soundtrack is appropriately full of charged up pulsing beats that will help drive you to keep moving through the levels quickly. Your goal is to jump from platform to platform, avoiding a variety of traps and obstacles. On a consistent basis new elements will continue to be introduced that will force you to pay close attention to every detail to understand what sort of platform you’ll be landing on to help plot out your plan. Some platforms are static but others will take your momentum and where you land into account to make cause it to move and even spin irregularly, among other things. This makes planning and precision equally important at times.


Before you get too excited it’s important to take into account where there are some issues. The first and most annoying problem I have is with the aiming controls. While using the right analog stick is fine, and if you’re within close enough range you’ll get a handy reticle that will help you line thing up, the issue I have is with how you initiate shooting yourself in that direction. Rather than use a button press of some kind the developer opted to have it triggered by releasing the joystick. For the most part this isn’t an issue but in particular when you’re trying to adjust your aim as you float around on a rotating platform this can be less than ideal for accuracy, especially as levels progress and the demands for you acting quickly increase. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as aggravating if it weren’t for another related issue and that’s the punishing grouping of levels. Levels are grouped in sets of 5 and any failure along the way makes you start the group over. While I understand the desire to keep things challenging no option to change this up, even just giving you a life or two to work with, may be a bit of a mistake and close off the experience to a segment of people who may love the mechanics but just aren’t up to being that consistent. Some stages where you’re forced to move quickly or you’ll die underline the problem here, especially when mixing back in the control issue I cited.


Overall, I can see where this title could appeal to the right segment of gamers, people who don’t mind some frustration and want something that looks and sounds great and has a focus on quick action. Just be ready for some difficulty spikes in odd places, stages you’ll absolutely need to die on a few times to get the hang of the goal, and an occasional feeling of betrayal at your thumb and the joystick for completely botching up a critical shot at the end of the fifth level, making you start over again. It’s not going to be a mainstream hit but it can deliver some thrills at a reasonable price if that’s what you’re looking for.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Color palette swaps keep the visuals interesting and varied
  • The chiptune soundtrack is great and suits the on-screen action
  • If you’re into quick puzzle action it delivers

Cons:
  • The aiming, where you release the joystick to launch, can be problematic, especially when you’re rotating and you have to be quick
  • No option to tone down the “die and you start from the beginning” nature of the 5 stage groups may turn off a segment of gamers who like a challenge, but not quite so punishing of one
  • Levels where you almost immediately need to get moving feel cheap, especially when they’re towards the end of a group