Games like Contra and Metroid can evoke all sorts of emotions from gamers depending on what era they were born in, which is a testament to their simple, yet challenging and addictive gameplay. Graphite Lab is an Indie studio looking to recapture the nostalgic feelings of excitement gamers first experienced while playing titles like this, or other retro platformers, with its upcoming 4-player co-op game Hive Jump. Hive Jump blends the explosive run’n’gun action of Contra with a sci-fi infused world that resembles Metroid’s alien heavy infestations, and adds in elements of teamwork and strategy that help to set it apart from the games it pays tribute to.
Hive Jump was on display at PAX South, so I took a spin with it, and while my team ultimately failed to kill the Hive Queen’s mini-boss goon, the experience was a blast and offered plenty of reasons to get excited about Graphite Lab’s upcoming title. The game can be played alone or with three other players in local and online co-op, with the co-op offering providing the most ideal experience thanks to the teamwork and strategy aspects it adds. Players must work together or alone through a procedurally generated hive as they battle an extraordinary number of alien foot soldiers, mini-bosses, and the Hive Queen herself.
Each hive takes around 45-60 minutes to complete, and the team hopes to have twelve levels altogether to give players ample amount of content to wade through at launch. In addition to the arcade mode Hive Jump will also feature a turn-based campaign where players have to manage war funds and strategies as they plot their path through the Hive Queen’s lairs. Unlocks from both modes will carry over to the next, so no gameplay time will be wasted if you decide to stick with the arcade mode, or settle in with the campaign.
The game also looks marvelous thanks to the retro pixel art that is used, which compliments the classic action platforming gameplay. Each J.U.M.P. soldier comes with a unique name, some of them quite hilarious thanks to the fact that Graphite Lab let its Kickstarter backers submit names to be used in the final game, so be prepared to take the controls of a Blast Hardcheese, or a Big McLargehuge when the title releases later this year. Unfortunately, outside of the custom loadouts which I’ll discuss more below, the design of the characters is only varied through different colored visors, so there isn’t as many colorful looking soldiers as there are names.
Playing a Hive Jump hive takes more than just the ability to shoot the living hell out of every enemy that appears on screen thanks to the fact that it features permadeath, which can be prevented through the transponder backpack (Orbiting ship can beam reinforcements to the transponder) that one of the four players must carry on their back. This backpack is key to success because it allows you and your team to respawn infinitely as long as it doesn’t get destroyed. With that being said it’s up to one player, or a combination of players to focus on keeping the transponder backpack safe by picking it up when it gets dropped, while also avoiding massive melees that leave you and the pack exposed to attack. If the transponder backpack does get destroyed your team can no longer respawn, and with the amount of enemies that Hive Jump throws at you, there’s a slim chance of survival with a busted transponder.
My team experienced this lesson the hard way while playing the PAX South demo, so after making it all the way to a hive’s mini-boss, which could serve as a real deal boss in most games of this nature (Hive Queens are even more challenging), we ultimately failed in killing it because the transponder got lost in the fracas, leaving us vulnerable and unable to respawn new soldiers to combat the big baddie. The gameplay was still a blast, but as we found out teamwork is the true key to success, so Hive Jump isn’t just about spraying as many bullets in as many directions as possible. It’s a bit more thoughtful, which is why it suits itself well to co-op gameplay, especially in a local setting thanks to the excitement it can elicit in those playing it.
To help take down the Hive Queen and her henchmen players can upgrade and change loadouts before each mission. Both a gun and a grenade can be chosen before jumping into a hive, and they can be upgraded in between levels to give them an added punch. My weapon of choice was a flamethrower, which behaved more like the spread weapon from Contra, albeit on steroids with fire added to it. Upgrades can be purchased using the goo you pick up from vanquished enemies, which is never in short supply thanks to the steady flow of alien bad guys that are trying to stop your progression through each level.
Hive Jump is frenetic, action-packed, and well suited for playing with friends thanks to its easy to learn controls and challenging action platforming gameplay. The transponder backpack mechanic enforces strategic gameplay, which is why Hive Jump excels with its co-op mode, especially in a local setting. Visually it’ll evoke memories of games past, but it still sets itself apart with a charming mix of pixel art and vibrant colors. Graphite Lab hopes to offer Hive Jump on Steam’s Early Access platform this summer with a full release planned for the fall for the PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U platforms. Those looking for more details, or to pre-order the game, can head over to the Hive Jump website. It’s well worth checking out, especially if you want to recapture some of the nostalgic gameplay feelings you used to experience while playing these types of games with friends on the NES, SNES, and Genesis.
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