It's tough but fair. Emphasis on tough.
No, this is not a version of Hyper Light Drifter, which is what I originally thought it was. Instead, Hyperlight EX is essentially Geometry Wars with some elements of Space Invaders Extreme. That checks a lot of my boxes, so I was pretty happy with the game. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
You control a small spaceship on a large grid. Smaller enemy spaceships spawn and start coming after you. You attack by holding down the A button to activate your Hyperlight Drive and smash into your enemies. The Hyperlight Drive only has so much juice, though, and one of the many pickups is fuel, which spawns fairly often. You can rack up a combo by smashing into several enemies in a single boost, so there’s a risk/reward element of upping your combo but maybe leaving yourself vulnerable afterward. There are lots of other pickups, including a gun that automatically fires for a couple seconds, a shield, and a couple of kinds of bombs. You’ll also find little red circular droids, turrets, and line guns that are activated by boosting over/through them. These helper bots are fantastic while they’re active.
If you were just worrying about enemy ships, that’d be one thing, but there are certain enemy obstacles that will affect your Hyperlight Drive, either draining it, temporarily disabling it, or sending you ricocheting somewhere you didn’t want to go. So in addition to all the enemies that are crowding the grid, you have to watch out for these obstacles.
Arcade Mode sends you to several stages where your goal is survival. Each stage ends with a miniboss and then the third stage is an actual boss. These stages are hard—you will die a lot. The challenge is how well you can manage the unending chaos in the grid. The actual bosses are brutally challenging and take a weirdly long time to kill. Because there are no checkpoints or extra lives in Arcade Mode, I got frustrated often but kept coming back. Surviving the challenge feels great.
There are two other modes: Endless Mode, which is exactly what it sounds like (and incorporates different minibosses) and Panic Mode, where you control your spaceship by…tilting the 3DS. You have no Hyperlight Drive, and must make do exclusively with spawned items and droids. Panic Mode isn’t as disastrous as it could’ve been, but it’s not my favorite mode. There are also Achievements and leaderboards, but they are not online, which is kind of a drag.
The game looks good, especially in 3D, and I like the minimalistic but electronica-inspired soundtrack. Hyperlight EX can be very hard, but it’s fun and scratches a couple itches I had. Give it a shot!