We’ve probably all seen a movie or read a book about an alien entity landing on Earth with the sole purpose of decimating the planet and anything it encounters. Everyone roots for the all-action hero to save the day and for the evil alien to be eliminated at all costs. Similar situations have played out in gaming many times too, but what if you weren’t playing the hero and instead took on the role of the enemy? Well, that’s the premise of the latest twin-stick SHMUP to hit the Xbox One, HyperParasite, with you taking up the task of annihilating all life-forms. So… is it good to be bad?
While there’s no doubt it’s a lot of fun to be the villain of the piece, HyperParasite will cause a fair few moments of frustration. Fortunately though, the positive aspects outweigh the slightly concerning fundamentals within the experience.
HyperParasite is a roguelike, top-down, twin-stick shooter set in a dystopian world where everything’s a bit run-down. You’ll play the part of an alien parasite with the ability to take over the bodies of humans – think Venom and you won’t be too far off – in a bid to climb up the ranks of humanity. The end-game is to press that Big Red Button and put an end to the entire human race in one fell swoop. It’s quite vague in terms of narrative; a short cutscene, alongside a bit of text-based information is all we’ve got to go on. That matters very little in the grand scheme of things however, because this apocalyptic story trope isn’t the main draw here. The gameplay is much more important.
During a swift tutorial, it’ll explain the importance of body-snatching for this rather weak parasite, before putting into action how each host body has a regular and a special attack. Like most twin-stick affairs, movement is done using the Left Stick and aiming via the Right Stick, with the attacks assigned to the two triggers. It’s all pretty straightforward on the controls front and in no time you feel ready to destroy the human scum. Then the parasite is thrown downtown to begin the culling on the streets and that’s when the difficulty curve hits you like a brick wall.
Essentially, everyone’s out to get you and so you must eliminate each human in a section to move onto the next. If your host body gets killed, then you’re left extremely vulnerable and need to snatch another body as soon as possible – literally one hit and the parasite dies. The reason it’s a real challenge to stay alive in the early stages is that the different types of human have to be unlocked via a two step process, before you can take over any of their bodies.
First you have to defeat one type, hoping a brain drops out so you can harvest it back at a shop, and then you must use coins found in the environments to unlock it. Until that’s been achieved, the parasite is stuck with the limited option of possessing a homeless person wielding a trolley as a melee weapon. Hence, multiple deaths are almost guaranteed. It can be frustrating as hell because death is permanent and only the unlocked characters are retained for future playthroughs; any buffs or upgrades purchased are lost.
After obtaining access to a wider selection of hosts, the fun really begins as you’re firing off bullets as a cop, delivering paper cuts as a papergirl, throwing Molotov cocktails while in control of an urban warrior, and slicing folks up as a streetwalker. Whether you want to get up close and personal, or stay at a distance and use elemental ranged attacks, the choice is yours. Those are just some of the characters in Act 1, so with five acts in total, you’re looking at a ton of variety when venturing off the streets and into new environments like Asia town.
Many are clear parodies of infamous pop culture characters such as the clawed janitor (Freddy Krueger), the sumo wrestler (E. Honda), a fugitive wearing chains (Mr. T), and loads of others. It’s filled to the brim with references and visuals relating to games, films and television, which really fuels that nostalgic feeling. The soundtrack helps in that department too, providing a bit of synthwave that’s reminiscent of old school action movies – for me it brought back memories of Tango & Cash and anything starring Arnie!
The procedurally generated map for each act consists of multiple small areas to clear out, a shop, a sub-boss and a main boss. Only the latter needs to be cleared to advance, but you’ll want to earn as much cash on the way and find any upgrades to further your chances. I love the sub-bosses though, mainly because they’re in themed areas and you’ve got characters seemingly paying homage to Robocop, Rocky, Hulk Hogan and even Raiden. As for the proper bosses, well the one in Act 1 is a pair of trucks which spawn enemies and eventually fire off a barrage of attacks, which put your dodging skills to the test.
I can’t stress how tough it is without a decent host body, but even in failure you’ll want to jump straight back in. The whole experience is stupidly addictive due to the slightly different map layouts every run-through, the lingering freshness brought about by body hopping and the desire to unlock all characters. What leaves a slightly bad taste though, is after reaching the next act, the characters there can’t be snatched until unlocked. Just picture being in a new world where you’re old, less powerful host has to survive long enough to be able to overcome new threats and unlock some fresh meat. Sounds hard, right? It’s soul destroying to die and have to start in Act 1 again, yet the enjoyment factor seldom wanes.
At the end of the day, HyperParasite is a twin-stick shooter that’s got the ability to draw you in for one more go, time and time again. The plethora of cool characters to unlock – 60 to be exact – and the unique abilities they possess ensure every playthrough is exciting. In terms of gameplay, it’s fast-paced enough to keep you on your toes without being hellish. Spotting the massive amount of pop culture references is incredibly satisfying as well, with nostalgia runnin’ wild in this one. It would be nice to feel more progression is being made each time, but the main problem many will have is getting over the ridiculously steep difficulty at the beginning of each act. I could’ve thrown in the towel for sure.
That being said, HyperParasite on Xbox One is a lot of fun for the most part and should be on your list to purchase – unless you hate dying or a challenge.