A Brief History
Let me tell you about Homestuck. When you hear that name, most likely you’ll have one of three associations. On the off chance you’re like me, you’ll have enjoyed the comic for what it is. There’s also a chance you’ve read it in the past and wish you hadn’t. Most likely, you know very little about the comic itself, and the name is enough to turn you off because you’ve heard of the fan base. Homestuck started in 2009, and within three years it’s fan base had reached critical mass. This is also when the kickstarter campaign for Hiveswap started, so it reached its funding goal in a matter of hours. However, since the fan base was so big, it had plenty of shitheads to ruin the comic for anyone inside the fan base and out. After Homestuck went on hiatus for a few years, most of group one converted into group two, leaving the fan base much smaller than its original size. The comic went on and off hiatus until finally ending in 2016, and despite the fan base being much smaller and therefore much calmer, everyone else still hated the comic and its fan base for the way it was pre-2013.
All this time, Hiveswap was trapped in development hell. Originally, Hiveswap was meant to be developed by another team, but at some point due to various complications, it was announced that development would continue in-house by What Pumpkin studios, essentially forcing them to start over with most of the kickstarter money gone and with a much smaller team. Hiveswap was intended to release on 4/13/2014, but because they wanted the game to be absolutely perfect it was delayed for three and a half years so they could get it right.
So now it’s finally here, and as a member of group one myself, I’ve been excited for this game since the beginning of high school (and I’m in college now). However, you don’t have to have been a fan of, read, or even heard of Homestuck to enjoy the game. Like the steam page says, “it’s 1994, Homestuck hasn’t been invented yet!” If you’re a fan of really long (I mean really long), zany, universe spanning adventures with loads of characters, I’d recommend reading Homestuck before or after playing the game. If it doesn’t seem like it will appeal to you, I’d recommend not touching it and just diving straight in.
Hiveswap is a point and click adventure game meant to emulate the genre that was popular back when the game takes place. It plays mostly as you’d expect: you point and you click. You have to solve puzzles to progress through the game, although there are occasionally battles. Unlike most games where you have a health bar and have to wail on enemies until one of you passes out, these are more like especially tense puzzles where you have to use the right items to get past the enemies.
It occurs to me that I’ve completely failed to mention the plot. You start the game playing as Joey Claire, your average mid-nineties teenager who lives in your average house with her brother and babysitter, as her dad is mostly absent. The opening cinematic features Joey playing with her brother Jude Harley in her backyard, when they’re both chased to relative safety by a sudden monster invasion. You have to solve puzzles and battle monsters to navigate through the house and eventually get to the attic. This serves as a good tutorial to the game, with increasingly more difficult puzzles and battles as the house opens up more and more. You’re introduced to the standard item-combination mechanic as well as the character swapping mechanic, as you have to switch between Jude and Joey to navigate through the house.
In the attic is a portal (decorated in a way that may unnerve some fans) that takes you to the main plot. After activating the portal, you, an ordinary Earth human, switches place with an ordinary Alternian troll. You find yourself across the universe in the hive of the alien you replaced yourself with. You have to cooperate with a friend of his to escape the incredibly hostile environment and figure out how to get back home.
The art, writing, and music for this game was like being wrapped in a cozy blanket and sipping a hot cup of nostalgia. Joey introduces herself the same way every character in Homestuck is introduced, and drawn in the same way they are. It felt like I was back in eighth grade immersing myself in the comic for the first time. It doesn’t have to rely on nostalgia, though, as the game looks beautiful and is written extremely well. Every room is filled to the brim with objects to investigate, and I can’t imagine how long it took to draw the backgrounds alone. Andrew Hussie, writer for the comic, was one of a team of three, and the writing was extremely faithful to the comic and hopefully appealing to new players.
Our composers are Toby Fox, head of the Homestuck music team and creator of Undertale; and James Roach, whose music was featured in the Colours and Mayhem albums. I don’t necessarily think this OST (available here and here) is their best work, but it’s definitely great and fits perfectly in the game, and I can’t wait to hear the music for the next couple acts.
With fun puzzles, an amazing art style, exciting story, and heaping spoonful of nostalgia, Hiveswap is amazing for newcomers, old fans, and point and click adventure fanatics. What really makes the game for me is the fact that it can be enjoyed differently for new and old players. For newcomers, Alternia is an exciting new place to explore. For older fans, it’s relatively familiar and it’s exciting to get to explore it in more depth. When seeing the villain for the first time, new players are intrigued by an intimidating antagonist, while old fans recognize her and anticipate the opportunity to try to take her down.
Like with Life is Strange, I’m going to hold off on giving it a score until the entire game is out. If the rest of the acts are like this one, though, the score is definitely going to be good.
This review of Hiveswap Act 1 is based on the PC version of the game. A review copy was provided.
Max is a student at Rutgers who likes writing fantasy and playing video games such as Zelda, Mario, Undertale, Earthbound, and Stardew Valley.