Hive Jump is a challenging and nostalgic romp through the glory days of the run-and-gun shooter. Its controls are simple, the kind you’d find on an arcade cabinet in the corner of a college town pizza joint, with a difficulty curve to match. It quickly turns from straightforward to frantic and creates an environment where couch co-op thrives, but it can get repetitive and predictable, especially when playing alone.
As quickly as the loading screen, Hive Jump feels like the 80s. An alarm oscillates slowly like an alien heartbeat while an unfamiliar landscape fills the screen: barren rocks with the stars above. You control one of an infinite number of J.U.M.P Corps soldiers tasked with eradicating an alien menace. The soldiers’ design is simple and iconic for anyone who grew up in the golden age of science fiction horror.
The tutorial is short, as is the intro cinematic. It’s clear that Hive Jump’s story takes a back seat to getting underground and shoving your weapon down the throats of some unsuspecting bugs. Brevity is an asset here since the game’s characters are tough to take seriously, and feel out of place within the narrative of the game. With an almost anime-inspired look, they don’t quite match the 80’s run-and-gun aesthetic that Hive Jump is aiming for.
The antagonist is the race of subterranean alien bugs known as the Ordovicians. Each level is a hive, split into sub-sections, each one taking you deeper and deeper into enemy territory. The deeper you go, the tougher the resistance. True to its name, you’ll feel more and more swarmed by enemies the way an individual attacking a hive would, especially on higher difficulties.
J.U.M.P Corps soldiers die easily and when they’re gone, they’re gone for good. The low relative health of each soldier is balanced by a second life bar, that of the backpack shared by every iteration of the player’s many characters. When one soldier dies, the backpack remains for a few vulnerable seconds until the next soldier teleports in and picks it up. During this time the backpack can take damage and once its health is gone, it’s game over.
This clever mechanic requires that you play smart, and use every weapon at your disposal to stay alive and keep digging deeper into the hive, adding substance to the combat. While a small health bar can be trouble in some games, it often makes the action feel more consequential and makes success feel that much better. But the weight of the combat in Hive Jump never renders frustration because one soldier’s death doesn’t always mean game over.
Hive Jump’s campaign ties each level together with a turn-based strategy meta game. Your success or failure within each level translates to territory gained or lost on the planet that you’re working to protect. It’s a clever way to handle level selection and makes each completed level feel like a small victory on a larger stage.
Hive Jump’s simplicity makes it ideal for co-op. The controls are set up to keep your thumbs on the sticks using the triggers to jump and shoot, which is most of what you’ll be doing. This means on-boarding new friends is simple and quick; the low barriers make team building a breeze. It pairs well with the straightforward objectives and enemies, and ensures that anyone can sit down, grab a controller, and join the fight.
This very simplicity, however, makes for a comparatively lonely single player experience. Playing alone often means level after level of the same tasks, and the same backdrops. Hand crafted levels are often a luxury only afforded by large teams with dedicated level designers and procedural generation is often a necessity for an indie studio like Graphite Labs. Unfortunately this leads to levels feeling generic, which does nothing to invigorate the single player experience. Played with friends, the excitement of a multiplayer bullet storm is enough to smooth the experience, but single player can get stale quickly.
Hive Jump is an exciting blast from the past. Easy to pick up and brimming with old school run-and-gun fun, it’s a spectacular co-op game. The music and art are on point and it’s easy to pitch to a room full of 80’s babies. Combat feels visceral and keeps you on the edge of your seat when played with friends, but can get stale alone. Hive Jump is worth picking up if you miss the days of run-and-gun arcade cabinets in your favorite pizza place, or just want something you can pick up and play with friends. It’s definitely a good send off for the Wii U indie scene.