There’s something to be said for Nintendo’s continued insistence that local multiplayer is as important as any other method of play. While there are plenty of reasons why online features are always touted, from the ability to play with friends from afar or just because you can keep your plans to yourself instead of on a split-screen, it seems as if playing with your friends and family shoulder-to-shoulder on a couch seems to be a lost art. With Switch, that push is felt even more by design – you can disconnect the Joy-Cons from the system for instant multiplayer with anyone within arm’s reach.
Hammerwatch, developed by Crackshell, began its life as a PC game in 2013 as a cozy little send-off to Diablo and Gauntlet. You’re tasked with taking down hordes of enemies while you storm a castle (or shrine, in the case of the included expansion, Temple Of The Sun), collecting coins, upgrading your character and solving rudimentary puzzles all the while. While fun as a solo experience, Hammerwatch is worthy of regular rotation at get-togethers the moment you can get your buddies involved.
iIt works very much like a twin-stick shooter; you use one analog stick to walk and the other to aim your weapon. You start with a special move that you can use based on the tried-and-true magic meter, and you can upgrade everything by finding vendors hidden about the castle and emptying your purse. To further give you choices, there are seven classes with which you can choose from, be it melee-based paladins to healing priests and every fantasy trope in between. There’s a definite delineation between characters which makes for unique experiences, with some being best with solo play but all being useful in a proper party.
It’s best to approach Hammerwatch as if it were a traditional party game; while there is the option to outfit and upgrade your characters throughout your playthrough, there isn’t a traditional leveling system to link its campaign together. It tows the line between arcade game and proper RPG, filling the role of both but not necessarily in the most meaningful way. Thankfully, there's plenty of replayability, with the option to modify different options in game such as difficulty, the amount of lives or mana you start with and even one-hit kills or sharing a health pool with your party. While the castle itself never changes, the way you can approach it will.
Beyond your ability to customize your experience, there’s a few other options for players as well. There's that additional Temple Of The Sun is campaign, which changes up the progression of the game by having you explore different areas surrounding the titular temple, with plenty of backtracking a gaggle or quests you can receive from a small outpost on the outskirts. There’s also a defense mode in which hordes of enemies attack in waves that you must stave off to protect a retinue on the map. Rounding out the various modes is survival, which has you pushing through area after area tackling tougher and tougher enemies in the hopes of making it further than you did last time.
Hammerwatch looks the part of Gauntlet homage, with squat little heroes running through a pixelated world. Even though the campaign has you trudging floor after floor of the same castle, each one is unique not only in design but in theme. While familiarity can set in, it’s hard to complain when everything is well detailed and animated. The presentation is rounded out with a suitably epic score which should be part and parcel for a game steeped in a fantasy setting.
Hammerwatch carries the torch for Gauntlet with aplomb. It takes its concept and magnifies it into something richer and more thought-provoking than Ed Logg could’ve ever imagined. It can be played and enjoyed by anybody, from the lone adventurer to ale-soaked mates and everything in between. Those looking for a game that properly ends may be disappointed in its initial simplicity, but those who enjoy challenging themselves with speed runs or complex rules with find a good time. Heck, there’s even the promise of online play in the future, so those with family or friends afar can enjoy it together down the road. Regardless of how you want to play Hammerwatch, it’s a satisfying experience through and through.