Well this is it, the start of a new year. A quick outline for 2021 from me before I get into this review. I have quite a lot planned for 2021, more books, with a new gaming book to be published this summer. My first gaming book, MICROBRITS is still available on Amazon. More articles, including me finishing my gargantuan GamesMaster retrospective that I started last year. More writing in general. I’m also currently messing around with giving this blog a facelift too, a new design just for a change, which (when I make up my mind) will be ready in a week or so.
But my first blog post of 2021 is a game review… a game that is several months old already as it was released back in April of 2020. I do have a reason why I’ve only just gotten around to this though. The truth is that I never really intended to review HyperParasite at all. In fact, I never even really knew about it until my pal Badger over at Stoffel Presents (his review is right here) kept going on about it. He reviewed the game back in April, 2020… that’s how behind I am with this. Anyway, I kept seeing Badger talking abut HyperParasite on social media, and his continual praising of it. As of writing, I’ve not even read his review yet, I want to get mine done first before see what Badger thinks. But as for the last eight months, he has been lauding the game a lot, even calling it the best indie game of 2020. So, I just thought that I may as well give it a go myself. With that out of the way, on with my review.
As I get older, I find myself less drawn to the big AAA games released today. Instead, I find most of my gaming enjoyment comes from smaller indie titles. I mean, the side-scrolling, action rouge-lite game, Dead Cells was released in 2017, and I’m still playing it today. For an indie game, that’s a hell of a lot of longevity. There are some really great games in the indie market (some not so good ones too) that often get overlooked, but is HyperParasite one of those great gems?
From developer and publisher Troglobytes Games comes this fast-paced, action packed shooter with a very eighties flavour. Using the now very much ‘on trend’ rouge-lite gameplay mechanic, HyperParasite is a top-down, twin-stick shooter where you play as a parasite. Basic? Yes. But like an alien taking control of a human, there’s a lot more going on under the skin.
So the plot for this is (as mentioned) you playing as a parasite, an alien with the ability to take control of humans. As the alien is pretty weak (one hit deaths) you seriously need those human host bodies to complete your mission. And your mission is it to take control of the POTUS and then press the ‘big red button’ to take out the human race. Oh yeah, you’re the bad guy… or bad alien. With this being a rouge-lite game you will die… a lot. That is the very nature of the sub-genre, you die, you make a little progress, you die, you learn more of the game, you die, you get a new upgrade, you die. Rinse and repeat… and die. It is this trial and error gameplay mechanic that turns a lot of people off, if they don’t understand what a rouge-lite game is like. It can be frustrating, it can be annoying and many games in this sub-genre get the balance wrong between being frustrating but also fun. Thankfully, HyperParasite strikes that balance right, almost perfect in fact.
If you’ve ever played a twin-stick shooter before, then you’ll know what to expect. The controls are simple, one stick moves your character, the other aims your weapon, then you have a button to shoot. But don’t let that simplicity fool you, cos HyperParasite is tough, very tough. Every time you die (and you will), you go back to the very start of the game. There are no save states, no checkpoints, this is permadeath territory. So this is where the whole being a parasite comes in handy as every time you take control of one of the humans, that acts as an extra life. Each of the humans have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own unique weapons and stats too. This element of taking over humans adds a wonderful element of strategy to the game. Do you go for a long range human, who will be less accurate with their attacks, or do you go for a close range/melee and stronger attack putting you closer to the danger? Then you have to take into account you target’s speed, some humans are quite nippy, others lug about, but may have other talents that will prove helpful. Then there’s the luck stat, as the higher the luck is, the more likely they are to find decent loot, loot that will come in very handy. I love this aspect of HyperParasite, this level of thought instead of just running around gung-ho. You really do have to think about which human to take control over for specific situations, be very aware of each of the character’s unique skills. For instance, I tend to like using the fast ninja character with high luck to get my hands on some much needed in-game money. But his attack isn’t great and going up against an end of level boss with the ninja will often result in death, so I’ll swap out with a more robust and weighty character for a big showdown.
Aside from the basic shooting and taking over humans, there are a few other tricks at your disposal. You can dodge, use special attacks (when in control of a human) and more. There are upgrades to be found or purchased from the in-game shop. It is also this shop where you can unlock new humans to take over. You start out with only four, but as you massacre your way though the areas of each stage, you’ll find the brains of those you have killed dropped by stronger versions of those characters. Take said brain back to the shop and that will unlock that human, but you then have to use in-game money to buy the human to make them available to take control of. You can also store up to three human bodies at the shop for use later (see my swapping out the ninja point above). This is an extremely handy feature as you can keep hold of some of the harder to find characters for use when needed. Speaking of the humans, I think this is a good time to talk about the game’s setting.
As I mentioned at the start, HyperParasite is set in the eighties… and it’s not shy about that either. Aside from the very neon looking 16-bit stylised graphics, there’s also a rather impressive electronica/synth-pop soundtrack, it sounds like something from a Chuck Norris/Cannon, direct to VHS film… and it’s glorious too. Then there are the sixty-odd humans in the game you can control. Some of them are fairly generic, but a lot of them are obvious (but non-copyright infringing) eighties pop culture character references. Each of the five acts in the game have their own unique setting and graphics. As an example, the first being ‘Downtown’ with its grimy and sleazy back streets, where you will cross paths with the likes of Delivery Girl (Paperboy from the game), Ghost Hunter (Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters) and Drug Lord (Tony Montana from Scarface) to name a few. Each act has three sub-bosses that needs taking out too, and yes, these are also eighties pop culture references. Just sticking with the Downtown area for this bit, you will have to face the likes of an off-duty detective (John McClane from Die Hard), a Rocky Balboa parody and my personal favourite sub-boss character, Michael Jay Wolf, and if you need me to point out who that’s supposed to be, then you didn’t grow up in the eighties. The eighties references even extend to the background details, posters on the walls parody famous films of the decade, there are some really cute little details in the in-game shop from eighties toys to film and gaming references.
Being a rouge-lite game and the fact you will die… a lot, could begin to grate after a while. But like all good rouge-lite titles, every time you do restart, everything is procedurally generated. So each time you play, you play a different game. The act layouts are different, the items found are different, upgrades are different, the stock in the shop is different, the sub-boss you will face is different and so on. What you basically have to do in HyperParasite is it make your way though the acts, which are split into multiple different areas, kill all humans in an area and move onto the next. Clear all areas, all humans and the sub-boss character to go onto the final area, which will be the main boss of that stage. Kill the end of act boss and move onto the next act… simples. But you have to lose to advance, it’s straight up impossible to go from the start of the game to the end on your first try, it’ll be pretty damn difficult to do it on your hundredth try to be honest. I’ve lost count of how many times I have died and restarted, and I don’t even care to be honest.
With five different acts to clear, each with their own set of unique characters to unlock based on each act’s setting. You’ll find yourself going from Downtown with it’s grimy back street look to Chinatown with a certain Kurt Russell film influence (and yes, Jack Burton is even in the game… sort of) and an Industrial area where you’ll meet a Robocop, Mario and a Toxie The Toxic Avenger parodies… and I don’t know what the last two acts are as I’ve not got to them… yet. But I can use the in-game almanac to see the characters you’ll meet. There’s Crocodile Dundee, Rick Deckard, Xenomorph, Ash Williams, Mr. T, John Matrix and so many more fun eighties pastiches to unlock. It’s also worth reading their bios for some funny references and jokes. Each of the five acts also has a loads of secrets to discover along the way, like underground areas and hidden upgrades. There’s plenty here to keep you coming back an exploring, even if you are playing the same (procedurally generated) areas over and over again.
Well now I’ve got how HyperParasite works out of the way… did I enjoy it? Let me put it this way, when I got my review code, I put it on for an hour just to see what it was like. Played that hour and that was it, I got an idea of the game. The next day, I played for another hour and that’s when I began to get a feel of the whole rouge-lite mechanics and unlocked a few more characters. The next day, I told myself I’d play another hour then begin to outline this review. I began this hour long play at 8PM, the next thing I knew, it was 3:30 in the morning. HyperParasite is one of those ‘just one more go’ games that sucks you in, and that ‘one more go’ often becomes several dozen more goes, and an hour becomes seven hours. Since getting my review code, I’ve been playing the game every day, hours at a time… I’m officially hooked. Even more so, though I was given a review code for the Xbox (thanks to Troglobytes Games), I still bought the game on Steam regardless. I tend not to buy games that I’ve been given for free as there is little point, but I have with HyperParasite because I really want to support these guys and hope to see more from them in the future… and it means I can have a cheeky play on my laptop when I should be working.
I adore this game, adore it. Seriously, I have fallen in love with this beautifully crafted piece of software. It is sublime, balanced and frustratingly hard… in a good way. I mentioned my friend Badger at Stoffel Presents at the start of this review, he has said that HyperParasite is the best indie game of 2020 (a lot) over the last few months. That’s a statement I simply can not argue against, but I’m willing to go one better. I think it’s the best game I played in 2020, indie or otherwise. If the team over at Troglobytes Games can keep updating this with new features, areas, weapons, enemies, etc, then just maybe this could be my new Dead Cells and I’ll still be playing it three years later?
I may be late to the party with this one, but it’s a hell of a party to be at. My only niggle is that I had to stop playing HyperParasite to review it. A niggle I’m going to rectify as soon as publish this.
HyperParasite is fast, frantic, frustratingly-fun, frolicking fare. A must buy for anyone who enjoys a good, well balanced rouge-light game. Just buy it now.