String Quartet Of The Early Evening

HIGH  Gorgeous enemy design. Lots of cool weapons and powers.

LOW  Terrible save room placement. Absurd amounts of needless backtracking.

WTF Isn’t fighting monsters a lot harder in that outfit?

I don’t ask for a ton out of games.  I really want only two major things for my playtime to be considered a success. First, I want to avoid pointless frustration. Second, I want my time respected.  While Orange Popcorn’s HunterX features clever creature design and lots of cool toys to play with, it fails to check off either of my boxes and ends up wasting time and frustrating with aplomb.

In an undisclosed city presumably set in the present day, our protagonist Tsuki is called forth to battle hideous monsters and fearsome foes.  She has a helper imp/demon/critter for some reason and there’s something about dimensional rifts and… time travel? Tsuki goes through a rift and meets another Hunter (capital H – I am assuming that’s a group of some sort, but we don’t get much information) from the distant (maybe?) past who’s searching for her lost leader, Siegfried. Instead of joining Tsuki on her quest, the other Hunter simply shows up at specific puzzles and says cryptic things, so it’s up to Tsuki to locate Siegfried and defeat the ultimate evil lurking somewhere. 

As one might tell from the above description, the story in HunterX is scant – there’s just a smattering of dialogue throughout the campaign and a few collectible writings that provide some backstory. 

Like most other 2D Metroidvania-style titles, HunterX requires players to traverse a large map broken up into several level-like sections, each containing a boss, a teleporter, and lots of treasure.  Tsuki must find keys to unlock doors, perform light platforming, and defeat hundreds — if not thousands — of enemies along the way. 

Fortunately, the enemy types are varied, featuring some stunning and memorable designs like otherworldly marionettes, dog creatures with crossbows, and a standout screaming ice lady.  The level of detail on character models is impressive, and lot of thought went into their visual style.  On the other hand, I wish more detail had gone into the backgrounds, which don’t venture far from humdrum city/castle/cave locations. There is some nice use of lighting effects here and there, but the locations are largely dull.

In terms of weaponry, Tsuki has access to an impressive arsenal.  Starting with a simple blade, she’s able to unlock (or find) implements such as war hammers, axes, and really cool swords.  She supplements these with a variety of magical skills like fireballs, ice knives, and special slashing attacks as she gains experience.  The controls are simple, meaning even newer players should be able to execute her most dangerous attacks with ease. 

So far, so good — right? Well, this is where things fall apart for HunterX.

While the controls are simple, they are imprecise.  Jumping feels too floaty, and attacks are sluggish.  HunterX offers a parry mechanic and dash moves, but one is never sure what attacks can actually be parried (some are unblockable!) and many enemies simply move far, too fast to take advantage of dashing as they can either close the distance and attack with impunity, or easily move out of Tsuki’s attack range.  Our hero also has the ability to heal herself during battle, but she can be attacked during the animation, meaning those heals can be completely wasted. She can unlock the ability to speed up item/potion use, but she can’t do that until several hours after starting. 

As this is a Metroidvania, there are a lot of gated areas, especially early on, but the mini-map doesn’t remind players what ability is needed in a specific area, so we are required to remember which rooms we can’t access and also why, and remembering isn’t all that easy since it’s easy to get lost or confused because of the bland backgrounds. 

One also has to unlock save/upgrade locations by finding them on the map, which wouldn’t be a problem if they were sensibly spaced out. Instead, it’s possible to be defeated by a boss and respawn a dozen or so rooms away, taking upwards of a minute to return to the fray.  Adding insult to injury, when defeated by an enemy, Tsuki loses all the unspent experience she was carrying since it can only be used in those specific rooms.  The experience can be regained if the player pulls off a successful corpse run, but otherwise it’s gone for good.  It’s maddening, especially when getting stomped by a nobody on the way back to an already-irritating boss fight.

I give the team at Orange Popcorn credit for releasing several major updates designed to combat some of these problems, including the addition of an Easy mode (which unfortunately requires a full restart), but for me it’s too late. Frankly, I think HunterX would make an much better side-scroller with linear progression than the subpar Metroidvania that it is — I may come back to it after a few more patches and when my frustration dies down, but I really can’t HunterX right now, especially with so many other better titles to choose from.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by ORANGE POPCORN.  It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 16 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but features realistic violence against humanoid and various fantastical creatures, some of which may be scary for younger players.  There is no gore, but enemies do crumple in a realistic manner when defeated, including one semi-regular enemy that drops its own sword into its body when it perishes.  Women in the game wear somewhat revealing, but not skimpy outfits. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. All dialogue is fully subtitled.  Not all sound effects necessarily have an onscreen component — for instance, there are often several enemies active offscreen and can only be heard.  While these enemies do not attack until they are seen, the audio cue can provide a moment or two of advance warning to a player.  Similarly, there are several enemies with death animations that begin with an audio cue, costing a player a second or two if they are unable to hear it, potentially throwing off timing. 

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Jeff Ortloff
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