App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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If you imagine a more sci-fi take on The Legend of Zelda—plus a shift away from puzzles and a focus almost entirely on exploration and combat—the game you’re envisioning is basically Hyper Light Drifter. This stylish adventure combat game has finally hit iOS in its “Special Edition” form, meaning it has some extra goodies that add replay value to what is otherwise a 7-8 hour experience. While I am glad I’ve finally played Hyper Light Drifter, this mobile version is not the ideal way to play it.
From the outset of Hyper Light Drifter, it’s not exactly clear what is going on. You’re a drifter (hence the name) who is plagued by a mysterious illness, but that’s about all that’s spelled out to you. There are definitely other narrative elements at play here, but it’s all doled out visually, without any spoken or written exposition or plot to clarify much of what you’re seeing.
The bulk of the game has you adventuring across an overworld map, going into dungeons and defeating everything that stands in your way. Presumably, this is in an effort for the drifter to treat or learn more about his disease. In any case, it’s built out a lot like a Zelda game, though instead of finding tools to help you access previously unreachable areas, Hyper Light Drifter is more freeform. You can venture to almost any zone at any time, and your only limitation is your ability to surmount the combat challenges that stand between you and the pylons you’re activating to unlock new places.
The highlight of Hyper Light Drifter is definitely its combat, though it won’t necessarily feel like it at first. At the start of the game, you’re equipped with a sword and laser pistol, as well as a dash move that can let you reposition yourself quickly. As you defeat enemies and discover secret areas though, you’ll earn currency that you can spend on unlocks and upgrades to your arsenal, and it wasn’t until I bought a few of these that I felt that Hyper Light Drifter’s combat options became particularly satisfying.
Asking for this kind of time investment is not uncommon for console and PC games, but it definitely feels foreign on mobile. It’s also worth noting that Hyper Light Drifter’s combat seems simple enough to work using touch controls, but I found it overwhelming to play without an MFi controller. There’s just too much repositioning and aiming you have to do quickly in the heat of battle, and virtual buttons just don’t quite feel like they give you the control or responsiveness that you want for that kind of thing.
Fighting the frame rate
After a couple hours with Hyper Light Drifter, things really clicked into place and I was entranced. That initial time investment isn’t the only hump you have to get over to enjoy this game, though. On mobile, Hyper Light Drifter suffers from bizarre inconsistencies in its frame rate, which can make everything feel sluggish.
What’s so strange about this technical issue is where it occurs. My iPhone Xr runs the game with surprising smoothness, but my iPad Pro drops frames with stunning regularity, even when I’m just moving my character down a hallway outside of combat. It’s not game-breaking, but it is very noticeable.
The bottom line
I’m glad that Hyper Light Drifter is on mobile, but it doesn’t exactly seem like a great fit. Between the slow ramp up and performance problems, it’s probably best to play this game elsewhere if you can. If you can’t, it’s still possible to enjoy the game on iOS. I did, but I probably would have had more fun with it on console or PC, assuming those versions don’t have similar issues.