A few days ago, Heart Machine spoke about their upcoming game Hyper Light Drifter. I got a chance to play the Kickstarter sensation myself at GDC and experience its blend of old and new.

The demo started as the drifter worked his way up a series of steep steps. A humanoid, birdlike creature warns the drifter that danger lies ahead, but I forge on. The game shares the same hard-edged, pixelated look that indie devs can’t seem to get enough of, but it’s also filled with subtle color gradients and gorgeous lighting effects. Screenshots don’t really do the game justice.

The drifter’s moveset includes a dash, which allows him to quickly move away from danger. It comes in handy, since I’m soon beset upon by more bird things – only these are capable of limited flight. They swoop down and attack, giving me little room to use my own melee attack. I can counter with magic, which in the demo comes in the form of red, crystal shards. 

I move through a temple area, where I see more enemies. They’re engaged in some kind of ritual that involves a series of pillars. The pillars zap me with lightning, and I’m forced to contend with them, more swooping birds, and strange bird mages. It’s a tough section, but eventually I overtake them, and their fluorescent pink blood stains the ground. Once the area is clear, I make one last ascent, where I see a ruin off in the distance – with what looks like the remains of a giant who failed his own attempt to reach the top.

I’m impressed with what Heart Machine has done so far. The combat isn’t easy, as I quickly learned the first few times I tried to button-mash my way to victory. Instead, you have to make effective use of the dash and your ranged attacks. Like the devs said earlier, they wanted to make sure that players would have respect for the enemies. The combat is satisfying, and I’m eager to learn more about the fascinating world that I saw. It’s far from ordinary, in spite of the superficially familiar trappings.