Ratalaika Games’ Himno is an odd duck. It’s a “no death” platformer played out to a backdrop of ambient music as you traverse procedurally generated levels. By no death Ratalaika mean there are no enemies to thwart you, but you can actually die by falling into the water at the bottom of the screen, which I did. A lot. But I digress. Himno is almost certainly one of the most relaxing games I’ve played, which might put some off, but it honestly shouldn’t as there is enough of a challenge here to keep a player happy in short bursts.
Players take control of an 8-bit warrior who makes his way through a number of different districts. Challenged by the dark, he must wall jump and perform all sorts of platforming actions to get to the next area. To be fair it’s pretty basic stuff and anyone who has ever played a Mario game will have the necessary skills to pay these particular bills.
That’s not to say that Himno is not a challenge because it is, with often confusing builds to the levels that are stacked vertically rather than horizontally. Making your way through these procedurally generated levels is the aim of the game, collecting sprites which, for some reason, is never quite made clear. I understand that the yellow and green gems which reward experience work towards a levelling up system that is just a way to access higher level sprites. Once you can access these sprites they follow you around, but seem to solve no further purpose other than lighting your way in the seemingly unending darkness.
That is about it as far as the story goes, but any meaningful campaign would feel like it had been shoehorned in and would grate against the whole procedural thing. There’s no real plot and no real goal to stick to. In the world of Himno, that feels nice.
As with other Ratalaika games I have played, the controls are pretty twitchy and in a game that relies on making jumps by fine margins this can get really frustrating as falling into the water at the bottom of the screen not only kills you, but makes you start your whole run over again, losing all progress that you’ve made. Hence why I said earlier that this game is best enjoyed in short bursts of exploration. It’s especially nauseating when you have made your why through a number of districts and one wrong move puts you back to district one/the main screen. It’s this fear of having to start over because of one messed up jump that eventually stops you being willing to risk a leap of faith into the darkness in order to find an alternative way through to the exit portal for that district. I’d even go so far as to say that the singular way you can die actually takes the relaxing element of the game away.
Lots of content in Himno goes unexplained, such as why is the warrior carrying a chuffing big sword when he has no enemies to bop over the head? What is the reasoning behind collecting gems? How come this game is free on PC when you need to pay for it on console? I couldn’t find the answers to any of the questions asked, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment too much, as I got sucked into Himno and the hypnotic musical score that constantly evolves the longer you play. That audio backing is certainly a nice touch.
The procedurally generated maps are quite beautiful too, but can at times prove to be somewhat of a chore. A few times I found them impossible to beat as the moving lift or nest ledge were too far out of reach, even when using the boost button to power yourself up there. This was a once in a blue moon scenario however and on the whole the maps kept me entertained as I tried to figure my way from the watery depths through to the exit portal.
The visuals of Himno on Xbox One are set in an 8-bit style and fit with the chilled out nature of the game, with gems and sprites lighting your way through the darkness as you play at your own pace, free of the pressures that come with most games. As mentioned earlier, this is a game that shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge and could be good for younger players as Himno’s only real punishment is to be ejected back to the title screen.
But for all the good, I still can’t work out why Himno is a free download over on PC but commands a price tag on console. Yes it’s not expensive, but for this reason alone I find it difficult to recommend Himno on Xbox One as a reason to part with your hard earned cash.