Arena brawlers are bringing local multiplayer back in a big way with their pick up and play gameplay, and battle mechanics that don’t feel too alienating for newcomers. Hyper Jam on Xbox One is another such arena brawler, but this one comes soaked in neon and has a real 80’s vibe throughout. Does it do enough to stand toe-to-toe with the others on the market?
Hyper Jam pits up to four players against each other in a small arena, viewed from an isometric point of view. Players and AI opponents scramble around the arena picking up weapons to take out each other out in a quick and frantic multiplayer game. At the end of each round, when only one person is left standing, scores are awarded for damage done and number of kills. Being the first person to reach the target score doesn’t mean an instant win though. That player then needs to survive one more round before being awarded the victory. But all this does is just paints a target on that players head for everyone else to attack, meaning everyone has a fair chance to catch up and steal the victory.
Just because you are knocked out of a round doesn’t necessarily mean that it feels like it’s game over. You can still have some influence over the match using your laser strikes. If two or more players are still alive after you are knocked out, you have an opportunity to target a section of the map with a laser strike. That person who only needs to survive one more round? Take them out with a laser strike from beyond the grave!
At first glance, Hyper Jam clearly sets out its stall to be an ‘80s throwback and absolutely nails this. The neon, the synthwave, even the character artwork, it’s all there in abundance. Sadly, it’s the only thing in the game that comes in abundance, everything else seems a bit on the small side.
Combat is simple enough to appease the casual players who will only play one or two games around their mate’s house, but a few nuances mean this is more complex than first appears. Attacking with a melee attack or a weapon comes about from a simple tap of RT; holding it down for a more powerful attack or, in the case of the rocket launcher, seeing it become a homing missile. RB will throw your weapon, but all attacks can be parried – with projectiles rebounding back the way they came – using LB. Character movement and aiming is done, as you would expect, via twin-stick controls.
However, whilst weapons can be used in a variety of ways, there are only five of them in total; Katana, bow and arrow, grenade launcher, rocket launcher and oversized hammer. Not forgetting your fists as well for when you don’t have a weapon equipped, but these don’t do much damage by comparison.
This trend of ‘not very much’ continues into the number of characters and arenas. There are four characters in total, meaning any sort of four player game – against real or virtual opponents – will include all four characters. The artwork for each character on the select screen is certainly a highlight, but they also offer no advantages choosing one over another.
Then, there are only six different arenas in total. Some have barriers that act as cover, some have huge holes in the centre that you must avoid falling down. There is variation in the arenas that are there, but a few more wouldn’t have gone amiss.
A local team of four players could experience everything this game has to offer inside of an hour. Thankfully then, there is also online multiplayer, featuring cross-play functionality to increase the player pool. It is the exact same experience as locally, just online, still featuring the same deathmatch rules without any additional game modes.
There is however, a wide selection of perks. Perks are given out at the end of each round with the player in last place able to select from up to four randomly chosen perks. Some will increase your health or regenerate it over time, increase your damage, speed or attack speed, freeze, burn or confuse your opponents or even allow you to survive an attack that would normally kill you. Best of all, these perks can be stacked: If you already have a health booster as a perk and choose it again, your maximum health is increased further. Likewise, if you already have the perk to freeze an opponent, choosing it again will reduce the time taken between freezing hits, meaning you can freeze enemies more often.
The rules within Hyper Jam can be tinkered with to suit your preferences. You can change the score limit for a longer or shorter game, choose which weapons spawn or don’t, change which perks appear or even turn off laser strikes altogether. There is room to try new things in the game, but it still feels limited.
Hyper Jam on Xbox One has 12 achievements in total, and all are for completing certain actions. Killing opponents with parried projectiles, winning a match using only one type of weapon or starting a round with 200% health all deliver a bit of Gamerscore. None of these are too tricky and can be easily obtained by manipulating the game rules should you wish for an easy completion.
Hyper Jam may feel like it has been ripped straight from Blade Runner or Tron with its neon lights and synthwave sounds, but it also feels like they only ripped the bare minimum for the game. It functions well enough as a local and online multiplayer arena brawler but after only a couple of hours there was nothing left for me or my friends to do. It’s good fun and a very well-made brawler, but unfortunately there is a limited amount of fun you can have with it.