The best part of this time of year is that the pollen count is low, so I can leave the house without my eyes bulging to fruition from the excess devil spawn that my antihistamines fail to repel. Come spring though, it’s a different kettle of fish, as my commutes to work will be shrouded by the spray of the dozen sneezes my body has expelled. Hayfever takes this nuisance of an allergy and converts it into a platforming adventure. What if every time I sneezed I could propel my body through the air? In the case of Hayfever, it reacts as inconceivably as you may imagine. Pollen has been crafted into a catalyst of lousy controls and uninspired level design. In some ways, the real life allergy is more enjoyable.
Not only are you a victim to the wondrous joys of being allergic to pollen – you’re also a postman. Playing as Thomas, you are tasked to deliver what can only be imagined as snot-drenched letters from your platforming escapades. As you progress through each level, the trips become more deadly, as increasingly challenging platforming gauntlets half your progress. Every section also encourages players to discover collectible letters that have drifted from your grasp due to the effects of hayfever. Reclaim your post, keep your job – that’s the name of the game and it doesn’t venture far beyond that.
If Hideo Kojima defined what makes a ‘walking simulator’ with 2019’s incredibly divisive Death Stranding, then Hayfever takes that concept and goes running with it. Whereas in Death Stranding you tackled the rough terrain carefully to ensure your packages remained undamaged, Hayfever has you zipping, whizzing and dashing through its world with no regard for people’s packages. In a nutshell, Hayfever controls poorly. A game in which the primary focus is to create an enjoyable, inventive series of platforming levels, it’s inexcusable that the experience is this unrefined.
Hayfever is clearly built around speed. In theory, this should be a speedrunner’s dream and an enjoyable platforming romp for the rest of us. Instead, Thomas handles with all the control of a balloon seeping air. Jumps retain a ridiculous amount of float, ensuring that simple challenges remain dangerously unnerving. This is made increasingly more infuriating when it comes to Thomas’s uncontrollable allergies. The levels are littered with clouds of pollen which ensure Thomas can sneeze his way to the next appropriate platform. Up to three can be stored and used when needed. The first two act as a means to enhance a jump, whereas if you stack up three you’ll launch like a NASA space rocket.
Having this lack of control over the central character is not only an undersight, but makes large sections of Hayfever borderline unplayable. What should be simple platforming hazards turn into the Dark Souls of platformers – and not intentionally. Simple walls will send Thomas flying backwards and extremely precise thumbstick inputs are required to pass through the most treacherous of challenges. In a game where the difficulty is constantly increased, it makes for a slog as many deaths are contributed to its poor control scheme. Thankfully, checkpoints remain fairly generous, but roadblocks feel like pure luck than places where dexterous players can advance through.
Even if the controls managed to refine themselves and create a solid experience, the levels themselves are uninspiring and lack any real identity of their own. In a world where there’s a constant sea of platforming indie titles hitting the Xbox store, developers need to ensure their product is standing out in the market. Hayfever is an overly generic affair and feels constructed from a template of basic platformers. Some levels attempt to mix things up with Thomas having to outrun large monstrosities, but they are so few and far between that it’s nowhere near enough to differentiate itself from any other games begging for players’ attention.
Visually though, Hayfever looks wonderful. The world packs a vibrant punch and is split into four seasons. The visual palette evolves as you progress and some truly lovely sprite work is crafted into the whole affair. The sound design does everything in it’s power to contrast this, as music remains fairly generic and many sound effects are consistently repeated to the point of head-smashingly annoying. Thomas’s sneezing effect is a particular standout and one that perforates itself through the adventure. Honestly, just cover your mouth, man.
A couple of irritating glitches also hindered my progress. Certain sound effects often repeated themselves for no necessary reason, a couple of game crashes required a full restart and some levels were marred with bugs that would prevent progress. One such event happened early on when a series of scarecrows that produced pollen suddenly stopped after one death, meaning that a complete restart of the level was needed to continue.
Hayfever on Xbox One has the looks of a solid platformer but is a completely misjudged experience. The control system makes the game borderline unplayable, the sound design wears thin extremely fast, and irritating glitches have the potential to prevent progress. Much like actual hayfever, it’s disorienting, frustrating and downright annoying. With the plethora of indie platformers that are begging for your time, Hayfever is not one that is successful in that department.