Hyper Light Drifter is backbreaking, but never needlessly so. The dash-and-slash action RPG is in equal parts elegantly designed and punishing, posing the fairest challenge I’ve ever encountered in a game. A year post-release, Hyper Light Drifter’s clean (and ball-busting) gameplay still has me addicted to the adrenaline rush.
I picked up Hyper Light Drifter a little after it came out last March. Its simple mechanics were an immediate pull: one button to dash, one button to attack with a sword. By slashing monsters, you charge your gun. There are upgrades and things, but those three moves define the gameplay. Menus are easily avoided, for the most part.
Hyper Light Drifter follows a mysterious protagonist, a Drifter, through the north, south, east and west zones, each with their own set of monsters and dungeons. Often, the Drifter is enclosed in small spaces with dozens of enemies, which he has to dodge, slash and shoot in perfect rhythm. I die, a lot. The music doesn’t even pause.
A year later, I’ve come back for this rhythm. I’m playing through the boss fights, savoring each challenge in all its sadism. On the North map, a vulture boss takes turns sending hordes of minion birds at me and cracking open floor tiles with his staff, which I barely dodge. Slashing the birds and charging my gun, I became absorbed in the rhythm of shoot, dodge, slash that I try over and over to perfect. Hyper Light Drifter is so polished that dying never feels unfair, building up a fierce adrenaline rush. When I finally win and come up for breath, after fifteen tries, that rush is unparalleled.
I feel safe in the state of heightened “flow” Hyper Light Drifter inspires. Rarely does a game feel so smooth that there is nothing separating me from complete immersion. Rarely do victories and defeats feel so straightforward and entirely deserved. I’ll come back to this game for years seeking that same rush, and I know that Hyper Light Drifter will not let me down.