From UK-based developer Laser Dog, HoPiKo is a title you do not want to miss.
Described as an “intense speed run platformer,” HoPiKo features a world where the titular species live peacefully inside video game consoles until a virus enslaves them all. All but one. You. Found in an old NES cartridge, you are the last free HoPiKo, setting out to save gaming and its people. Your target? A virus you’ll punch in the face repeatedly, across various worlds strewn with monsters.
Crisp Lines and Deep Bass
It’s pretty mindblowing a game this robust only took eight months to build. Upon first glance, the art is striking. In line with its theme, “to save video gaming,” thick lines and sharp corners stylize its graphics. Its quasi-pixel art is very well done and you’ll appreciate the visuals for what they are. Strong color palettes and combinations dominate, while the layout of its user interface blends in the environment and the interactive elements popping up on screen.
Heavy on the particles, but never in a way that clutters the screen, the visual effects enhance the gameplay’s intensity. Small pixels trail behind your HoPiKo, as it soars through the level and flies through speed gates. The final impact of the seemingly genderless pixel, colliding with a virus at the end of every level, is met with a satisfying boom and flash of light, followed by the monstrous floating eyeball imploding upon itself while HoPiKo flies off to the next stage. Dying means the screen glitches for a split second, sure to shock the senses and make one’s eyes hurt after the 40th death… ahem. And if you’re the type sensitive to such effects, don’t turn your back on this great game: you can turn them off via the menu.
Thrumming bass lines and riveting drum tracks are a real kick.
That’s great. Often times in the platformers that require you to try over and over again, music gets repetitive, grating, and irritating. Here, the soundtrack adds to the atmosphere, and keep you focused on jumping your way to the end of a level. In fact, it kept me motivated to power through and persevere until I completed all the levels. I’m pretty sure Chiptune fans will be instantly drawn in, especially if hardcore enthusiasts of the LSDJ Gameboy setup used to record said soundtrack. Music is even part of the game’s progression: tracks are unlocked as you advance and can be set to shuffle or repeat through the game’s playlist. You’ll also be glad to know that, should you fall in love with it as I did, the full soundtrack is available to buy and stream at Laser Dog’s bandcamp page.
Jump, Punch, Repeat
Your most valuable skills are speed and accuracy. You’ll be testing them as you jump from a platform to another, whiz yourself between enemy hazards, and hurtle yourself at the bosses you’ll face upon finishing every level. With everything happening at once, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with sensory overload, which actually adds to HoPiKo’s appeal.
The tutorial isn’t thrilling but well designed: you’ll be introduced to the basic mechanics and controls, enough to get you in shape for the first level sets. That’s when the fun begins, that’s when you start to get a real feel for its pace. Gameplay, of course, evolves as you progress, introducing platforms that induce physics and rotate depending on when you land, along with enemies that shoot lasers.
HoPiKo forces you to be logical and stay on your toes.
Thankfully for a game of sharp turns and corners, the learning curve isn’t that steep, but the constant introduction of environments and enemies keeps it fresh. HoPiKo isn’t easy, but you learn from your countless mistakes and deaths – mine totaled a number figure nearing three digits – and the initial frustration you might feel early in-game will turn itself over to fun. I ended up cursing a lot more at myself than at the game, for my faulty muscle memory and lack of speed, and repeatedly dying never made me want to ragequit. Real signs of an action game well done.
While a level’s objective has you aiming for its final boss, an overarching structure has features to keep it engaging across them all. A mini-level is completed when done within a few allotted seconds, which is then marked off by a checkmark. Then, in every set of five mini-levels—called a run—there’s a console for you to collect, consequently adding a few seconds to your timer. Once ten runs are completed, the next world opens up, plus Hardcore and Speedrun mode. These extra modes will have you completing every mini-level one after another, for a total of fifty in one long run. These modes also handle deaths quite differently: Speedmode allows you to start again from the current mini-level, while Hardcore makes you start from the first mini-level on death. Certainly not for the weak of heart and mind.
On a side note, I didn’t get to experience HoPiKo with a controller. I wish I did because its controls are unique. A single stick is used to maneuver around, and a quick flick is all you need to aim and launch. In short, there’s no need for buttons to slow your gameplay down.
While an absolute blast for all speedrunners, completionists, and Chiptune enthusiasts, HoPilo's excellent visuals, catchy backing tracks, and dynamic gameplay will speak to anyone looking to sink their teeth into a boldly colorful, fast-paced action platformer.