This probably isn’t the ‘hiking’ that you’re used to. There are no laminated maps, flasks of tea or triangle sandwiches. But of course it’s ‘super’ hiking, so presumably that explains it. Super hiking is all about continuously jumping upwards, and occasionally using a Bionic Commando-style grapple to catapult yourself to upper levels. No Lake District to be seen.
What we have instead is a game that can be approached in two ways, and the way you approach it is hugely important. Approach Super Hiking League DX as a platformer, and a solo one at that, and it’s not particularly fun. Approach it as a competitive speed-runner, a couch co-op game, and you’ve got a rough diamond.
Super Hiking League DX starts by being approachable to everyone. It has an electric midi soundtrack, and it’s got all the OTT sound effects and swooshes that you would expect from an arcade title screen. It looks great, and feels a step above your average £4.19 indie title. Jump into menus and it just keeps ticking boxes. You can apply curvature so that it feels like you’re playing on a CRT, and there are colour filters that make it look like a Virtual Boy, Gameboy or NES game. It’s got the older gamer (i.e. me) nailed down.
In-game isn’t quite to the same level, but it’s still lovingly presented. The levels and enemies aren’t massively varied, so there’s a sameness about playing Super Hiking League DX, but the characters have a solid, Wonder Boy look to them, and everything is as day-glo and garish as you’d hope. With the gameplay stirred in, I was getting some Rainbow Islands flashbacks.
If you’re approaching as a solo player, looking for a platforming hit, then you’re going to be playing Arcade Mode and Time Attack. Arcade Mode is effectively your campaign, and you’ve got twenty-seven levels to chew on. Each one is a best-of-three, where you race an AI opponent to a gem at the top of a vertical level. Platforms are staggered all the way to the top, and there are sporadic flower-looking things which are targets for your grapple. By pressing Y, you can shoot out a reasonably long rope and, if it hits the flower, then you can catapult yourself beyond your opponent and towards the gem. The gem, too, can be shot with the grapple, and some of the best victories are when you yoink the gem from an opponent who’s slightly ahead of you.
There are options to fiddle with how the grapple works, with an Automatic Mode that effectively auto-aims for you, and Manual and Mixed Modes that give you more control. It’s a good time to mention that there are also plenty of difficulty levels to calibrate to your abilities, with a Beginner Mode that makes it moderately approachable for kids.
There are a few dotted enemies, which can be downed with your grapple or a sword which is a press of the X button. The enemies tend to stay still or do a simple jump, so they’re more a static obstacle than something to worry about.
We came to Super Hiking League DX as a solo platformer, and that was a mistake. The ‘best of three’ structure, for a start, feels terrible when playing solo. On difficult levels or higher difficulties, you might nip a victory, but then need to do it all over again. Getting a nose ahead of AI feels less good as a result. And if you start with a loss, then the only real option is to reset and start again.
The AI was always going to be hard for an indie to get right, but it can’t help falling between stools. On easier difficulties, the AI can feel like it’s pitying you. Fall from a high platform all the way to the bottom and the AI will do exactly the same, as if you were attached by rubber bands. But play on a harder difficulty, and they will occasionally flick their superhero switch and make a faultless run to the top.
When playing on solo, the rudimentary, repetitive levels, the lack of collectibles and no discernible story means that Super Hiking League can feel bare bones. Even on Time Attack, when you’re largely playing against yourself, it doesn’t really work. That’s when we realised that Super Hiking League DX wasn’t meant to be played this way. It’s best described as a Nidhogg-style esporter or competitive game.
Grab a friend, and Super Hiking League DX absolutely comes into its own. This is one of those mean-spirited, fun, punch-your-mate-as-they-beat-you kind of games.
You have two fairly similar modes to play in multiplayer. Versus Mode and Race Mode are pretty much the same, except Race Mode records time. But what it boils down to is you and a friend, duking it out in a race to the top of a level. There are three tiers of level, based on their length, largely, and you’re playing best-of-three.
Games in multiplayer are all the right kinds of fun. You can whack each other to temporarily stun, so there’s that, and ploughing ahead means that you’re often clearing the path of enemies for the other player, so there’s a lovely give-and-take to how the level plays out. You’ve not felt rage until a friend completes the level with a lucky grab of the grapple, and we can guarantee that there will be smack-talk.
Super Hiking League DX’s flaws seem less glaring in multiplayer. The enemies do way too much damage, not only stunning you but shoving you backwards, and in solo it feels too punitive. In multiplayer, it’s a level playing field, so it doesn’t hurt as much. The same goes for a fall, which can often take you all the way to the start of a level. When the stakes are lower than completing the level, it just doesn’t boil your blood.
It’s not perfect as a competitive game, as some features are lacking. There’s no online multiplayer or online leaderboards, so everything’s on the couch. It’s a significant miss from a game that would have been on another level if they were part of the package, but for £4.19, it’s understandable. Generally, Super Hiking League DX is a lark in two-player couch play, and that is where it’s meant to be played.
There’s a pretty clear separation here. If you’re playing Super Hiking League DX as a solo platformer, then you shouldn’t bother. The levels lack variety, and they’re frustrating enough without having to deal with a best-of-three against aggressive AI. But if you’re in the market for a late-night multiplayer game, and you have a friend who won’t punch you in the face for stealing a win from under their nose, then Super Hiking League DX is worth adding to your couch multiplayer rotation. We dream of a version with online play and leaderboards but, for now, this is about as far from ‘hiking’ as you can get: it’s fun, quick and may lead to fights.
You can buy Super Hiking League DX for £4.19 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S