Setup: iPhone XS Max, iOS 12.4
Developer: Heart Machine
Publisher: Abylight Studios
Original Release Date: 7/24/2019
I won’t lie: I was really worried about Hyper Light Drifter’s iOS port. The game by developer Heart Machine was —and is — deceptively simple in its design, mechanics and story, but behind that simplicity was an entire world of depth.
The last time I played Hyper Light Drifter, on a suboptimal Toshiba laptop using the touchpad and arrow keys to control the eponymous Drifter, I absolutely struggled through most of the game. Even if a boss telegraphed its attacks, which many of them do, I still didn’t have the reaction speed or the technology available to me as the player to dodge them most of the time. And so, what was probably a 10-15 hour game for most experienced players became a 40-hour slog for me.
And yet, every time I beat a particularly difficult enemy, every time I figured out their patterns well enough to predict and react before I could be hurt, I felt… invincible. I’ve never played a Soulsborne game, but I’m sure this feeling of accomplishment maps pretty well to those titles.
Hyper Light Drifter almost became a puzzle game for me, one whose secrets I could unlock with patience and well-honed reflexes. And when I finally beat it, I felt more triumphant than at any other point playing a video game.
Needless to say, my experiences with Hyper Light Drifter then colored my expectations for how the game would respond to my touch on mobile. I was wrong, because while walking felt floaty throughout my playthrough, I was fully able to beat bosses, traverse the dangerous terrain and uncover secrets — the way it was meant to be played, ostensibly.
Abylight Studios, the game’s mobile publisher, did a great job of porting it over to iOS. But I think their task was helped along by the game’s inherent mechanical simplicity. At its core, Hyper Light Drifter has very little going on with its controls, and it endeavors to teach you directly. By the time players have reached their first boss, fighting feels natural.
On iOS, all you have to do to move is tap somewhere on the left-hand side of your screen and it will generate a virtual analog stick. All you have to do to hack and slash through enemies, or dash away from danger, or shoot your weapon, or throw a grenade? Tap the corresponding button on the right. The buttons themselves are transparent; I hardly noticed them as I was playing.
Much has been said about Hyper Light Drifter’s difficulty, but I think the balance might have been tweaked to make it slightly easier for players to complete their first run. One aspect of this that I noticed was that rather than starting with five hit points, the Drifter starts with eight here. Still, that won’t keep you from death if you miss a dodge or flub a swing of your sword. It’s not as difficult or as unforgiving as Dark Souls, and honestly that’s fine.
Anyway, you can — and should! — check out Hyper Light Drifter if you haven’t already. It’s on the App Store, it’s only $5, and it’s one hell of a lot of fun.