Hyper Light Drifter (Switch) Review

I don’t think many people will be surprised when I say that the top-down action-RPG Hyper Light Drifter is an amazing game: gorgeous, a fascinating world to explore, tight controls, beautiful music, and the faith in the player for you to figure things out on your own. 

We often talk about retro throwbacks, especially with regards to games like Legend of Zelda on the NES and the feeling that its world was open, strange, and full of boundless exploration for anyone willing to take the time to figure it out. As much as people like to mourn the death of this idea, it’s still alive and well, with Hyper Light Drifter being a particularly strong version of it. It leaves a lot up to you to figure out, especially with the story. I definitely can see a lot of people coming away unhappy, unfulfilled by the story and the world. If you need things spelled out more explicitly, straight up, this isn’t the game for you.  

It’s not a game of easy answers, for sure.  

I loved it. I loved everything about this game. Each upgrade makes you feel so much more powerful and able to do so much more – you can definitely beat the game without any of them, but the added mobility and safety creates new possibilities. Each corner of the world has a beautiful feeling of depth and history. The music was gorgeous, the fighting constantly thrilling, and it was great knowing that even after credits rolled, I’d still done only a little over half of what was available. Truly special, and I’m glad I finally took the time to actually play through. 

There’s not much to report on the Switch version, which is exactly what it needs to be: it runs at 60FPS just like on the other consoles, with almost no slowdown, even when the screen was full of enemies and projectiles. The joysticks are still a bit fiddly on the JoyCon, making precise shots with something like the rail gun a little more difficult than they needed to be (and might be a small part of why I preferred the shotgun). 

Having the ability to take it around with you is, of course, a plus and one of the reasons we love the Switch. However, I think there’s something so singular about this game when it all comes together that I’d recommend at least having headphones on your first time through so you can experience it in totality. The music and sound really layer in a lot. Once the credits roll, or if the Switch version isn’t your first time through, then go ahead and follow your heart. That’s just my recommendation for new people.

Also worth noting is that while developer Heart Machine has fiddled with how hard the game is, trying to find that middle ground of the perfect difficulty, it’s still a rather exacting game at times. Some of the later platform-heavy stuff can be really difficult to do, and while the punishment for losing isn’t super bad (you basically just respawn at the last door you went through), it can still get pretty frustrating.

If you’ve already played through the game and are wondering if the Switch might be a good place to pick it up again, I can’t really see a reason to aside from the fact it’s an excellent game. This version doesn’t add much else except a new challenge mode and a couple of weapons, which isn’t exactly much of a draw to pay $20 to get it again.

You owe it to yourself to give Hyper Light Drifter a go. It’s an incredible game with a wonderful look and feel to every part of it. It’s beautiful, looking great on the Switch’s screen, and can be surprisingly enveloping as an experience even as you take it to louder, crowded public areas. Every new area and experience was a delight to me, and I kept taking screenshots all the way through. It’s a challenge, but every moment was worth it.