STAFF REVIEW of Hyper Jam (Xbox One)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019.
by Josh Morgan

Hyper Jam Box art Hyper Jam is an arena brawler with quick snappy gameplay, crisp graphics with neon highlights and a fresh synthwave soundtrack that will have your head bobbing as you kill your friends, online opponents and AI bots. However, as you put some time into the game, you realize there’s not all that much content or much to keep you coming back for more. There’s no story, no tournament mode, and the progression system that unlocks taunts and cosmetics is nothing to write home about. It does have easy achievements, and that goes a long way for this reviewer.

The premise of Hyper Jam is pretty simple; kill the other characters on the screen before they kill you. They very much deliver on this premise, and the core gameplay is fun and rewarding. I played multiple games online, vs AI opponents and on the couch with a friend, and every match I had was intense and fun. But after a few rounds I found it very easy to want to move on. There was no hook to draw me in and keep me wanting to continue playing.

The combat is about as straightforward as you can get from a brawler. There are no combos to learn, so once you learn how each specific weapon works and how to parry attacks, you’ll be looking for more ways that the game can challenge you. Unfortunately it’s not there. Button mashers and casual gamers can find victory, and that’s not a bad thing when you’re looking to get some couch co-op in with some friends that may not be as into gaming as you are. I can see this being a lot of fun with some buddies and beers.

You use the Left Stick to move about the arena floor and the Right Stick to aim, so it operates a lot like a twin stick shooter. Left Trigger is dash (which leaves an awesome neon trail in your wake) and Right Trigger is attack, which you can hold for more charged damage. Use the Left Bumper to parry attacks, rockets and thrown weapons, and you use Right Bumper to unexpectedly throw your weapon at your opponent. This works great when you and your opponent each have next to no health and they are expecting you to rush with your hammer, but instead you throw it at them from a distance to deal the final blow.

The rounds operate a lot like a battle royale game. You appear in a random spot in the arena and the weapons spawn at random spots at random times. As the round progresses and time starts to wind down, a red circle will appear and close in on you and your opponents, bringing you closer together. Stay outside of the circle and you will take damage. You get points for every kill and the amount of damage you deal to your opponents. The first person to fill up their points bars (you chose the round limits) goes into survival mode where you have to live to win the match. These last minute “all or nothing” stakes at the end of each round make for real tense battles for victory, and every match that ends real close is a nail biter because anybody can win.

After the round is complete, the person in last place gets first choice of their perk that is applied for the rest of the match. The perks are a neat mechanic and can turn the tides of a match. There are perks for additional health, higher damage, faster movement, freeze attacks, fire attacks and a vampire perk that the damage you deal is added to your health meter. The perks stack, so selecting the right perks are vital to your success in the rest of the rounds. For instance, having an extra damage perk and the vampire perk means the additional damage you are dealing is sent right to your health meter. It’s a neat combo of perks that I found some great success with.

After each match you are awarded XP based on wins and damage dealt, and you are given skins and taunts for every time you level up. Unfortunately the taunts and skins are very forgettable and don’t scratch that loot box itch that other games are so successful at. There is no carrot on a stick here, as I didn’t care about the taunts or the skins, so leveling up was more of a hassle because it increased the time between rounds.

There aren’t many weapons in the game, and I think this is an area where the developer can definitely improve. I found that my “go-to” weapon was the katana and its quick slices with medium damage. The rocket launcher was fun as well, as the homing missiles it shoots are both easy and fun to watch as they circle around walls to hit your opponent. The hammer is fun to knock back opponents, and if timed right, you can knock them off a building, or onto some train tracks that triggers an instant kill. The grenade launcher is fun once you get the timing and bouncing down pat. Having a grenade bounce off a wall at an opponent that is behind cover is a great way to deal some damage.

Each weapon has a health or ammo meter that once depleted you'll be back to throwing punches until another weapon appears. It’s a great way to balance the game so the one friend (probably the one that would sweep in Mortal Kombat non-stop when you were younger) that is really good with the grenade launcher can’t just sit in the corner unstoppable. Another weapon at your disposal is the laser strike, if you are eliminated, you gain control of a red targeting system that shoots a high powered laser from up above, and if timed right, you can take out multiple opponents at once. It’s a very neat way to get some extra points after a death. The delay on the laser and the limited time make it tough to score hits on a regular basis, but I think that adds to the balance of the game. Any easier and it would be worse than the blue turtle shell in Mario Kart.

Whether it’s the neon lights of a rainy city rooftop or the sunny palm tree paradise straight from Miami Vice, Hyper Jam’s graphics and performance are outstanding. The frame rate is butter smooth and I did not experience any slowdown no matter how hectic the action got. The graphics are crisp and clean and the various arenas you compete in offer a wide variety of color pallets, so you’re not just fighting in dark dingy alleys or subways round after round. The synthwave soundtrack fits the glowing neon features of the menu and effects used throughout the rounds. I would really like to see some additional arenas added in the future with some more interactive environments like the subway train.

I enjoyed my time with Hyper Jam but I don’t see myself going back to it unless they add some new modes and weapons. The shallow unlock system and lack of weapons in particular really hurt the replay value. Once you clear out all of the achievements, which you can knock out in less than 3 hours, there’s little to return to unless you and your buddies are bored one night and want to punch each other until someone falls in front of a train.

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


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