By Phil Schipper / August 25th, 2014
At this early stage of development, there’s not much of Hive Jump that’s ready for anyone to play. In fact, the alpha demo I played boiled down to only about two minutes. Luckily, the game is so fast-paced that two minutes is a surprisingly long time.
For those not familiar, Hive Jump is about a special force that is sent straight into the hives where alien forces live in order to exterminate them and take out their queens. The alpha demo features a specific situation you can get into called an Ambush Room. After entering one of these, the player is trapped inside for the next two minutes until an exit finally appears. During that time, tons of aliens appear, and the player’s main focus, besides finding the exit, is to fight them off.
There are a few different weapons from which you can choose — each of which can be upgraded twice. I tried the game out with each weapon at each level, with varying results. First up is the basic Machine Gun. It pretty much sprays a stream of bullets towards the mouse cursor, with an even faster fire rate and more damage per hit when you use the higher-level version. This weapon is pretty easy to understand, and, although I had trouble finishing the scenario with the basic one, it became very manageable when I hit the third level.
The second option is definitely my favorite — the Flamethrower. Its limited range means you have to chase down the enemies that shoot projectiles, but the ones that try to attack directly will usually not even make it to you. It deals some pretty heavy damage and covers enough area to be a great protection. As you upgrade it, it splits into multiple streams, becoming even more useful. This weapon is actually so good that I managed to win with the basic Flamethrower alone.
The third one is just the opposite. The so-called Charge Gun is the only one that can’t be continuously fired by holding down the button. Instead it, well, charges up. You can fire small blasts by repeatedly clicking, but this is pretty slow and ineffective. The best thing you can do is charge it up as much as possible and hit enemies with a well-placed burst, because it explodes on impact and does heavy damage. The fully-upgraded one continues to push through groups of enemies as it explodes. Still, even with that, I have never been able to finish the map using this weapon.
Obviously you aren’t expected to just stand there and shoot. The characters run side-to-side pretty quickly, and a double-tap of the jump button lets you rocket into the air for a short burst. You’d better hope when it does run out that you have a safe place to land, though, because otherwise the enemies tend to be waiting for you in packs on the ground. Because every room is generated at random, you will have to explore a lot of the area to find either the safest spot to defend, or the door so you can rush out once the two minutes are up.
There’s one function that I would call unique to this game: the mobile respawn point. It’s attached to a backpack that your player starts out carrying. You can throw it out at any time, or else it will just appear where you were if you die. Several seconds after dying, you will return to where it is with an explosive blast that knocks enemies away. This can happen as many times as you need, with a catch. When the respawn point isn’t in the player’s possession, it can be damaged by enemies, and, if it’s destroyed, you have no more lives at all. Without any other method of healing, it’s vital to protect the backpack. Still, if you’re dead, there’s not much you can do, and an undefended one can lose half its health before you respawn.
Luckily, there is help. Even in this early state, there’s room for up to four players, using controllers. I played the game alongside one buddy, and it made things considerably easier, if more complicated. The benefits are a bit bigger than just having two guns and health meters. Player 1 gets the backpack first, but if he or she dies then any other player can quickly pick it up, defending it from harm for a bit longer. This extends its life and gives you a much better chance of survival.
The strange thing — apparent in single player but much more obvious with a group — is the camera. It centers on the backpack at all times, whether it’s in someone’s possession or not. This definitely feels pretty weird because with the characters’ fast movement speed, you can end up spending much more time off screen than you’d like. I really hope Graphite Lab comes up with a solution for this during development.
So how hard is it to survive for just two minutes and get out? More difficult than you might at first think. These aliens are coming at you fast. In this demo, you mainly encounter two types of aliens: extremely fast-running melee attackers, and flying shooters that fire similarly to the Machine Gun. Your success really does seem to be determined largely by your weapon choice and level. While the Charge Gun makes it way too hopelessly difficult, a fully-upgraded Flamethrower makes it hilariously easy. Combine that with more players, and it doesn’t even matter how many aliens the game throws at you.
I think the graphics are worth noting. This alpha demo, sadly, did not show off the stunning pixel lighting that you might see in the videos and screenshots, and frankly I’m sad about this. You do get to see the retro sprites and environments in detail, but only the flat versions. It seems that the real game is going to look a lot better.
There are three musical tracks in this game. The title screen music, the player setup menu, and the stage music all pretty much have the same in-your-face quality to them. If you told me they were from NES games, I would definitely believe you and probably guess that they were top-down shooters. The sound effects back up this illusion.
Overall, while there were some pretty major kinks — camera wackiness, imbalanced weapons and a disappointing lack of the game’s full graphics — it was a lot of fun to play this game, even if it was just one mission type. Trying different weapons and always ending up in a newly-generated level kept it interesting. Plus, after getting to the door, we were free to run around the map (probably not a final feature) and were even able to entertain ourselves just jumping around firing the flamethrowers in random directions. I don’t know if that says more about the game or the players, but there’s no doubt about it: we thoroughly enjoyed Hive Jump.
Click here to watch my first few minutes with the alpha demo.