While it feels like everything in the world of pop culture is taking a dip back into the 80s, I can’t say I am as of yet sick of it. From games to both exciting and completely unnecessary reboots of old movies, we may start to feel as sick of 80s throwbacks as we were of anything that involved zombies a few years ago. Now while those projects are as undead as their subject matter, it seems that there needs to be a nostalgic connection to an IP when going back to a certain time period like the 80s.
Bit Dragon’s stylistic arena brawler Hyper Jam isn’t such a household name that it immediately instills a feeling of a perfect childhood you’ll never get back. However, with a few improvements, it too could have the honor of being made into a terribly unnecessary Hollywood feature film.
Under the Neon Lights
Cyberpunk and the 80s seem to be life’s perfect marriage, and it’s no different here as a squad of four eccentric characters – a suave ‘fixer’ named Vance, a military veteran named Max, a killer assassin nicknamed “The Lantern,” and a mysterious night rider named “Ghost” – battle it out in futuristic, sunbaked lofts or the grimy undergrounds of a nonstop subway station. Hyper Jam has a diversity of design when it comes to how the player interacts with and tackles its environment in light of combat scenarios, but there’s a sense of déjà vu in their artistic interpretations. Of the six maps available, two of them feature brighter locales with the greens, browns, and blues of nature while the rest are seedy, covert places of town that are washed with the purple hues of a cyberpunk paradise.
Again, from a purely design perspective in terms of how I engaged with these levels, each one felt different to play and I changed my in-game tactics accordingly. But they are just so visually similar that I felt like I had only experienced a few blocks or square miles of this seemingly generic futuristic city, as opposed to really getting a handle on all of the different districts that we are used to seeing in cyberpunk media. And as much as I’ve grown to love and hate the characters, they don’t seem to be concerned with appearing as stereotypes of cyberpunk caricatures.
Max the Veteran looks like Serious Sam if he entered a time machine, Ghost is the quintessential helmet wearing netrunner, Yuki is a cybernetic killing machine straight out of Ghost in the Shell, and you just have to see Vance’s avatar to truly understand just how many obvious influences have shaped his character design. What’s more, when actually playing the game, there are no discernible differences between the characters. While this might have something to do with the game’s power-up collection system, it doesn’t seem to go far enough to individualize the characters.
After each short round, players can choose between a few different power-ups ranging from additional health to a faster recharge rate on the dash mechanic. The cool thing about this system is that it’s possible to stack abilities if they’re not chosen by another player or AI adversary. These upgrades include boosting the amount of health you receive from doing damage or stacking damage and defense modifiers that are triggered when low on health.
Now because the characters aren’t any different from the outset, and because you can only choose one of these power-ups per round, I only began to see a patent difference between everyone in the arena in the latter stages, especially when your opponents allow you to stack one or two abilities a few times. When it all comes together, those final moments can be incredibly hectic and satisfying as I found myself screaming in victory or dropping to my knees in anguish at the close of a tightly contested match.
During the actual chaos, there are a few randomly spawned weapons that pop up across the arena. Futuristic bows, hefty rockets and precious grenade launchers are among the available arsenal, but my personal favourite is a Halo-esque gravity hammer than you can charge up to deliver a devastating blow to multiple enemies, sometimes resulting in a double or triple-kill. The hidden genius of the weapon placements and the layout of the arenas, complete with generous amounts of cover, is that your choice of which weapons you acquire is just as important as those that you strategically leave in play.
I could swear that I experienced near-sentient level AI on multiple occasions when I tried to dupe the computer controlled characters to pick up melee weapons as I pushed them into the corners of the map. I initially thought that I could break the game by not picking up an available ranged weapon so that the AI didn’t register any threat when they maneuvered for the aforementioned melee weapon that mere inches away from their grasp. Well, I was wrong – especially in one versus one scenarios.
In the heat of a frenetic match where all characters were still alive, I could simply avoid detection and let them kill each other off before I came in with the big guns and mopped up the last man standing, but that’s when I ran into a few issues. As previously mentioned, the AI seems to grow in intelligence and avoid picking up certain weapons when others are available on the field of play. Additionally, because the game counts to a score of 1,500 points – which, alongside other game rules, can be altered before the start of any match – before forcing the victor to survive one more round in order to claim victory, I was hesitant to play on the defensive in fear that I would lose the final one versus one duel and concede hundreds of points to my opponents.
That is the quintessential fun of Hyper Jam and it allowed me to look past a few of its annoyances. Slowly ticking toward the end of the game as the 1,500 point marker draws closer and tactically choosing which power-ups and battle strategies would yield greater chances at victory became an addicting affair. The joy of winning a closely contested match by knocking an opponent out of the arena or timing a perfect block that would send their own projectile back at them is the reason that competitive games were created.
Hyper Jam review code provided by publisher. Version 1.05 reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.