What Hexvade lacks in polish, it makes up for in tight action design.
Action games are difficult to assess at first. You are meant to fumble around as you learn the powers inherent in your avatar. I was a clumsy Raiden when I first played Metal Gear Rising but once I mastered the parry and the dodge, I started to dance around ninja cyborgs with ease. It felt like my hands were acting on their own – slicing up Metal Gears and only activating my resource-using maneuvers when absolutely necessary. Up until this point, it’s difficult to see what is truly “cheap” and what just isn’t learned yet. With storied action designers like Hideki Kamiya or Tomonobu Itagaki it’s rather easy to power through the early stages with the knowledge that this will make sense and that every decision was made thoughtfully. Unfortunately, polish issues and some initially confusing design decisions, kept me from giving Hexvade the benefit of the doubt at first.
Lack of polish is evident when you look at the Controls and see that Start is used to enable/disable your controller. The dialog that listed each function never mentioned a Pause so I believed there was none until I read the Patch 1.03 release notes. It turns out Pause is mapped to Select, presumably because the Start button was hardcoded to have the aformentioned function. The online multiplayer requires you to exchange IP addresses with your would-be opponent. And the game would inexplicably launch at 45 frames per second and revert to the intended 60 when I recorded gameplay. Thankfully though, what Hexvade lacks in polish, it makes up for in tight action design.
Hexvade is a series of boss fights set in a Tetris pit – forcing you to contend with falling hexagonal blocks. Your character, Dodger (as in block dodger), is equipped with three modes of attack. First, a pea shooter that has limited ammo and replenishes itself slowly. Second is the ability to stomp an enemy from above. This comes with the added risk of having to get in close quarters with your daunting foe. Finally, you can pick up powerups that appear in the playfield. These powerups range from a vertically striking thunderbolt to a trampoline that will help you get to hard to reach spots. Admittedly, I was praying for a health pack most of the time.
Stay away when he’s primed to jump
Throughout my playtime, gaining mastery of Doger helped to explain the design decisions I questioned early on. As an example, I was initially confounded by the use of the hexagonal grid. Consistently getting stuck in tight corners with overhangs, I saw no point to this format other than to annoy the player. What I came to find however, was that this grid added texture to the terrain making it more climbable. This doesn’t absolve the frustration of getting stuck but I could see that there was a trade off and that I would have to use it to my advantage. Similarly, the hitboxes and hurtboxes are not clear in this game but as I learned the tells of each boss’s arsenal, flow state kicked in and I felt like I knew exactly where to be at any given moment. I could see myself reaching the same heights I did in Metal Gear Rising – fluidly moving from platform to platform, charging in for stomps when I was running low on ammo and retreating when a boss was priming an attack.
This is where Hexvade excels – those moments where you feel like Neo in The Matrix. You learn to save your double jump when stomping on your foe so you can finally use it to land on a still-falling hex which will get you halfway to that out-of-reach power up (and reset your double jump). You see the boss lining up his eye lasers and you decide he’s too far to charge so you find a stack of bricks to get behind, thus breaking his line of sight. In these moments – after all the cursing at the screen – I felt like a balletic deity and in these moments, Hexvade’s creator Andy Mark, earned my trust as an action game designer.
Disclaimer: Hexvade appears to have a multiplayer mode that is not included in this review. If I get an opportunity to play multiplayer in depth, I will update this review.