Game Review: Hyper-5

Capcom’s 194X series, the R-Type titles, Gradius from Konami and Taito’s Darius. What do all of those games have in common? Aside from being awesome, they’re all classic shoot ’em ups (or shmups), a genre I have had a major soft spot with for many years now. A new indie shoot ’em up, developed and published by Hyper Productions, is released on Steam at the end of the month and it is called Hyper-5.

Hyper-5 is a cinematic shmup inspired by classics from the “golden era” of the 90’s. Responding to a distress beacon, deep space scout ship Hyper-5 is drawn into a terrifying battle with an unknown enemy. Will Hyper-5 survive its encounter on planet 4GDT?

Taking place over five environments, each with their own distinct enemies and (of course) big boss fights. Hyper-5 is old school shooty-action, given a modern lick of paint. To be released on Steam on the 28th of January, a demo is also available on Steam now, if you want to check it out. In the meantime, I have the full game to look at… but is it any good?

HYPER-5 SCREEN 2

The first thing I want to tackle in this review is the graphics. I’m more used to some nice retro 8 or 16-bit pixel art for my shoot ’em ups. What Hyper-5 has gone for is a more 3D polygon style. The graphics here are really very nice too. Some fantastic lighting and smoke effects, detailed environments (the underwater level is amazing), some pretty impressive explosions… especially on the bosses. Taking out some of the bigger enemies sees chunks of metal fall from the ships. In terms of the visuals, Hyper-5 is very pretty. Then there’s the presentation. See, Hyper-5 is being called a ‘cinematic shmup’ and yeah, it certainly is just that. There are little cutscenes that really bring the game to life. Each of the five areas of the game has its own little mini-movies, there are cutscenes when you lose all your lives, cutscenes when you take out a boss and so on. It really does look and feel cinematic. Yup, this game sure is easy on the eyes for an indie title but it is the gameplay that I’m more interested in.

In terms of that gameplay, I don’t think it will be a great shock to anyone if I said this plays like a classic side-scrolling shoot ’em up. You control a ship, the titular Hyper-5, and shoot down waves and waves enemies, while dodging all that they throw at you. You have a health bar here (no one-hit deaths) so you can take a few bullets to the hull before going boom! Your average shmup will have you take down a wave of enemies to get a new weapon or upgrade. Hyper-5 kind of has that, in that taking down a wave will leave a little bonus for you to nab. However, the weapons and upgrades in the game work on a progression system. Complete certain tasks/challenges in the game and you’ll unlock a new weapon. Challenges range from shooting so many of a certain enemy type, collect X-amount of bonuses or even finish a level without shooting a single bullet. You then head to the armoury and buy/equip that weapon.

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There’s an upgrade system for those weapons too, upgrades you unlock with points earned in the game. Add more firepower, shoot faster, etc. Those upgrades also work for the ship itself. You can upgrade your speed (which can be changed in-game), upgrade your shields and more. With my first play of Hyper-5, I really didn’t like it, I found it slow and sluggish for a shoot ’em up.  But once I got some weapon unlocks, once I get a few upgrades, the game felt a lot more like a decent shooter. In fact, the more I played the better it got. I think that perhaps the best way to describe this progression system is to think of this as a roguelite game. You will die (a lot) at first but you’ll also make steady progress and unlock new weapons. You’ll try again with a new weapon and make a bit more progress before dying (again) but you’d unlocked something else by then and upgraded a weapon or two… and so you try again. Rinse and repeat as is the nature of a roguelite.

Reading the game’s description and there’s no mention of this roguelite style gameplay. I actually think this is a bit of a disservice to the game itself. See, I found Hyper-5 really frustrating at first, to the point where it was going to be a big part of this review. However, once I got it into my head that I was playing a roguelite and got to grips with the progression system, it all made much more sense. I love a good roguelite game and knowing what you are getting into upfront really helps your mindset going in. This is a roguelite shoot ’em up and it should be embraced as much too… especially as this is a good one.

HYPER-5 SCREEN 5

Hyper-5 offers up a firm and tough but fair challenge. This certainly is not an easy game but it is a game that gets easier the more you play, the more weapons and upgrades you unlock, while still throwing up a fresh and new challenge with each of its five stages. In writing, just five areas seems like quite a low amount and perhaps I’d have liked to have seen a couple more. But with the roguelite gameplay, you do re-play over and over while steadily progressing and upgrading your ship. I mean, I have racked up a little over three hours of play just for this review and I’m going back for more when this is published. That progression system really hooks you and makes you want to come back for more.

Yeah, I really liked Hyper-5. It is a wonderful celebration of the classic shoot ’em up genre, while adding enough modern polish to make it its own thing too. I do have a niggle though. 3D menus, Hyper-5 has this 3D effect so the menu moves when you move the cursor. I really don’t like 3D menus and this is just a personal taste issue, I find them annoying when the text keeps moving. There is an option in the menu to choose between stylised font and a ‘readable’ (that’s how it is described) font. Personally, I found both of them readable. But anyway, my point is that it’s nice to have that option here for people who may struggle with the font… so how about people that struggle with 3D menus? I think an option to turn the 3D menus off would be a good idea… even if just for me.

Okay, so to finish this review, I need to do my usual and take a look at the price. When released, Hyper-5 will set you back $9.99 (I don’t have a confirmed UK price but that should be around £7-ish). That really is a good price point indeed. You get a very playable roguelite shooter, a pretty extensive weapon and upgrade system, a few different game modes, including a top-down time-trials and bonuses like a 3D gallery. There’s also gamepad support and fully customisable controls, along with a plethora of graphic options if your GPU is struggling under the impressive visuals.

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Hyper-5 is the work of one man, Jamie Patterson and he’s UK based. My passion for both indie and British gaming aside, all told, Hyper-5 is an attractive package and if you fancy a new shooter with plenty of content for a good price, then I say go for it. Check out the demo on Steam or itch.io.

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