Like the classic films Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or The Faculty, HyperParasite takes that wonderful trope of timeless b-movies, the host alien, and updates it for a hyper-modern procedurally-generated rogue-lite with lashings of tongue-in-cheek humour thrown in. Add a healthy dash of 80s cheese straight from Stranger Things, character models out of The Warriors (one of Greg’s favourite movies) and enough neon-drenched signage to make Rick Deckard feel right at home, and you could be forgiven for thinking HyperParasite is just a tick-boxing of what’s hot with millennials right now. Thankfully it gels together to be quite a bit more than just the sum of its parts.
I’ll admit to something upfront. I got the wrong end of the stick at the very beginning. Fire the game up and an eye-patch wearing, gun-toting, swearing veteran US President yells out of the screen that an alien parasite is loose in the city and it’s clear from ‘intelligence’ (no clue whose) that it’s after the Prez’ brain so that it can get the nuclear launch codes! Prez is gonna ‘hole up behind lead and metal in a super-secure tower until one of his grunts kills the alien. Now, I thought I was going to be one of them grunts, finding the alien before it got the Prez, you know like most games have been since the dawn of frikin’ Space Invaders. But no, HyperParasite is far more interesting than that.
I’m sure you guessed it, but I went in cold; You are the parasite! And your slimy mission is to work your way through thousands of humans and newly generated levels to reach the president, and presumably get those launch codes. Expectation subverted. HyperParasite is a good switch-up, delivering something a bit more interesting than the usual far more straightforward video-game. Every now and again, we like to play as the villain and it’s not nearly common enough in a market drowning in hero-fantasy.
The problem with being a parasite and the meat of the gameplay, is that you have no health and no real attack power to speak of. What you do have is one unique alien power; you can possess the bodies of the humans you encounter and take over their unwitting brains, making them fight for you. Slide your possession cone (that’s literally what it is called) over a host, click and take them over. This gives you actual health, weapons and armour. Each host type has differing abilities and special moves that you can then use to wreak carnage against all the other enemies you encounter. But be careful, the moment your human host dies, you revert back to your fragile parasite body and it’s suddenly one-shot-kills. Permadeath. Frantically finding another host while dodging bullets can be a lot of fun, but also very difficult and requires dexterous skill on the thumb-sticks.
Each time you encounter a new type of enemy you haven’t seen before you will need to kill them and harvest their brain. Hmm, squelchy. And by harvest, I mean the brain follows you around jumping like an excited puppy. Take the brain/puppy to the custom shop run by friendly and very greedy wise-cracking aliens and you can upgrade so that next time you encounter that enemy, they can now be taken over as a host.
And there’s a whole host to choose from. Sorry, I won’t do that again. The pantheon of 80’s horror, sci-fi and teen romance characters has been raided and given their own stats, weapons and skills. What initially looks like 10-15 character classes becomes a little overwhelming when you open the Almanac menu and discover over 60! Urban warriors complete with molotovs, teen werewolves, ghostbusters with proton blasters, cops, bums, a papergirl who fires newspapers like a shotgun. And that’s just the opening downtown level. With a little work, you open up Asiatown with its fan-throwing Geisha, ninjas with shuriken, sumo-wrestlers and yakuza! Eventually there’s other space-aliens ripping off every film from the era, time travellers looking like Michael Fox, robots and androids, Mr. T, Arnie and Rambo! Your enemies aren’t just your enemies; they are your extra lives, and your player character most of the time. The game does a great job of giving each a signature feel and some are a lot of fun to use. One of my early favourites was the afro-sporting baller, who throws ricocheting basketballs across the map with fair damage, but crucially never needs to reload.
That said the host mechanic is pretty simple once you give it a little thought. Think of it like this. How is grabbing an enemy sleeve to ward off permadeath actually any different to Sonic grabbing spinning gold rings? Having at least one ring allows Sonic to survive death. How many Sonic bosses have you desperately and repeatedly grabbing that one remaining ring so you can stay in the fight? This is essentially the same. Lose a host, grab a new host, often scrambling to do so in the midst of bullet hell, all to avoid the game over screen. It’s billed as new, but in essence, it’s one of the oldest health systems in gaming.
Levels are for the most part fun and engaging spaces, with lots to destroy and as you get further, lots of invention and throwbacks to famous films. They are procedurally generated which is supposed to make them unique every playthrough, but it only extends to the arrangement of what is a very finite number of recognisable rooms. It’s just the map that’s different; the rooms are the same. So that part can get pretty old pretty fast. The first downtown space is where you will spend the bulk of your time, and it’s full of neon signs, garbage-filled alleys and abandoned cars. The urban sprawl of The Warriors, more than Blade Runner. It’s trying to be all things for the fans of 80s action cinema and for the most part it manages. But like the era it hails from, it all gets a little samey.
It’s great then that the gameplay is a blast. It’s a twin-stick shooter at heart; aim with one stick, move with the other and try your best to stay ahead of the bullets. It can be a lot of fun. HyperParasite has a pretty punishing difficulty spike; the initial hour or so as you get the hang of controls and taking hosts without dying, but then also the fact that there is no saving after you complete one of the devastating bosses. That means you achieve level two and unless the game decides to give you the chance to take a brain, earning the ability to switch bodies in the new area, you will die quickly. Then it’s back to the downtown level again, and that SOB boss to kill again. It’s a bit chance-based, and really rankled the first time it happened to me. The developers want you to make the run through the levels many many times over, and that means those bosses, but they will get easier with experience and stronger character classes. The game is described as a rogue-lite and I suppose it is. A rogue-lite means you keep progression from run to run and you do keep your character unlock progress. But that’s all. Other recent rogue-lites that I’ve played, like Moonlighter or Children of Morta, allowed you to keep the progress of levels completed and I find I really do prefer this. A rogue-like (notice the very similar and very confusing term) is when you start each run exactly as before, nothing carries over. For the level unlocks this is the case. Which means I’m really of the opinion it’s both.
Earning money is also very random. Some runs can see you earn thousands, while in others you can struggle to gain even enough for one measly purchase. Killing bosses earns a lot, which should set you up in the next level, if you can get that first brain. I also enjoyed the killstreaks if I started to really put the pain to my enemies, and they come with great names like Slaughter and Massacre. The shame here is that nowhere could I see that they were tied to any kind of multiplier for earning money quicker for example. You get the killstreaks, but there’s no obvious reward for doing so. Thankfully sometimes the shop gives you a half-price discount, so do your buying then.
For a game that forces you to spend extended periods in the same locale, the music has got to be good, and HyperParasite has an engaging synthwave soundtrack in keeping with its ode to all things 80s. The only issue is that because of the nature of the game, you are going to hear the Downtown theme a hell of a lot more than any other, which can get tiresome.
Local co-op can be really fun and hosting your mate (sorry, last time) round your gaf for a beer and a run through this harks back to the best of Streets of Rage and its ilk. It becomes crazier, more intense and somewhat harder, although having two targets on screen can give you a little breathing space. I would suggest only doing this after you have earnt a fair few character classes coz variety is the spice and all that. And I can tell you, stealing the favourite host body right out from under the nose of your mate is really fun!
HyperParasite is an enjoyable twin-stick shooter with loads of character, sorry, characters. It’s humorous and fun. But it’s also painfully unforgiving. I think I would have really enjoyed it more, and even kept the difficulty, had they included some way to start from world 2, or world 3 once you’d earned them. Some kind of hub area. Forcing me to single run a game that also demands you earn characters as you go, makes for a lot of do-overs that are more to do with the system than player skill. This ultimately starts to put you off more than encourage further attempts.
HyperParasite is available now on PS4, Xbox One (reviewed), Switch and PC on Steam.
Developer: Troglobytes Games
Publisher: Troglobytes Games / Hound Picked
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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