Neon Zelda


HIGH: Challenging and fast-paced gameplay, brilliant soundtrack

LOW: New Game + is really just Hard Mode

WTF: It’s incredibly dark


When Hyper Light Drifter first came out on Steam back in March, I desperately wanted to play it—this 16-bit homage seemed just like my cup of tea. Unfortunately, playing games on a laptop isn’t my preference. Fast-forward four months later when it finally came to consoles. Was the wait worth it? Incredibly so.

Hyper Light Drifter is a third-person action/role-playing game that tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic world through cryptic images, and it’s up to the player to decipher what they’re conveying. There’s little dialogue in the game, and what’s there is a fictional language.

While I enjoyed the mystery surrounding Hyper Light Drifter‘s story, the meat and potatoes are be the challenging combat and exploration of this peculiar world. Players will dash, slash and shoot their way through four unique levels in an overworld.

The Drifter is armed with his energy sword, used to slash at enemies with a three-hit combo. He can be upgraded to perform additional moves such as a dashing pierce attack or a charge swing similar to those seen in Zelda titles. The Drifter also comes equipped with an energy pistol that automatically recharges whenever the player kills an enemy or destroys objects. When the gun has no ammo, just find some bushes or jars, slash away, and bingo! Ammo is restored. It’s a pretty neat feature, especially for boss fights.

The new skills and upgrades are bought with energy chips. Scattered within the environments (and sometimes retrieved from corpses), these chips are the game’s currency and necessary for survival. Finding one chip isn’t enough though—players are required to gather four tiny chips that form one big energy chip, and it’s these big energy chips that can upgrade the wanderer throughout his journey. The more players can enhance The Drifter, the more capable he becomes in handling different combat scenarios.

I’d heard many people compare this game to the original Legend of Zelda from 1987, and now that I’ve finally gone hands-on, I can see why. By being thrown into the world with little-to-no explanation on what needs to be accomplished, Hyper Light Drifter automatically delivers a throwback sort of vibe. Just as NES players were let loose on Hyrule without a clue as to what to do or where to explore first, they’ll do the same here.

While exploring the world feels about as old-school Zelda as it comes, the frantic combat certainly does not. Hyper Light Drifter relies on quick reflexes and dashing around in combat, and the enemies are no joke—I’ve had moments where I was utterly destroyed. Each type of enemy has a pattern to follow and the key to not dying twenty times in a row is figuring out that pattern. That said, there are times when a huge horde must be dealt with, and in those instances, skill and dumb luck go hand in hand.

This title doesn’t drag its feet, which I can appreciate. I may not have explored every nook and cranny to be found in Hyper Light Drifter, but I feel as though a good portion of the world was searched in a very reasonable amount of time—eight hours, or so. While hunting around, players can find keys that open up hidden doors, secret rooms that contain energy chips, and other oddities—some of which I have no clue what they’re for. 

While I greatly enjoyed my time saving this post-apocalyptic world, Hyper Light Drifter doesn’t offer much incentive to re-enter once credits roll. A challenging ‘New Game +’ option becomes available after completion, but it’s basically just a harder version of the same experience where the player keeps their skills but has less health. Sadly, no new content like Zelda‘s second quest opens up.

Hyper Light Drifter isn’t for everyone—the replay value is low and some may not like how cryptic and mysterious the story is, but for me, the positives far outweighed potential issues. For those wanting to explore a world with rich environments, strong atmosphere and rewarding combat, Hyper Light Drifter delivers. Rating: 8.5 out of 10


Disclosures: This game is developed by HeartMachine and published by HeartMachine. It is currently available on Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent in local co-op.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains violence and blood.There’s definitely a whole lot of violence in Hyper Light Drifter. Corpses of the foes lay scattered on the floor after mangling them during combat. There are even some graphic scenes like bodies impaled on spikes, bones laying around, or piles of dead bodies in some areas. Blood is also used often—enemies and The Drifter bleed quite a lot. It’s all in pixel form, but I would suggest looking at images before deciding if younger children should play it.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game can be played without sound—there is no dialogue to listen to, and while listening for the audio tells of specific attacks is helpful, it’s not impossible to beat this game without audio.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Marcus Lawrence
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6 years ago

Very nice review. I struggled mightily for a week about whether I should get this game, my twitch gaming skills being non-existent these days. Lo and behold I’m stuck on the second (north) boss, with progression being probably beyond me unless I can luck into brute forcing him. The vertical/horizontal lines get me every time. That said, there is nothing stopping me exploring south and west and maybe getting an upgrade that will help. But I’m a bit discouraged at the moment. Have really enjoyed the game up to this point. The normal mook enemies are a lot of fun… Read more »