There’s something to be said about a game that does one thing and, with some minor variations on the approach, does it well. HoPiKo from developer Laser Dog does just that and reminded us very much of the excellent Super Meat Boy. The similarities are there in that you have to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible all the while avoiding hazards dotted around the place. They both also rely on the player having cat-like reflexes and muscle memory to get through the levels as they ramp up the difficulty and, with HoPiKo’s extra emphasis on speed-running, the faster you can do this the better.
There isn’t really a story as such to the game other than a nasty virus, called the Nanobyte, has infected the world’s gaming systems and it’s up to you to save them. To do so you need to battle through five worlds. These worlds comprise of ten stages (or runs) of five levels each, in total that’s two hundred and fifty levels to battle through and that’s not including the bonus stages. Each time you complete a world a gaming system is saved and the world rejoices. It must be said that the story, if you could call that, is not really needed but suppose it does gives you something resembling motivation when you start a level again for the umpteenth time.
As mentioned HoPiKo splits each world into ten runs of five stages and if you die at any point you’re taken back to the first level of that run. This is a blessing and a curse in some way as it encourages you, in a very old school way, to learn the timings and nuances of each stage. When everything clicks and you breeze through a complicated level like it wasn’t even there the reward is palpable. However, if you’re like us, you’ll find yourself being punted back to stage one with regularity and when it’s perhaps just one choke point causing you to stumble, going back to stage one just amps up your frustration.
They may be short but they get complicated fast and nailing one is fantastic. There’s even an achievement here for getting a perfect run at the first time of asking which we’ve only managed to do once. To get this not only do you need to survive but you need to complete each level within a set time limit. When you throw in the collectable consoles (which look like Gameboys) there’s plenty of replay value here for completionists. Including the unlockable speedrun and hardcore modes you are getting quite a lot of bang for your buck. The latter two modes are the same levels again although this time you are doing them in one go. The differentiator here is that the hardcore mode does not have the checkpoint system the speedrun mode does. You even have bonus levels to unlock which are a little different than the normal levels and require much more finesse to complete.
As such, you might expect the control system to perhaps be complicated or require you to activate special moves at the right time - but you’d be wrong. This is platforming in its purest form, no fancy moves, no special abilities just the requirement for us to pick a direction and leap. All you need is your joypad’s thumbstick and a button. Nothing more, nothing less and it works exceptionally well. We used an XBox One gamepad for our review on both PC and Mac and the responsiveness it gave came into its own the more we played. Any mistakes here were on us so while the air may have turned blue a fair bit it wasn’t the game’s fault, we were just too slow!
The visual style is classic in its retro look and feel complete with some eye-popping colour palettes, but with form comes function. Dotted platforms will rotate depending on how you hit them, barrels show you which way they fire and enemies will move along a clearly defined path shown by a wire. What this means is that nothing is left to chance, you can plot your way through and execute knowing that as long as your timing and aim is true it will work. There are no surprises, no hidden gotchas, just pure platforming at its best. It bills itself as a speedrunner’s best friend and there’s nothing we’ve found to suggest otherwise. Each level gets the adrenaline running and the trigger fingers twitchy all in the hope that we can shave just enough time off our run to complete the level in the allotted time. Coupled with its equally retro soundtrack you’ve got a pickup and play classic.
That’s not to say it’s not without fault, however. Try to play on anything other than a joypad and your enjoyment of HoPiKo is likely to be more rage-inducing rather than euphoric. The aim is a little off and the ability to quickly navigate the levels as required to hit the time targets is next to impossible save for the game’s easy early levels. The developers have been rather open about the preferred interface being a joypad it should at least be workable with a mouse. The fact that it’s almost unplayable with one is a shame as even if it is just an emergency-only input method it should at least work properly. It should be noted that HoPiKo was originally a mobile title so some leeway can be given but it shouldn’t be in the state that it is.
What we have here with HoPiKo is a game that strips everything back and encourages you to attack it using any means possible. Spot a shortcut? Go for it! Figured out the enemy timings? Use them to your advantage. It’s delightful in its execution and doesn’t try anything too fancy. It knows exactly what its gaming identity is and sticks to it. Even though this reviewer has some training to do when it comes to these “twitch” style games, the time spent traversing its levels was a fun experience. Sure I got annoyed at myself when I had to repeat a set for the hundredth time but at the same time I had that voice in my head going “yeah but we can do this move here and we’ll shave that fraction of a second off our time.”
HoPiKo has everything going for it including the ‘just one more go’ factor that is never a bad thing. Whilst we hope that mouse controls are improved, when played with a joypad it is a joy to play. The retro styling suits it down to the ground and extra content such as the hardcore mode gives it a high replayability. It’s a cheap and cheerful game and while if you play too much of it you may end up with an RSI, nailing that level was worth it, right?