Hyper Light Drifter (Switch SE) Review – a masterclass in “show, don’t tell” design


Hyper Light Drifter is the game that finally won me over on pixel graphics. For a long time I thought it was just a modern gaming fad (“Retro style is so cool, bro!”). I had a hard time empathizing with pixel characters due to the lack of facial feature details. I understood the difficulty of pixel art design, but I was unaware of the depth and nuance that could truly be achieved with this medium– Until I met the Drifter.

Hyper Light Drifter has already been heavily reviewed and is obviously critically acclaimed. Regardless, I still wanted to add my voice to the chorus, if only to get this tune out of my head.

Draw of Discovery

I do not typically enjoy games designed to be difficult, such as the Dark Souls series. I’m more of a “normal difficulty” player in most games and I rarely touch hard or nightmare modes because I get frustrated easily and tend to stop playing if I get stuck. Yet Hyper Light Drifter commanded my attention from beginning to end and kept me engaged through some of the most difficult combat game play I have pitted myself against.

Why? The mysterious world and its untold story. The aesthetic in Hyper Light Drifter is alternately bright and melancholy, and endlessly intriguing. How did the Drifter end up here and what is this world we find ourselves mired in with them? What happened to these people and their cities? There is zero narration or dialogue. None are needed. Hyper Light Drifter offers a complimentary masterclass in showing rather than telling.

Graphics and Artistry

Hyper Light Drifter HD Wallpaper 11 - 2864 X 1607

I had always considered Okami to be the most beautiful game I have played to date, with its wide plans painted in Japanese watercolor. Hyper Light Drifter has certainly given Amaterasu a run for her money! Environments range from desolate, snowy mountain peaks to riverside jungle temples, from autumn colored cliffs to alien, crystal-encrusted ruins. Every major area’s color palette is dynamic, bold, and memorable.

Stumbling upon stunning pixel vistas is a peerless joy! Hyper Light Drifter is extremely photogenic on nearly every screen with few exceptions. This gorgeous saga is absolutely riddled with secret rooms, hidden runes and upgrades, and cleverly stashed new weapons. It wordlessly challenges the player to tease every last secret from this vibrant, dying world.

Battle and Travel

Combat in Hyper Light Drifter is fast, razor sharp, and tangibly satisfying, with a impressively high skill cap. Ending your enemies feels so good as their visceral death animations leave marks on the ground in your destructive wake. I have never felt such an intense desire to continue playing after losing to a boss over a dozen times until I played Hyper Light Drifter.

Movement is crisp and precise. Platforming and the occasional puzzle are delightful. There are a wide variety of outfits and weapons to use, many with color options available to unlock. The Special Edition for Switch includes a new battle arena and a challenge tower that houses extras bosses, with weapons and skin rewards.

The only issue I had in this game was the difficulty of navigating using the map. The map function was near useless half the time, especially in the underground areas. However, this was a small gripe quickly forgotten.

Song and Introspection

Music in Hyper Light Drifter is delicate and contemplative, much like the visual aesthetic. The minimalist, haunting electronic notes compliment the four quadrants of the world exceptionally well. The medley of graphics, characters both ally and enemy, and the music resonate as one.

The Drifter character is androgynous with an ambiguous background, allowing for personal interpretation and self-insertion. To me it seemed like the Drifter’s tale focused on internal conflict, potentially or part religious in nature, with emphasis on surmounting of personal obstacles, which is something we can all identify with.


Hyper Light Drifter HD Wallpaper 2 - 1920 X 1080

Hyper Light Drifter represents the pinnacle of indie game design. I will never forget my time with the Drifter. Little is improperly handled in this game and it easily earns a 9/10 from me.

Hyper Light Drifter is an experience that emphatically seeks to earn a place in one’s memory by leaving behind an intense, unique impression on each individual player — and it succeeds.

Thank you for reading!

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6 comments on “Hyper Light Drifter (Switch SE) Review – a masterclass in “show, don’t tell” design”

  1. Video games narratives are always at their best whenever they elect to show rather than tell. The AAA industry seemed to forget this, so it’s great to see independent efforts recapture that lost quality. This is a game I’ve had my eye on, so I’ll likely check it out somewhere down the line.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh you gotta play it! I’m mad I waited in retrospect. I got it on sale on the eShop on my Switch but it’s worth every penny of full price. If you have a different console I’d even suggest getting the limited edition Kickstarter version from eBay because the stuff from those will be worth a pretty penny one day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always been intrigued by the show don’t tell narrative of several games such as Inside and Brothers. Have been eyeing on Hyperlight for a while, will give it a try! Awesome review 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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