Tom Quirk plays a lot of video games, but when he isn't, he is reading fantasy novels and watching way more television than is healthy.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
April 4, 2020
Hound Picked Games
Indie roguelikes really can’t stay away from the 1980’s, with its colourful fashions and neon aesthetic. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter’s The Thing, HyperParasite sees you play as a parasitic alien creature who must kill and assimilate their human assailants in their quest to destroy the world.
Set in a parallel 1980’s universe, where the USA is recovering from World War III, you have landed on Earth with the goal of consuming everyone in your path. With the President of the US declaring an all-out assault on the alien menace, you must explore 5 different settings and absorb over 60 different kinds of opponents and steal their abilities.
As a humble parasite, you are quite fragile and only have access to a weak projectile attack. However, at the push of a button, you can assimilate any enemy whose form you have unlocked and take on their abilities. These range from the mundane, like police officers and firefighters, to the increasingly ridiculous, including superheroes, werewolves and ninjas. While each body doesn’t tend to last too long, you are encouraged to simply nab another form rather than necessarily focusing on preserving the form you have.
“The process for permanently unlocking new forms is oddly convoluted.”
As a roguelike, almost all progress is reset upon death, meaning starting back from the Downtown area all over again. What progress is saved are the forms you have unlocked, which persist between runs. The process for permanently unlocking new forms is oddly convoluted. Firstly, you must confront and defeat a mini-boss version of the character in a level. Afterwards, you bring back their brain to the shop. Then, you need to save up to pay for that form to unlock, which can fortunately be paid in instalments across runs.
The issue is that HyperParasite is pretty frugal with its currency. You will typically barely make enough to afford a single upgrade in a level, forcing you to choose between being upgraded enough for the boss, or contributing a bit more for the next new form. As such, it can take a while before you feel like you’re making much progress in HyperParasite.
Adding to the grind is how enemy types are segregated by area, meaning that none of the forms you unlock in Downtown will help you in Asiatown. The joy of overcoming a tricky boss is trumped by the annoyance of having to build up a new library of hosts from scratch. If the game was a bit more generous with its in-game currency, or made the act of unlocking new forms less arduous, then it might feel less exhausting. Even a couple of freebee forms each level would make the initial acts of building up your library of forms more enjoyable. As it stands, the disposability of your host bodies makes it difficult to feel like you’re making substantial progress when it can be lost so easily.
Despite the dull progression system, the combat of HyperParasite is a lot of fun. Absorbing enemies has that Kirby-like quality of being able to use enemy tactics against them. Each of the 60+ forms have several attacks at their disposal, and the game is happy to throw lots of cannon fodder enemies at you to ensure you have a steady supply of bodies to steal. Even if each body doesn’t last too long, there is an appealing flow to absorbing your way up the food chain and snagging better and better host bodies.
I also hope you like 80’s pop culture references, because HyperParasite has plenty. Some of them are pretty on-the-nose, like a playable Ghostbuster in the first level. That said, the heavily synth-based soundtrack and neon colours drew me in.
I was able to give the local co-op multiplayer a try, and it’s a fun way to play. If you have a friend with you, they can also play as a HyperParasite and help you through the levels. Twin-stick shooters have often fared well with co-op multiplayer, and cutting down waves of humans with a friend is a lot of fun.
I really wanted to like HyperParasite more than I did. The campy 80’s aesthetic and gratuitous cartoony violence is right up my alley. However, even a roguelike needs to have a good sense of progression. Having it be so much of a slog to unlock forms to possess in a game all about possessing enemy forms feels counter-productive to HyperParasite’s main gameplay gimmick.
I still think I would recommend HyperParasite to a fan of roguelikes or twin-stick shooters, especially if you have a friend. With that said, be prepared for an uphill battle to make progress, and get very used to the Downtown level and its first boss. The high level of difficulty skirts the line of being frustrating more often than I would prefer. There are certainly worse roguelike shooters on the market, but HyperParasite still needs some polish.