By this point in time Nintendo has cleanly put the Wii U in the rearview mirror; virtually all support has transferred over to the Switch from both first- and third-parties, and few are looking back. Even so, some games are still trickling out on the Wii U eShop; one such release is Hive Jump. Though Hive Jump presents some interesting ideas, it’s marred by a series of technical setbacks and gameplay issues that hold it back from being something truly exceptional.
The premise of Hive Jump is simple and rather forgettable. Humanity is at war with an evil alien race, and it’s up to a team of space marines — the J.U.M.P Corps — to outgun the alien menace in an intergalactic war. Though Hive Jump doesn’t get any points for a riveting story or gripping characters, it’s clear that the story is simply here to serve the purpose of providing context, and in that sense it fulfills its job well.
There are a few game modes here - a campaign, an arcade mode, and a challenge mode. Those latter two are exactly what they sound like; arcade mode strips away all superfluous elements to give you a good pick up and play experience while challenge mode will task you with missions under certain objectives and restrictions. The bulk of the gameplay is found in the campaign mode, which mixes turn based SRPG elements with roguelike run ‘n’ gun action. On the SRPG side you’re presented with a map that has a series of connected nodes on it, and you can spend Goo — the game’s currency — to build bases on empty nodes or fortify existing ones. Some nodes will be occupied by alien hives which you can attack once per turn, and after the turn passes some aliens will attempt to take the nearest base and succeed if it isn’t fortified properly.
The strategy side is really just a small portion of the main game, however; you’ll be spending most of your time trekking deep into alien hives to take them down from the inside. You and up to three other friends (locally) will be tasked with clearing out floors of randomly generated levels that are filled with aliens, killing everything that moves and collecting all the goo that you can. Along the way you can also occasionally find challenge caves that reward you with a relic — items that upgrade things like shot speed or respawn time — or find treasure chests full of goo. And should you go down in combat you’ll take temporary control of a “backpack” your marine was carrying, which has its own health bar. Once the backpack dies it’s game over, man.
All of this sounds good enough on paper, but it’s the execution that leaves something to be desired. For one thing, the SRPG elements feel awkward and tacked on; there’s not a whole lot of depth here that really necessitates strategy, and you spend so little time managing bases and resources that it’s easy to forget that this part of the game even exists. This is the kind of filler that adds little to nothing to the main game and it just serves to make Hive Jump feel like an unfocused and unfinished project. The foundation of an interesting concept is laid out here, but nothing is built to take advantage of that.
Then there’s the hive jumping itself. Though the action and exploration can be fun at first, it quickly devolves to a repetitive slog that fails to provide a satisfying gameplay hook that keeps players coming back. Adding in a friend or two helps liven it up a little more, but that doesn’t negate the core issues with the overall structure. There’s lots of déjà vu here as you find yourself running through the same environments, pumping rounds into the same spongey enemies, and collecting all this goo for upgrades that aren’t all that rewarding for the time you put in. And if, after spending ten to fifteen minutes fighting to the hive’s boss, you happen to lose the backpack and die? Well, you can just start from the top and do it all over again. There’s a fine line that roguelikes straddle which divides mindless repetition from randomized variety, and Hive Jump unfortunately falls firmly in the camp of the former.
That’s not even speaking to the disappointing quality of the performance. Hive Jump seems to target 30fps, but it fails to consistently hit this mark. This game drops frames frequently; we often found ourselves meeting a death that we didn’t actually get to witness because the image just completely skipped over displaying the last few seconds of gameplay. It's passable and certainly playable, but the framerate stutters enough that it becomes an irritation that never goes away. Throw in another player, or two, or three, and the technical problems become that much more noticeable. The main gameplay is uninspiring to start with, and these are just magnified by the sluggish performance.
On the presentation front Hive Jump is competent, but it still feels lacking. The spritework is solid and the colours are bright, but the animation quality is poor and stilted. Everything looks good when standing still, but once things get moving that illusion is shattered. Similarly, the soundtrack provides a good dosage of upbeat chiptunes, but there’s nothing here that’ll have you tapping your foot or otherwise catch your attention. It’s uninvasive and it fits well with the theme of the game, and that’s all there really is to say about it.
Overall, Hive Jump is a disappointing game in light of the attention and buzz it once attracted. There are the bones of an interesting concept here, but it never seems to come together quite right once everything gets rolling. Repetitive gameplay, disappointing performance and ho-hum presentation make this a game that’s 'ok' at best. We’d recommend this one only to players who are eager for a co-op action shooter for their Wii U. It does what it says on the tin, just don't expect to come away from this one wowed by the experience.