Making its way onto the Xbox One for the first time, Hive Jump, from Graphite Lab, provides a unique take on the run and gun style that originated in arcades and early home consoles of the past.
Its fast-paced, alien-squashing gameplay provides for a fun, yet challenging, experience when playing solo, but fits best when diving deep with friends. Set in the 24th century, Hive Jump places the player in the midst of an outnumbered war between humans and a hostile alien race. With humanity’s backs against the wall, their only hope comes from the J.U.M.P. Corps. Assuming control of JUMPERS, players blast past hordes and waves of aliens, as you delve deeper into the depths of the enemy hive to defeat what lurks below.
The campaign houses much of the meat that makes up the single player content. Including real-time strategy (RTS) elements to the campaign’s gameplay fits the narrative Hive Jump aims for in being a melting pot of experiences. The results of your assault on hives directly impacts the overall war raging between humanity and the alien race. Not overstaying its welcome, the RTS elements aren’t overbearing and are light enough to not scare away non-fans of the playstyle. At times, they do become a bit distracting to the overall pull of the game, but the added layer of gameplay is welcomed.
Outside of the various campaigns available, Hive Jump offers numerous other modes to keep players engaged with the content provided. Arcade mode offers the classic high score chasing experience, testing players with how far they can go and how long they can last. Challenge modes are also available including Clean Run, Speed Run, Hardcore, and Endless to challenge players in all situations possible. Hive Jump also sports Leaderboards which track all scores available on your specific platform (Xbox One in this case), giving players an opportunity to set goals on high scores and bragging rights.
The biggest pull within the gameplay of Hive Jump though is the roguelike approach it takes when descending into the depths of a hive. Think of it as the love child of Cuphead and Dead Cells, as you will die a lot but with each run, you gain more knowledge on how to address certain obstacles. With the incorporation of RTS elements into the campaign and extending the overall play session, it helps alleviate some fear of losing all progress at death. Yet, the difficulty spikes can be quite aggressive from the beginning when tackling jumps solo.
At the game’s core, it is meant to be experienced in a multiplayer setting, and it is here, with the frantic, and at times overwhelming, nature where Hive Jump thrives when played in a group setting. Being able to play both online or via LAN, Hive Jump offers fun for any group setting. Online matchmaking was an excellent decision to include, considering the reach the game has. Players can easily find games matched for them or via a lobby search.
In terms of aesthetic, Hive Jump successfully pulls off the feeling of a deep space shooter in a 2D realm. With the incorporation of Sprite Lamp to include dynamic lighting, the 32-bit art style pops with rich and vibrant colors, giving the procedurally generated catacombs a beautiful yet ominous depiction of the deep tunnels. Reeking of Super Metroid vibes, the sprawling cavernous landscape becomes one of my favorite aspects of Graphite Lab’s first project as a team. Littered with environmental obstacles and secrets hiding within, it makes you want to explore the world with each run you take. Roguelikes normally take a toll on my patience, and my playstyle in my 20s is much different than my style from my teens. I find myself relying more and more on progression, which when speaking in regards to roguelike experiences, can be few and far between.
What makes Hive Jump stand out is the way the environment portrays a level of progression with each run you take. With multiple challenge rooms along the way, exploring each nook and cranny doesn’t feel to be a chore. Players are encouraged to explore and climb deeper into the darkness, and the reward is usually plentiful in the form of Goo or special abilities. While thematically strong, the soundtrack does become repetitive over time. For a game that will require a multitude of replays, the soundtrack needs to be diverse and continually unique. While the main theme for the song fits great with the aesthetic, I would’ve hoped to see more songs built off of it as I continued blasting my way through – unfortunately, this is not the case.
Controlling your JUMPER proves to be my biggest criticism of the game. With no option to remap inputs or change a controller scheme, the standard controls do feel a bit of a bear at time. Jumping is mapped to the left trigger on the Xbox One controller, along with double tapping the same trigger to use the jetpack. While not experience ruining, I found myself naturally going to hit one of the various face buttons in anticipation that one would respond by having my JUMPER, well, jump. Sure, the ‘Get Gud’ approach could be very applicable in this situation, and you do eventually get used to it, but it isn’t a night and day transition. Within the first handful of hours playing the game, at least half of the deaths I endured were at the hands of the controls. For a game available on multiple platforms, it would’ve been a welcomed sight to see a few different input layouts available in the Xbox One release.
For a 2D run and gun shooter, character customization is quite deep. Outside of the basic color change, players can unlock over 40 emblems and 5 skins throughout their time invested in the game. A light equipment upgrading system is embedded into the gameplay as well. Ranging from over 12 weapons, 8 grenade types and 9 utilities to unlock, players can find the style of play that fits their needs perfectly. Each weapon is upgradable, using a three tiered system to boost the overall performance on your weapon of choice, and during my initial few runs, I decided to equip the Spread Shot weapon, as I thought it would be best to use when acclimating myself to the game. Yet, I found myself overheating the gun far more than I anticipated I would, so I went to the automatic Pulse Rounds to handle the myriad of enemies the game throws at you.
Hive Jump is a jack of all trades in some regards. Many a time did I find myself pointing out portions of the game and saying it reminds me of another style of game. At the base level, the run and gun style brings nostalgic players back to the days of playing Contra on the NES or Metal Slug in the arcade. Yet, I feel the 2D Sci-Fi exploration from games such as Super Metroid, and the frantic squashing of aliens on a foreign world that I experienced in the Library on Halo: Combat Evolved.
The replayability pull of roguelike elements, recently found in games such as Dead Cells, makes me justify saying “alright, just one more run” (which never is just one more run, let’s be honest). While the RTS elements feel a bit redundant at times, and the soundtrack has little variation, Hive Jump’s gameplay is what will keep you coming back. It may not be a ‘Master of All’, but it is a great hommage to many series that warrants the $9.99 it asks for.