HoPiKo (PS4) — Review

I’ve been on a bit of a kick for intense, fast games, so I picked up HoPiKo on a whim last week.  I saw it on sale on the PSN store and was interested by the retro graphics, the chiptune soundtrack, and how it was billed as a hyper fast platformer.  After playing two thirds of the game, I can say that that’s true.  If platformers with bite sized levels that require perfect timing are your thing (Super Meat Boy, N++), HoPiKo is for you.

Speed and precision are the tools you'll need to play HoPiKo

Speed and precision are the tools you’ll need to play HoPiKo

  • TL;DR: A speed-driven platformer perfect for those who want to challenge their reflexes
  • Platforms: Android, iOS, PC, PS4 (reviewed)
  • Time Played: 5:00
  • What I Played: 37 out of 50 levels

HoPiKo has a light story about how your race, the small creatures who live inside game consoles and keep them running, have been enslaved by nanobots and how it’s your job to save them.  As expected, though, HoPiKo is not about any real story or narrative.  It’s about the fast, demanding gameplay that keeps you coming back for more.

There are five worlds each with 10 levels.  Each of those 10 levels is further split into five segments that must be completed in one go without dying to complete the level.  The controls in HoPiKo boil down to using two fingers on half of the controller.  The right stick will fling your character off whatever platform he’s on in whatever direction you are aiming while R1 shoots him at a faster pace at a 90 degree angle.  That’s it.  All you need to do is progress from the start point of each level to the big, swirling endpoint.

Sounds easy enough, right?  HoPiKo throws a seemingly endless number of things your way to make the simple idea of moving forward a nightmare.  It should be no surprise that floating spikes will end you, as will the borders of the map.  One of HoPiKo’s more deadly features is that the platforms you land on will disintegrate after a few seconds, forcing you to always move forward and not take too long doing so.  Flying through the air for too long will kill you, laser beams are obviously bad news, flying ninja stars mean death, and circular homing robots will try to mob you.  HoPiKo has enough tricks up it’s sleeve to keep you on your toes while devising plans on how to succeed.  You will die and you will die frequently, but respawn times are as practically instantaneous.

asdf

The red lasers are bad, the big square is not.

Another of HoPiKo’s more devious systems is that when you die, your screen goes black immediately.  In other games you may have a game over message pop up but be able to scope out the level as your character lays on the ground, letting you formulate a plan for your next run.  Not in HoPiKo.  It’s a real kick in the ass to struggle with the fourth section of a level just to finally break through and die immediately at the start of the fifth section.  Then again, it makes the relief you feel when you finally finish a level is that much sweeter.

It took me about 30 minutes to really get the hang of HoPiKo and once I did, I was hooked.  The biggest tip I can give you is to start lining up your next jump before you land your current one.  When you only have one or two seconds to jump off a platform before it vanishes, every little bit of time counts.  You’re also given about one second of lead in time when you spawn, but don’t go crazy trying to come up with a full plan in that second.  I found that in many levels it was best to just find my next platform and start scanning for the next spot as I was flying through the air.  You don’t really have much time to do anything else.

Sections within a level take about three to five seconds to complete, meaning an entire level can take 20 seconds.  That doesn’t count the dozens of failed attempts beforehand, of course, but the finished product does look pretty cool.  Here’s one of my favorite levels from world three.  I really like the missile platforms that fire once you land on them.  They add another dimension to the calculations you have to make.

HoPiKo is pretty to look at with it’s very low-res, retro vibe.  The different levels and worlds all have the same feel to them, but simple palette swaps keep things from getting monotonous.  The various types of platforms and pitfalls always have the same shape, so you can key off of that rather than knowing that the red platforms spin this way, the black ones act like this, and so on.  The chiptune soundtrack is also a joy.  Tracks are fast and keep your blood pumping.  You can pick the song you want to play as you unlock more, but I just let them play.  The sound effects from landing on a platform, flying off of it, and a platform exploding are all welcome additions to the excellent background music.

As far as replayability goes, there’s always the goal of pushing your best time to the limit.  If that’s not enough for you, each world unlocks a more challenging bonus level along with speedrun and hardcore modes.  Speedrun mode asks you to beat all 50 sections of a world in a row and each death resets you to the start of a level, meaning a death on section 27/50 brings you back to section 26.  Hardcore mode is a single life run through all 50 sections of a world with no checkpoints.  Hard pass.

There are a few bugs in HoPiKo that limited me from enjoying the game as much as I could.  First, I noticed that I would die to absolutely nothing about once every 10-15 minutes.  I would be flying through the open air towards a platform and suddenly I was dead.  HoPiKo is a tough enough game as it is, so having my character randomly die is a downer.  Secondly, I was unable to progress past world 4 level 8 due to freezing.  Whenever I would attempt that level, the respawn time after each death would become exponentially worse until it would take 60 seconds just to respawn.  It’s a tough sell to play for 15 seconds, die, then wait 60 seconds to try again.  I try to always complete a game before reviewing it, but this has been an exception.

Flying through the air with the greatest of ease

Here we see our hero flying through a gauntlet of ninja stars towards a Donkey Kong-esque launch barrel.

All in all, HoPiKo is a fun game with challenging difficulty that leaves you feeling great once you finally beat that one level you’ve been stuck on for 15 minutes.  The pixellated graphics go great with the chiptune soundtrack and levels are so quick that it’s easy to get caught up in a “just one more run” loop.  Speedrun and hardcore modes are there for the daredevils and there’s always the allure of driving your best time down.  HoPiKo is fun if you like platformers with a small margin for error.

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