“I’m so slick that they need to call me grease, ’cause I slips and I slides when I rides on the beast.”
You see it coming, you get out of the way; basic survival instincts, unless you’re me, who possesses the reaction times of a drunk narcoleptic. Dodging is a physical form of art considering any and all of its contexts, and the main reason why is the style that can be attained from simply dodging a ball, or plate, or bullet. It’s something that makes HyperDot an accessible title, that’s for sure.
This is the latest title from one Tribe Games, lesser known as one Charles MacGregor. Hosted on his website are his other previous works, such as the weirdly curious gameplay of Glitch in The System, along with a collaborative effort between Tribe and Pollen, Meet Evva: The Game. They’re both modest efforts, humble in their approach, and it’s the approach that is the only connection between Charles’ current portfolio and the new, sleek direction they’re heading towards with HyperDot.
There’s no plot, which is great, because that gives me carte blanche to make up my own… Ahem. You play as Alan Smithereen, fresh off the heels from rescuing the President of Angola in a freak fly fishing accident. After returning home for some well-deserved R&R, you wake up the next morning to find yourself transformed into a dot whilst being pressured by a voice known only as “Keith” to dodge every single item that’s about to be thrown at you.
HyperDot is most comparable to Super Hexagon, one of several of Terry Cavanagh’s magnum opuses. It and this title survive purely for the cerebral enjoyment one can get out of its basic but brutal gameplay. While HyperDot is the same deal, it’s much more linear and smoother, as opposed to the bombastic, head-boppin’, teeth-clenchin’ and vertigo-inducin’ work of Cavanagh, which is a good thing.
The first levels relay a devilishly simple formula that has gotten so many other titles like N+ (the aforementioned Super Hexagon and Badland), through the door of players’ minds. You’re in a small circle, and a few squares that fire in a straight line come at you. Maybe a hexagon that is shot at your last position. After a while, a few heat-seeking triangles will creep up behind your fragile circle. Before you know it, stars with erratic stop/start pathfinding begin to trail you, along with crosses that explode into tiny projectiles.
It’s a small roster, and it covers the bare minimum of what is necessary in a game looking to test your reactionary skills like this, but then it doesn’t need to over-excel. Along with publisher GLITCH, Tribe has attempted to create a title whose sole purpose isn’t to challenge relentlessly, but teach and comfort at the same time. The starting levels possess nothing but a few simple shapes to dodge, with alterations in gameplay not being seen for a while. Slowly but surely however, the arsenal of geometric enemies in HyperDot will increase, but not without a broad lesson in how they work and how to dodge them.
It unloads a wealth of knowledge, tricks, and tips that benefit in any and all future playthroughs on maps, whether it be one of the many onslaught scenarios in the 100-level campaign or one of the more gimmicky levels. Despite having such a simple premise as its tagline and description, HyperDot definitely has more than just aces up its sleeve.
Be aghast at the number of game modes and customization present in such a small and quaint title, which begins to evolve the game into more of a tribute to “Pacifism” in Geometry Wars. Token collecting challenges, a tribute to “King” from Geometry Wars, and a tribute to SuperHOT that… actually works really well considering they hold the same principles and design methods.
There are a lot of tricks you have to look out for in HyperDot, and to be honest, there’s not a lot that misses. The 100 levels host a ton of tricks and ideas beyond dead-set gameplay changers, like the frequency of power-ups spawning in, how your dot plays upon receiving a shield in case you get hit, etc. There’s an exceptional amount of foresight shown here, and it’s more than commendable.
That same foresight was also instilled into the accessibility options available in the game, which seem to cover all the bases. Color-blind settings, High Contrast settings, a multitude of different controller options for the PC version. Another brilliant factor in HyperDot’s success in trying to warmly welcome everybody and anybody into its game.
That being said, this comforting and relaxing vibe that HyperDot almost always cleanly possesses, does show cracks under pressure near the end. Part of it comes down to how much “randomness” is used in the equation of most levels, which is absolutely fine when it comes to mere spawning. In fact, I’d dare say the random spawning is where the fun, excitement, and comfort of HyperDot originates from in most instances.
However, a lot of the time, in the final quarter of the Campaign, its sole trick is to just spam a single enemy type at different speeds. This doesn’t equate to a skill-building experience, and never will, since luck needs to be even more on your side than actual skill, especially when mixed with random spawning. It’s nonsense and always will be.
It still doesn’t stop you from having fun with the rest of the levels that are present, like the puzzles that show up in a fleeting fashion. Occasionally, it’ll be more about enemy know-how than endurance here, and unfortunately, there’s not enough of a balance between the two to make the pacing and overall journey completely gratifying.
Throughout the entire game, you’ll also be treated to a small and unimposing soundtrack consisting of mini house beats that exist as relaxing background noise to a different experience entirely. They’re not bad by any comparison or stretch of the imagination, but they’re placed in poor juxtaposition when it comes to the more insanely-produced levels. It highlights a possible oversight where the sound design could’ve been used to showcase how much progression the player has made. From dodging squares to a shit-ton of squares.
Beyond the 100 levels, along with the hidden Impossible Trials, which are less “Impossible” and more “Impervious to Brutes”, the custom level editor is amazing. The sheer depths it plunges to, it teaches the player about what makes a fair battleground so effortlessly. You can make separate waves, play with how those waves spawn in and when, experiment with every single facet of the contents of said waves — It’s staggering how many tools are given to you, and it’s all ultimately pointless unless you wanna make moving art masterpieces, since there’s no online level sharing, at least for now.
While you can create these levels and use them in local multiplayer with your pals, there’s no online component, period: no leaderboards for the survival levels outside of the campaign, no level downloading capabilities, and no multiplayer that could’ve been reminiscent of the survival game mode from N+. It’s heart-breaking, but it’s not a deal breaker. It simply would’ve been a cherry on top.
The price is also a bit hard to swallow, which is 20 dollars; a steep fee to pay for one finely-tuned mechanic, no matter how finely-tuned it is. This is going to sound dick-ish no matter how it’s worded, but if the file-sharing capabilities were there, then this would be one of the easiest purchasing decisions any curious customer would ever have. As it stands, however, it’s a bitter pill with some rejuvenating qualities to it.
After all is said, critiqued, praised, and scrutinized, it goes without saying that HyperDot is an achievement, in more ways than simply being a good game. It’s a genuine test of your skills that can legitimately carry over into other games after a quick, hour-long session, and that’s a phenomenal thing to consider.
HyperDot is a rhythmic and ball-busting exercise into reflexes and reactions with a consistent difficulty throughout and a few oversights made. It’s no Super Hexagon, sure, but the strides it makes in order to apprehend the player in a fair manner most of the time, as well as the incredible efforts made in terms of accessibility? That’s great and great is what this game can arguably be considered.
This Review of HyperDot was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review code was provided by publishers for the purpose of this review.
A simple game, a cathartic game. It truly evokes a feeling of player growth beyond the title itself, and it's accessible to almost anyone, despite playing it fast and loose with gameplay proceedings in the second half.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.