Hive Jump is a fun and exciting retro shooter romp, with plenty of variety and a great co-op multiplayer experience marred by a lonely single player mode.
Whether it’s the classic retro platforming of Shovel Knight or the stunning, old-school computer RPG stylings of Pillars of Eternity, Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms have allowed for some forgotten genres to make a triumphant return. Another title to make use of crowdfunding, Hive Jump, is not the only game to make a revival of the run-and-gun 2D shooter, but it certainly tries to do so with aplomb.
The game’s overall narrative certainly ticks a lot of the boxes. Evil, bug-like alien creatures have been terrorizing human colonies across the stars, and it’s up to the J.U.M.P. Corps soldiers to make the universe safe for human beings once more. There are definite vibes of Contra and early Metroid games here, at least from an aesthetic standpoint. In terms of design, however, Hive Jump certainly has ideas of its own.
Rather than the linear shooting galleries of Contra or the complex, sprawling environments of Metroid, instead developer Graphite Labs decided to take an approach more in line with Spelunky for this shooter. Players need to traverse maze-like, procedurally-generated hives, going through multiple levels of each hive and eradicating the alien threat. Of course, this is easier said than done, and the creatures themselves can be something of a challenge.
The variety of enemy types is something that players will enjoy, with the different enemies offering up difficulties of their own. From hulking soldier bugs and acid-firing artillery units through to panic-inducing explosive floating enemies, each type of unit needs a slightly different tactic to overcome. Although a little more variety might have been nice, there’s enough here to keep up a challenge – particularly when more than one type of enemy dogpiles the user.
Indeed, the action in Hive Jump is very fun and frantic, with decent reaction times needed to deal with threats. Along with taking down the aliens themselves, players need to destroy enemy nests to ensure that further creatures aren’t able to spawn. This means quick movement is constantly required, although given the excellent, pumping retro soundtrack wanting to keep moving is never a chore.
In fact, Hive Jump works very well as a nostalgia fix, and not just because of its 8-bit score. Alongside its art style and obvious gameplay influences, there are plenty of fun references to classic sci-fi action movies. Those who love rewatching Aliens or Starship Troopers, for instance, are bound to find something to enjoy within the game’s characters and dialogue.
There’s more to Hive Jump than simply 2D shooting gameplay and a nod to pop culture icons of days gone by, though. Thankfully, there are a few interesting mechanics that help make the game something more, and in particular the game’s use of turn-based strategy mechanics in the campaign is worth mentioning. The J.U.M.P. Corps and the alien threat take turns trying to take bases in small world maps, with the player given options to strengthen bases and try to take down hives from the inside via the normal shooter gameplay. It’s a neat touch, and one that definitely makes Hive Jump stand out.
Alongside this, the game also mixes things up with the addition of roguelike mechanics. Although there is nothing quite as brutal as to rank up with some of the best permadeath games on the market, the addition of a fixed life mechanic of sorts certainly makes things interesting. Rather than playing as a lone J.U.M.P. Corps soldier, instead the player controls one trooper at a time, with each death then resulting in a new Corps member being teleported in.
What allows these additional soldiers to jump in is a backpack, which the player is allowed limited control over after the death of a Jumper. However, the backpack itself has a life bar of its own, and once enough damage has been done to the device then it’s game over for that round; if the backpack is destroyed, then the player will have to start over from scratch.
However, the amount of ‘alien goo’ collected during any given run will allow the player to buy upgrades to make it easier to get through the hives. This gives Hive Jump almost a Rogue Legacy vibe, with failed runs proving valuable through increased power going into the next battle. Upgrades include everything from new weapons and grenades through to bonus skills.
Once again, there is plenty of variety when it comes to upgrades, with classic weapons such as the spreadshot available alongside more interesting weapons like freeze rays and radioactive weapons that cause ongoing damage to enemies. Meanwhile, some of the other power-ups are a lot of fun, with options such as a health shield or a deployable turret that is useful for boss battles. It gives a bit of longevity to sessions, with players able to put some effort into building a loadout that suits their play style.
One of the ways in which Hive Jump truly excels is with this loadout variety, and it makes the multiplayer all the more enjoyable to boot. Getting together a team of players is a blast, with different players able to tackle the game in different ways. Indeed, playing the game’s multiplayer is highly recommended, and it’s fair to say that not only is this the highlight of the game, but it also gives enough choices and flexibility for gamers to truly choose a multiplayer experience that’s best for them.
Unfortunately, the downside of the excellent multiplayer is that the single player mode feels a little barren. It’s a fun game to play, for sure, but there’s a sense that the game was built for three. Much like titles such as Terraria or Minecraft, the game’s success is amplified greatly when playing with others, and a solo player may get tired of the game quicker, or find the experience overall quite hollow.
Even so, Hive Jump is still a very nice indie experience. If a player is able to talk a few friends into also buying the game, or is willing to jump into online multiplayer, then there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Solo players may not find the game quite as enthralling, but there’s a gem of a game here for the right setup.
Hive Jump is out now for PC and Mac. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.