Rarely does a game with such a troubled development turn out well. The developers of polygonal horrorshow Bubsy 3D tried so hard to rush out a Mario contender without the time or experience necessary to do so that it ended up as one of the most critically panned games of all time. More recently the development of Gearbox Software’s Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever were both unmitigated farces that I won’t go into here, but I’d definitely recommend looking them up. Suffice it to say that the game’s reception was not warm. So, considering the five years of setbacks, studio changes, and alleged illicit reattribution of Kickstarter funds by The Odd Gentlemen, the developers initially signed onto the project, I was decidedly wary of HIVESWAP: ACT 1 leading up to its release last week.

 

Yet, fortunately, my fears were unfounded. HIVESWAP: ACT 1 is a success on near every level. On its Steam page the game bills itself as a “love letter to 90’s adventure games without the accompanying frustration” and i couldn’t agree more. Puzzles are intuitive and don’t require the logical leaps of many classic adventure game puzzles without sacrificing any of the sense of rewarding satisfaction that comes with puzzling your way past an obstacle. Eschewing its originally planned 3D aesthetic, HIVESWAP: ACT 1 opts for an absolutely breathtaking hand-drawn 2D style filled with hidden secrets, intricate details and heaps of tantalising environmental storytelling. Speaking of storytelling, this game is absolutely brimming with things to read and learn while exploring. Rather than taking the traditional route of using a catch all ‘that won’t work’ style phrase for when a player tries to use items with unrelated objects, every single interaction has an extra little unique tidbit for players to find, but these extra interactions are entirely optional. They supplement the player’s understanding of the story but are not crucial to following it. How deep you want to go is entirely up to you. The writing overall is as funny and heartfelt as in some of Homestuck’s narrative peaks, and Andrew Hussie has obviously learned a lot from the criticisms of the pacing of his prior comic, particularly in its first few acts. HIVESWAP: ACT 1 puts the player straight into the story and the pace very rarely flags even in its wordier portions.

Unexpectedly, the game manages to deftly navigate the fine line between reference and connection to its source material and existing as its own distinct entity. As of this first episode, HIVESWAP is entirely accessible to people who have never read Homestuck while also offering extra context and innumerable in-jokes for those in the know. This also translates into how the game handles exposition. Rather than assuming players will know everything about the world already, HIVESWAP: ACT 1 uses conversations between characters, internal monologuing and its environments to recontextualise what readers of the comic already know for those who don’t in a manner that remains just as engaging and interesting to seasoned readers.

That isn’t to say that the game is without fault however, as there are a few glaring issues. The worst is the way that in some areas the screen has a large and inexplicable black border to one side. This in itself wouldn’t be too bad but for the fact if you move towards that border it will instantly switch to the other side. This led to some minor headaches and nausea during my playthrough as the game window flashed alarmingly across from one side of my monitor to the other. Related but less egregious is how busy and visually straining the Strife portions of the game can be. Inspired by the in-universe battle system in Homestuck, fights play out as hectic point and click puzzles while glaring green text flashes across the screen. Fun at first, this became quickly tiring and I found myself somewhat dreading fights.


Overall however, with its gorgeous artwork, delightful animations and a wonderfully playful score by James Roach and Undertale’s Toby Fox combined with the effortless hilarity and emotionally resonant earnestness that characterises Andrew Hussie’s writing, HIVESWAP: ACT 1 is an absolute treat for fans of Homestuck and the adventure game genre alike despite its few unfortunate flaws.

 

HIVESWAP: ACT 1 Review
+
  • Gorgeous artwork and stunning animation
  • Funny and heartfelt writing
  • Accessible to series fans and newcomers alike
-
  • Some nausea-inducing engine quirks
  • Distractingly busy fight scenes
9Overall Score

About The Author

Podcast Editor

Elodie is an Mspaint Goddess, composer, cat mother and Gungan Queen from the UK. Ingredients include an eclectic mix of earnestness and absurdity, along with a dash of irony and a pinch of salt. The result is confounding, to say the least. Follow her on twitter for an occasional glimpse of insight amidst Jar Jar Binks appreciation posts and cat pictures, and search ChemicalWordsmith for her musical exploits.

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