Hyperlight EX originally released on 3DS way back in December of 2016, at first glance looking like just another Geometry Wars clone, it proved to be very much its own thing with a unique twist; instead of shooting enemies, you use your ship’s FTL (Faster Than Light) drive to smash through them. We awarded the game a sexy seven at the time and now this “ultimate” edition arrives on Switch with a handful of upgrades to tempt fans of the genre to indulge all over again.
Hyperlight Ultimate charges you with battling it out across several colourful stages whilst monitoring and maintaining that all-important stock of FTL fuel, draining it to destroy incoming enemies then quickly replenishing it via pickups, all the while scouting the play area for a variety of single use weapons to aid you which run the usual gamut of shields, bombs, lasers and guided missiles. The game adds to these standard items with Entities, which are special support icons that activate when zoomed over in FTL mode, with the likes of drones, barriers and turrets helping to give you a few more layers of defensive tactical options.
Gameplay is fast and hectic, throwing a lot of enemies at you from the get-go and instantly demanding that you get your head around its core mechanics, learning when to engage your FTL and when to save it if you hope to stand any chance of surviving the onslaught.
Enemies show up in colourful waves, sometimes with numbers alongside them indicating the need to destroy them in a certain order to keep your combos alive and hit those high scores. It nails that hypnotic, one-more-go vibe that makes the best of this genre - games like Resogun and the aforementioned Geometry Wars - so endlessly addicting to play.
Standard levels here are tough but fun affairs with a huge variety of enemy craft to contend with, but Hyperlight really comes into its own when you reach any of the end of level arcade boss fights. These are real tests of skill that will often ask you to do something more than just ram your opponent with your FTL. The first Medusa boss, for example, requires that you activate barrier traps across the play area, trapping her three times before she lets her shields down long enough for you to get some attacks in. It’s a fun fight that manages to find a nice balance between being difficult but fair. The same can’t always be said for the normal stages however and we did find ourselves coming a cropper without knowing what hit us on occasion because of how insanely busy the screen gets from time to time. A bigger problem in this regard is that the Entity icons and some of the enemies are the same colour and, in the heat of battle, very hard to tell apart, so, until you really know what’s what onscreen you may find yourself getting into trouble because you can’t figure out who’s a support unit or a bad guy.
Besides these little irritations though, Hyperlight is a super fun time with smooth controls, a crisp, clean graphical style that looks great in both docked or handheld mode and a decent trance/electronica soundtrack to keep things banging along. In terms of Ultimate upgrades, what you get here is essentially the same game as 2016’s version but with a few notable upgrades including full HD graphics, silky smooth framerate and a few new bells and whistles in the graphics department, with some flashy new effects added to those already handsome neon visuals.
More importantly, developer CatFishBlue has taken on board one of the main criticisms of the game, its sometimes punishing difficulty, and added two lives to your original meagre pool of just one in Arcade Mode, which really helps to make things feel less gruelling as you battle your way across its multiple stages and engage in those beautifully designed, and often monstrously difficult, boss scraps. Another little gameplay tweak sees your FTL bar topped up a bit every time you destroy an enemy with a weapon pickup, another subtle little change that, again, tones that difficulty down just a tad and helps gives you options in that all-important battle to keep your FTL drive from emptying at the wrong moment.
The biggest news of all in this ultimate edition however is the addition of co-op play across all three of the game’s modes, Arcade, Infinity and Panic. Infinity, by the way, is an endless core attack mode complete with surprise boss encounters to really test your skills out as you try to get a good score up on those leaderboards and it’s the one worthwhile mode alongside Arcade because Panic is, in our opinion, a total no-go - a clumsy, ill-advised, motion-controlled mess that strips you of your FTL drive and charges you with desperately tilting the Switch to move as you try to use under-powered pickups to survive. No thanks!
Topping this all off is a new four-player VS mode, HD Rumble Support and online leaderboards, another thing fans of the original had been crying out for, and it’s nice to see the developer acknowledge these little issues and address them whilst also bringing the rest of the game up to date with a nice lick of paint and handful of new multiplayer modes for its release on Switch.
Hyperlight Ultimate is a great little arcade shooter that was good on 3DS and now arrives on Switch in a much more complete and satisfying form. The subtle gameplay tweaks here help make things a little less hardcore than in the original game, but this is still pretty tough stuff that comes highly recommended to fans of the genre who like a stiff challenge, so long as they stay away from Panic mode.