Developer: Michael Brough
Price: $5.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 5

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

868-HACK is the latest game from indie developer Michael Brough, who primarily works in a glitch-inspired pixel art style, making intelligent games that are his unique interpretations of certain genres. 868-HACK is a sort of take on ‘hacking’ in a roguelike fashion that’s somewhat similar to Zaga 33, and is actually referenced in the story text.

868-HACK-1The idea is that players must navigate 6×6 levels that represent computer nodes, with viruses and bugs that spawn at various times. The entire game is turn-based; with the player making a move, then all the enemies. Swiping is used to move in the cardinal directions, and to also attack an enemy that is in that cardinal direction. Attacking keeps an enemy from moving, but uses up a turn that could cause other enemies to move in and take out the player, whose health is represented by a smiley face. Three hits and it’s the end of the hacking session.

Players pick up data siphons in each level, advancing to the next one by making it to the green square. Each square will either give the player some of the two operating ‘currencies’ for using skills (this isn’t a dual-currency system like in free-to-play games), will give the player a new ability to use, or will grant the player score. Score is the ultimate determinant of success, so while some data siphons may be used to get useful abilities, others will ensure that players actually get the point values that they need to succeed! Each run has 8 levels, and it’s possible to do another run after completing one, with streak scores tracked for these godlike experts at the game.

868-HACK-4While the gameplay has enough simplicity for novices to pick up on, this is a challenging experience through and through. And difficulty is the sort of thing that is tough to balance out: how does a developer make a game that challenges the player but still feels fair? 868-HACK does it by having consistent rules. Enemies behave in consistent ways. Yes, it’s challenging to figure out what the best course of action when six total enemies of three different types are all on screen, but the player can learn how they will behave, and can put themselves in the best situation possible to deal with them. Yes, randomness of the playing field and generated enemy types will pop up, but through play it’s possible to learn the expected behaviors and formulate the strategies for success.

And really, that’s the most clever aspect of 868-HACK: it’s a game that is hard but is fair about it. Some of the questions regarding how to approach the challenge are answered through play, through learning the rules. It’s an intelligent design, and it’s what one should expect from Michael Brough: following his Twitter account and playing his games, he’s clearly a developer who puts a lot of thought into what he makes. There’s a lot of pixel art and roguelike games out there, but not a lot that have this sort of conscious design put in to them while still being great pick-up-and-play titles.

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