Sometimes you just want to play something light that doesn’t ask for too much commitment in the way of time and emotional investment. But a lot of these games don’t get their fair share of time in the spotlight when it comes to reviews. So in that mode of thinking I wanted to do as in depth a review as possible of the recently released (3/1/2014) Hyper Gauntlet: Legacy of Nozzlethruster III by Udell Games. Udell Games is a one man indie developer that specializes in fun, quick to play games that are not large in scope, but are big in replay value. He currently has 5 other games in his portfolio, some of which are hilarious and definitely worth a look on your own time. But Hyper Gauntlet is his biggest project to date. Hyper Gauntlet is an endless tunnel, dodging game, and while not perfect it’s pretty fun. Hopefully by the end of this review you’ll be able to decide if it’s something worth looking into.
The graphics are quite simple, but I don’t mean that to be a bad thing. Too often today we, as gamers, put so much stock in graphics at the cost of other more important elements like gameplay and writing. Hyper Gauntlet doesn’t look fancy, because it doesn’t need to. The graphics are appropriate for what the game is. This is not some huge, epic Metal Gear Solid title that requires 1080p and 60 fps. It’s a small scale endless tunnel game.
The graphics consist of only what’s needed for the full gaming experience that is desired by the developer. They go perfectly with the gameplay and that’s a good thing. Many AAA developers could take a lesson from Udell on this issue. Better graphics don’t necessarily mean better games and sometimes they can take away from a game when not matched properly to the gameplay. Hyper Gauntlet is all block letter text, simple geometric shapes, and a total of 5-10 colors depending on how you count shades. The backgrounds are solid colors and the in game elements are all cubes, orbs, squares, and circles. And that’s exactly what it should be. To add other things like background designs, obstacle skins/textures, and fancy writing would detract from the focus of the game. It may make the gamplay more difficult, but not for the right reasons. A game should not be challenging because you can’t see the obstacles. It should be challenging because the gameplay is built to challenge the user.
But it’s not just simple solid colors. Time has been taken to use different shades and opacities in the walls in order to help you properly see the obstacles and where you should be going. There is a bit of distraction in the graphics with the pulsating green and orange circle in the back of the tunnel, but because the colors contrast so heavily with the blue and red obstacles it by no means hinders your vision. While the graphics aren’t something that I would describe as a selling point of the game, I’m definitely happy with the direction Udell went when designing the visual elements for Hyper Gauntlet.
As with all PC games, the first question I always ask when it comes to gameplay is can/does it run smoothly on my piece of crap laptop. With a game this small, it should come as no surprise that it runs great and it starts up quickly. To get from desktop icon to playing you only need about 15 – 20 seconds. There’s no latency. The controls are easy to pick up, and also customizable even though it’s not really necessary for a game of this scope. Both are things I would like to see in far more games. Especially when it comes to PC only titles.
It’s elegantly simple and easy to jump in and play.
The controls consist of just four keys for direction and one for the slow time power. I use the default arrow keys and spacebar. While the tunnel appears to be round, it is actually a 3 x 3 unit square. You can move into any of the 9 squares one unit at a time. Your goal is to progress as far as possible by avoiding the obstacles which are exclusively red and blue walls with holes in them. Obviously you progress by going through the holes. The speed constantly increases as you progress through the tunnel, though you also have the power to slow time for a couple of seconds by pressing the spacebar or whatever button you prefer. You get 3 hits before your run ends and 3 time-slow uses to start. It’s elegantly simple and easy to jump in and play.
The game also contains a number of power-ups. You can get an extra life/shield, general invincibility, and invincibility to a certain colour. The invincibility power-up is flawed in the fact that you can’t move while invincible. You are stuck in the middle space and though you are given a countdown when the state is about to end, you can’t move until it’s over which can result in you hitting a wall right after you lose the invincibility. Very frustrating, but not the first game of this type where this happens.
At the end of each level you get a power up of your choice. But when I say end of the level I don’t mean that the game stops and puts you on a different level. I mean that it tells you that you completed a level, but the play is continuous and the speed increases slightly as if nothing special has really occurred other than the acquisition of a power-up. I still haven’t figured out how to tell when your current level is nearing its end or how long levels actually are because it doesn’t seem to be consistent, but maybe I’m wrong and just haven’t been able to figure it out.
During gameplay you can clearly see all the necessary stats, namely lives/shields, number of time-slows left, score, and multiplier. The multiplier doesn’t consist of numbers though. Instead, it’s a sequence of green blocks that build up as you pass each wall. Every nine walls you pass adds a block to your total multiplier and when you hit a wall it reverts back to one and starts to build again. The high score system works pretty well and shows updates very quickly. I don’t know who Sky is but he needs to be dethroned as soon as possible.
Honestly the gameplay is just solid. It’s easy to learn, but impossible to completely master. You could play for a month and yet you could still improve more. The only complaint I have with Hyper Gauntlet that ties directly to gameplay is the camera movement when not playing in full-screen. The center view is by far the best overall position because it shows all your stats, the tunnel, and the obstacles clearly. The problem is that when you move, which you obviously have to, the camera moves with you, which is usually a good thing but not in this case. While the camera moves with the player, the rest of the world other than the obstacles is static including your stats. This is a problem because depending on where you’re located in the 3 x 3 grid changes what information is visible to you. This is especially a problem when you’re on the right side of the grid because you can’t fully see your lives or slow down bars.
I understand that the reason for the camera movement was to keep the player oriented during play, but there was definitely a better way to do it so that the stats remain fully visible at all times. Maybe if the stats moved with camera or the addition of a crosshair for position as opposed to a moving camera would help. Or maybe making the frame of the tunnel bigger so that you can see the stats at all times, regardless of your position on the grid. Now again this issue is moot when playing it full screen, but it’s not really the type of game that warrants full screen. It’s more similar to a Facebook or flash game and I often want to be able to check my notifications between rounds. So maybe it’s just me, but I feel like it’s an important issue especially when considering that windowed play isn’t supposed to mean a cutoff view, but merely a smaller one.
The sound is probably the weakest part of this game. Quality was average at best. At times it seemed spotty and even shut off though the gameplay went unaffected. The sound effects are a bit odd. My first problem is the fact that there’s no starting sounds. The game just starts and while you are sitting for some time with no obstacles, you aren’t given a countdown or any indicator that the game has started. Then suddenly walls are flying at you. There are sounds for a number of things such as passing walls, using power ups, and hitting walls. But some of these are so loud with the default settings that they detract from the music.
The music is cool, but is ultimately just a series of repetitive techno tracks in a style common to the genre. All the tracks are by a DJ named DST and while it wasn’t the greatest set of tracks, I was happy that Udell used the opportunity to support an independent DJ that specializes in music for video games free of charge. I really liked the fact that the music is continuous and yet responsive. When you hit a wall the music slows down. When you slow time the music reacts. Even when you reach game over the track you were listening to continues into the next round so your rhythm is never thrown off even between rounds. It was also very cool that each song is credited as tracks change regardless of whether you’re in game or in the menus.
As an experiment I tried playing with just the music and then just the sound effects. I seem to play better with the sound effects on and music off than with the music on and the sound effects off, so there is definitely an effect from sound on the gameplay and my point that the music doesn’t match well with the game is only further proven. Something I didn’t like was the fact that if you turn the music off you still get notifications of tracks changing which means that the game wasn’t actually coded to change the sound settings in game, but merely the volume. Not really a problem, but something I notice as a lower level coder and hardcore gamer/reviewer.
Nonexistent in this game, but here’s a picture of some of the written text.
As with all endless games with online high score leaderboards, there is tons of replay value. And since it’s so easy to jump in and out of it, you’ll often find yourself just going a couple rounds while you’re doing something else like watching TV with commercials. The problem though is that, other than high scores, there are no unlockables or achievements like in endless games such as Temple Run or Sonic Dash so you have to set your own goals which can get old fast, especially if you aren’t looking to top the charts or anything like that. On one hand you could play it forever, but on the other hand you could get bored with it very quickly which is often the flaw of most endless games. Nevertheless, you will probably end up using it a lot more in the long run than you might other games that do have unlockable features because there’s no objective point at which you can just declare the game completed.
If I had to quantify Hyper Gauntlet, I would place it in the phone app games category more than the PC games category. It’s more complicated than something like Endless Tunnel by BTCO for android, which is superior in some ways, but it’s also much simpler than something like DYAD.
While Hyper Gauntlet is available on Windows, Linux, and Mac, I was shocked to find out that it doesn’t run on iOS or Android, because it just seems like that kind of game. For what it is, the $5 price tag seems balanced. It’s not too much, but it could be cheaper, though anything more would be too much. It’s definitely a game I enjoy playing, but it’s hit or miss based on whether or not you like endless games or not. Final thought: it’s in the higher-middle part of the average pile.
You can support Hyper Gauntlet on Steam Greenlight and you can buy it directly from Udell Games via paypal in whatever version you like. You can also download the Alpha 0.9 version for free on the same page.
- Easy to jump in.
- Smooth start up and gameplay.
- Online high score system.
- Average sound quality.
- No achievements other than high score.
- Minor camera issues during windowed gameplay.