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Hyper Light Drifter Review: 100 Miles & Dashing

/ May 24th, 2016 No Comments

Hyper Light Drifter

We all bear the burden of our influences. It is hard not to draw inspiration from those influences, and harder still not to feel derivative of them. What distinguishes a game from its influences is when can invoke something fresh within us.

Hyper Light Drifter draws from many different sources, but establishes an identity all its own. The combat is difficult and inspires the player to rise to challenge, which makes it such a spectacular experience.

A Million Things to Do…

Time is short for the Drifter. At the outset of the game, we see him cough up blood and blackout only to wake up in the house of a stranger. The Drifter is suffering from an unknown illness, but we do know that it’s bad.

Each time the Drifter experiences one of these coughing fits, he witnesses a traumatic and cryptic vision of being encased in black ooze and an ominous figure stabbing him through the heart. After waking up in this stranger’s house, the Drifter embarks on a journey to the four corners of this beautiful, decaying world. Perhaps if he defeats the terrible monsters at each corner and unlocks the seals at the center of the world, he can find some way to ease his illness.

Hyper Light Drifter

The constant visions the Drifter experiences during the game have heavy bearing on the story.

The story is told wordlessly through its visuals and music. There is no operatic gesture to convey meaning and ensure the player knows what is going on. Subtlety is the watch word with Hyper Light Drifter. Paying close attention to the minor visual cues will help you decipher what is happening and what it all means.

Hyper Light Drifter is rife with symbolism and evocative imagery; it is up to you to assign meaning to it. As a result of this subtlety, many elements may get lost, but it is also what makes the story beautiful.

Stick and Move

A balance between offense and defense is the key to being a formidable warrior. Rely too heavily on either one and you can leave yourself open or be worn down.

From the outset of your journey, you will learn humility. Sure, you may win a few scraps with some scrub enemies at first, but soon you’ll run into bird-men that sweep across the screen with furious slashes that tear you to shreds; or ninja frogs throwing shurikens that dice you up. It takes a close eye to learn enemy patterns and protect your neck.

Hyper Light Drifter

The world you explore in Hyper Light Drifter is dripping with inviting details.

Hyper Light Drifter never lets you get comfortable even when you have a firm grip on combat. It will test your limits by throwing an odd combination of enemies together or stop you full force with a tenacious, brutal boss.

Boss fights break down into stages, with bosses changing up attacks depending on their health status. It results in some rewarding yet punishing battles that demand a lot of the player. Devising strategies for the different enemy patterns will do you a world of good on top of keeping your reflexes sharp. You’ll need to dodge and slash in equal measure to reach the end of your journey.

There is a lot of push and pull between not holding the players hand with long tutorials and leaving it all up to players to discover the intricacies of the system, but Hyper Light Drifter more often lets players figure things out themselves. There are some clues on how to perform the more advanced moves, but the correlation between them and the stamina gauge is nebulous. The combat is pretty easy to figure out and self-explanatory, with the exception of chain dashing, which can end up being unreliable since it is tough to figure out what makes it tick.

Hyper Light Drifter

The boss battles are the what all your defeats prior are training you for.

Where this becomes slightly frustrating is not understanding what the Drifter is supposed to be doing and going, but only at first. Eventually, you learn that you can begin anywhere (with certain areas needing more advanced moves to make headway) and you need to uncover modules hidden around the north, south, west and east areas with the ultimate goal of making your way to the bosses at each.

The same thing that makes it frustrating also makes it exciting because you get to have a pure sense of discovery. While this approach can leave the player’s understanding of the systems a bit shaky, it is a testament to how engaging and satisfying the combat is that it never is a hindrance.


Hyper Light Drifter isn’t perfect, but it has a lot going for it. The subtlety of the story is admirable, but sometimes the meaning can get lost. Gameplay hits all the right notes between tough combat, spectacular boss fights, and exploration. Despite any of its flaws, Hyper Light Drifter will please any action-adventure fan looking for an old school aesthetic with modern sensibilities.

Hyper Light Drifter was reviewed on PC using a code for the game provided by the developer.


Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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Gaming Illustrated RATING



Hyper Light Drifter is often woefully tough and pushes the player to dig deep within to overcome the many challenges.


Hyper Light Drifter has a fantastic art style and a world brimming with inviting details.


The game's soundtrack by Disasterpiece helps give the world and story an added dimension.


The story is full of subtleties and told wordlessly, which gives it sublime moments, but also can leave some meaning lost on the player.

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