STAFF REVIEW of HoPiKo (Xbox One)

Sunday, October 30, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

HoPiKo Box art When I first saw screenshots for HoPiKo I had no idea what I was looking at. If you do the same, I bet you’ll have the same reaction. As for playing it, it’ll take a few minutes to acclimate yourself into its gameplay, but once you do, you’ll discover one of the more unique ‘platform-like’ games out there. Are you into retro inspired, challenging, and speed run centric gameplay encased with a soundtrack created 100% on an original Game Boy? Then HoPiKo is for you! Have no idea what I’m talking about? Read on.

So technically there is a story to HoPiKo, but it’s just as abstract and off the wall as its frantic gameplay. There’s an evil Nanobyte virus on the look out and it is attempting to destroy gaming as a whole. It’s up to you to save your HoPiKo brothers (think of them more like a species than a family) and save gaming for everyone. Confused yet? Yeah, I don’t totally get it either, but you have come for the platform-like gameplay, not the narrative.

Like with any good platformer, the gameplay and mechanics are what will keep you playing, coming back for more after every repeated death. HoPiKo actually plays very uniquely, in the sense that you only use the Right Stick and Right Bumper; that’s it, you completely ignore the left half of the controller. There’s a few very brilliant reasons for this. While in virtually every game you use the Left Stick for movement, it’s the Right Stick that you’ve become precise with over the years playing shooters, platformers, and other games. Because of this, you can instinctively aim much more precisely with the Right Stick, which is why this default control scheme that has been chosen. It’s a simple idea but makes absolute sense, though you can change it if you desire (but you’d be wrong to do so).

So, why is it a game that is described as platformer-like? Well, normally in a platformer game you have to run and jump from spot to spot, but in HoPiKo you simply launch yourself in your desired direction with a flick of the Right Stick or tapping the Right Bumper. Controls are very simple to get the hang of, but the real learning curve comes from simply figuring out what you need to do and the best way to do it once you figure out the different types of platforms.

There are a handful of worlds to complete, separated into 10 ‘areas’ with 5 missions each. The catch? You need to complete all 5 in a row without dying to continue on. Normally I would become frustrated with something like this, as you’ll die on stage 4 or 5 a million times, only to be sent back to the first stage, but playing levels in a single order wouldn’t be nearly as challenging or rewarding.

Things in the beginning start out simple, as you are only focused on aiming in a direct line to the next platform without missing. As expected, the further you progress int the game the more the challenge starts to ramp up, slowly introducing different types of platforms, lasers, and even enemies that chase you. These are introduced slowly, allowing you to figure them out and the best way to quickly recognize them since the gameplay is so fast paced.

While there’s technically no time limit, you will die if you stay on a platform for too long, plus you won’t earn the bonuses for completing levels that have a bonus for time finished. Finish a world completely and you’ll unlock a Speed Run and Hardcore Mode, along with new music tracks. Speed Run Mode is pretty self-explanatory, keeping track of your time as you try to go through all the levels. Hardcore Mode is a whole other beast though. If you thought the regular gameplay was difficult, doing 5 levels at a time, this mode challenges you to beat all 50 in a row. Die and you’re right back to stage 1. I’ve still yet to accomplish doing this, even on World 1, but it allows for more gameplay for those that want a real challenge.

HoPiKo’s visuals are really unique. It’s basic at its core, but the gameplay is so fast and frantic that it’s hard to take it all in at times. It’s minimalistic in design, but it's also confusing to figure out what’s going on until you learn its obstacles and they become second nature. The real standout though is its brilliant soundtrack, all of which was composed on an original Game Boy. Unlocking new tracks is awesome, as every track is catchy, has its own vibe to it, and is super retro, fitting the look and style of the game.

There’s the odd bug here and there, as I’ve died many times seemingly for no reason (seriously, it’s not some excuse). I do wish there was either a countdown timer or that the levels didn’t ‘start’ until I made my first move, as the later stages force you to begin the moment it starts, or you’ll die. You constantly feel frantic and pressured, even once you become more skillful and go back to old levels to better your results.

If you’re a fan of games like Super Meat Boy or VVVVVV, where brutal difficulty is your thing, and you can resist throwing your controller out the window in a fit of rage from dying a hundred times in a row, then you’ll absolutely love HoPiKo. Put the time in and you will become better. I thought there were levels I would never complete, but here I am, passing stages that I previously thought unbeatable, and then I get stuck once again, seemingly forever, but I know I’ll go back trying to best it once again. HoPiKo has amazing level design that feels constantly varied and a level of challenge that makes you want to try just one more time, even though you told yourself that fifty tries ago.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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