Hive Jump is a retro side-scrolling shooter developed by Graphite Lab. It just launched on the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It also released last year on Steam and Humble Bundle. The humble bundle link is a referral, I get a small commission if you purchase the game through it. This review was conducted on a standard Xbox One System by Joseph Pugh.
Often times when I’m reviewing a game with a retro style, you will often see me comment that the game has a retro look with a modern feel or some other relevant kind of metaphor. Not this time though. Hive Jump is a purebred retro game plain and simple. It would have fit perfectly on the Super Nintendo back in the day.
This isn’t a criticism though, I could name a good amount of Super Nintendo games that I could plug in right now and play all day long. Hive Jump perfectly captures the feel and style of games from that era. Even the way you type in your profile name is old school, scrolling through letters by pushing up or down. Though this led me to accidentally having a lower case g in my profile name…it bugged me the entire time I played…
Hive Jump is a side-scrolling shooter reminiscent of games like Contra. Easy to pick up, but very challenging to play. The concept is simple, navigate through procedurally generated levels, shoot bugs and battle bosses. You can run, jump and boost into the air with a jump jet. You can fire your gun in a 360-degree arc and you have a limited amount of grenades. The devil, however, is in the details.
To start with, you have multiple modes of play. In the beginning, you are thrust into a very quick but comprehensive tutorial (my favorite kind) and from there you can choose between Campaign, Arcade, and Challenges. Challenge mode gives you a level with a set of modifiers and tasks you with completing it. One such challenge, for example, is beating a level with only one life (Good luck with that).
Arcade lets you pick a difficulty setting and just jump in easy peasy. The campaign has a bit of story with an overarching strategical layer to add some method to the madness. The story is mostly just an excuse to shoot stuff, but I think it takes at least a little inspiration from Star Ship Troopers.
The campaign takes place in two phases. First, you have a strategy layer similar akin to X-COM. The Jumpers have bases, and the Ordovician’s have hives. You can spend goo (a resource you collect in each level) to scan a hive and see how many layers deep the cave is and its strength. You can also use it to reinforce your own bases, to bomb a hive reducing its strength and a couple other of nifty choices. The strategy layer isn’t deep at all, but its an interesting feature and something to help balance out your spending your goo between the map and your gear.
You take a turn and then so do the Ordovician’s. When you beat a hive it becomes a base, and if the bugs take over a base, it becomes a hive. When you are ready to jump a hive, you get a chance to customize your soldier’s colors, insignia, and skins that are all unlockable by playing.
After that, you customize your loadout. You also use the goo I mentioned before to buy and upgrade new weapons and gear. Every weapon, grenade, and gadget has a distinct feel and there is a good variety of them. You have standard machine guns and rockets, healing grenades, turrets, teleporters and more. You can only take one of each with you at a time though. One weapon, grenade type, and gadget.
I found most of the weapons and gadgets to be pretty well balanced, some of them had more obvious advantages in co-op like the healing grenade. But I want to note that certain weapons like the cryo beam have a sound effect that is absolutely agitating to my ears. It almost sounds like a computer error grinding super fast. It bugged the heck out of me.
On that note, the game is playable in up to four players local co-op. And I can’t recommend this enough, the game is way more fun with friends and some of the mechanics work better in a team.
Once in the hive, you have to traverse a number of procedurally generated caves while avoiding hazards, killing bugs and collecting goo. Each time you move to a new layer, you get a chance to change up your gear. Each cave also has a number of challenge rooms. These rooms are not procedurally generated but are handcrafted platforming challenges. If you die you are sent back to the same layer you were on and you cant attempt the room again in the same run.
If you can navigate the platforming challenge successfully, you get a chest that usually gives you a relic. Relics grant boons such as reducing the rate at which your gun overheats, or makes you more resistant to a type of damage. The boon lasts the entirety of the same run. Seeing as some caves can run as deep as 12 individual layers, they are quite handy.
Sometimes you come across people in these rooms to rescue. They give a small quip of dialogue and teleport out. Most of them are lines about the hive, but occasionally one will be pretty fun and silly. Those darn bugs, they must have sucked his brains out.
Hive Jump has a unique death mechanic. You carry a transponder on your back when you die, you drop it and can respawn in a few seconds. As long as you keep the transponder alive you have an infinite amount of lives.
Don’t get the wrong idea though, bugs will attack the backpack when it’s not being carried by a player. And dropping it in a lava pool will end your run very quickly. Hive Jumper is a tough game. So come on you apes, you wanna live forever?
In single player, you briefly control the transponder when you die, moving it around to try and avoid danger. In multiplayer it just drops to the ground and it’s up to your teammates to pick it up and keep it safe. I really like this mechanic, you are expected to die a lot and what matters is keeping the transponder alive. Sometimes the best thing to do is grab the transponder and bug out until your teammates respawn.
As far as the lore is concerned you are spawning back in as different jumper. Each one has a name and they are often times hilarious. My partner and I constantly got a kick out seeing the names and trying to stay alive as our favorites. Such as Captain Obvious.
There are four types of cave biomes and each one has their own environmental hazards. The frozen cave has ice slicks and stalactites that fall from the ceiling. A hot cave has those dreaded lava pools that love to destroy your transponder.
I was somewhat disappointed with the variety of enemies. You have a couple basic types and each biome has a specialized one and their own boss. But really there aren’t that many. The games biggest problem is you will more or less be playing the same thing at hour ten as hour one. The enemies themselves consist of varying types of bugs. You Cant step on these ones.
The smallest hive is three layers deep, that’s three entire stages. The biggest ones are twelve. When you combine the length of each mission with the strategic layer, things can become very repetitive. While I enjoy the challenge a lot and I applaud Graphic Lab for being willing to make a game as difficult as Hive Jump. The roguelike nature really conflicts with the rest of the game.
If you die and lose your transponder, that run is over, the hive gets stronger and then the bugs attack your bases. If they succeed and spread you have another hive to clear before moving on. Each Hive run feels pretty much the same due to the lack of enemy variety and unlike other roguelikes, you’re somewhat limited in your power progression. Once you find a favorite gun and upgrade it. Your power is peaked and your progression is limited only by your own skill. The loop can wear pretty thin after that.
The boss battles are fantastic, but you will be repeating those often as well. If you really get into and enjoy the core gameplay, this won’t bug you as much. But the potential for battle fatigue is definitely there given how long each hive run actually is.
One small thing I want to note is the codex. The codex is a database you can read about all the weapons, enemies and relics you find. Ever since playing X-Com and reading all the research topics I have been a fan of reading similar things in other games. The codex is a small thing that won’t matter to many, but its a feature I really enjoy and appreciate it, so I had to give it a shout out. I’m doing my part!
In closing the game is solid and invokes everything you loved about old school shooters. The co-op is great, the weapons are varied and the game is very challenging, even on the lowest difficulty. The unique death mechanic is a lot of fun and it really affects how you approach the game. Combining handmade challenge rooms inside procedural levels is a cool idea made even better when they reward you with relics for completing them.
But the game does have a problem with repetition and enemy variety is lacking. The strategical layer is a neat idea but ultimately shallow, and the length of each hive conflicts with it.
Hive Jump is $9.99 on the Xbox and Nintendo Stores. For that price, I absolutely recommend Hive Jump. Its a well made retro shooter and it is fun to play despite the repetition, especially with friends.
On Steam it is $19.99. I’m a bit more hesitate at the price. So for the first time, I’m going to give a game two verdicts below. And remember, the only good bug is a dead bug!
- Well made shooter faithful to retro classics with local co-op/
- A challenging platformer with different hazards depending on biome.
- Lots of weapon and gadget variety.
- Hilarious soldier names and a codex to read up on weapons and enemies.
- Multiple difficulty setting and modes.
- Neat death system dependant on protecting your transponder.
- Repetitive gameplay
- Shallow strategy layer
- Not enough enemy types
- Irritating sound effects on certain guns.