Hyper Jam: Neon-Soaked Arcade Fun
“Hyper Jam is what happens if you paint a Neon Synthwave sheen over Super Smash Brothers. With fast-paced, high-intensity action and constantly spawning items that can be thrown, its levels include punishing consequences if you step out of the arena.”–Cyberpunk Matrix
Hyper Jam is a neon-soaked indie arcade brawler that came out for PC, XBox and Playstation in February 2019. With its new release on Nintendo Switch, I’m going to take a look at what makes this game the must-have for cyberpunk parties everywhere.
Beautiful Neon Colors and Retro Vibes
The first thing that you notice when you start up this game is the beautiful aesthetic in lovingly-rendered 80’s neon colors. From the characters to the maps to the perk selections and menus, everything is delivered in a simple, yet pretty package.
A Killer Synthwave Soundtrack
The second thing you notice is the stellar Synthwave soundtrack that matches the game’s aesthetic perfectly. This is also one of the major things that immediately drew me to the game after seeing the trailer below.
The trailer immediately hits you with Paradise Warfare, one of my favorite tracks by Carpenter Brut, also an all-time favorite Cyberpunk and Synthwave artist. Once you buy and load up the game, however, the song you’ll probably most associate with the game is the one that plays automatically in the home menu screen, which is Dressed to Kill by Dance with the Dead–another excellent synthwave artist, and decidedly more fast-paced and upbeat a tune to get you psyched up to get right back into the fray. Other synthwave artists whose tracks you’ll encounter in the game include Meteor, Vulta, and more.
Making a Profile and Choosing your Character
Before playing, it’s advisable to create a profile for yourself before choosing your default character to play as. This was a mistake I made at the beginning, as I wanted to jump right into the action without creating my profile. What the game doesn’t tell you is that after you create your game profile, you then have access to selecting your preferred skins, taunts, and you can also access the key bindings menu from here too–all options that are completely hidden if you don’t create your profile and nickname first.
Your 4 character choices are: Max (The Hunter), Ghost (The Nightmare), Yuki (The Lantern), and Vance (the Fixer). The only differences between these four are what they look like and the taunts they have, which vary in what they say and their voices of course. Taunts are unlocked progressively as you play more, and are a fun way to celebrate defeating an opponent at the end of each round.
There are five maps to choose from in Hyper Jam. All are beautiful maps and good fun, my only complaint here is simply that there aren’t more of them! Also, while it’s possible to choose a randomly selected map, once your map is selected it remains the same for the entire game. I would have liked to have a randomly-selected map for each round, making the game play even more varied. The six maps you can choose from are Overpass, Jungle, Assembly, Subway, Hotel, and Tower
The biggest draw to this game is the tight, fast-paced combat game play. It feels very reminiscent to the feeling you get when playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl, as you have to always be moving, and an attack can come at any moment. As you play weapons appear on the screen at random, which you can pick up and use. They are either in the form of melee (Katana, Sledgehammer) or long-range weapons (bow and arrow, grenade launcher, missile launcher), with the melee weapons breaking after using it four or five times, and long range weapons running out of ammo after four or five rounds as well, depending on the weapon. Weapons can also be thrown for a small amount of damage and to knock players back, which really adds a more frenetic experience as players dash to new appearing weapons, realize the ones they have broke or ran out of ammo, or run away from opponents with empty hands in the incredibly small arenas. See the resemblances?
Striking Beyond the Grave
One very cool feature that’s different from Brawl is that you can strike beyond the grave to avenge your death, kill the player currently in the lead, or simply intimidate the players who are still fighting. After you die, your cursor becomes a faint cursor for about 5 seconds before it slowly changes into a square targeting reticle. Position your reticle above an opponent and fire–there’s a 2-second delay, but if they don’t get out of the way in time because they’re busy, you’ll be awarded with a satisfying blow of additional damage that can sometimes take them out entirely.
Countdown Killing Circle
A second cool feature is that if the battle is taking too long, Sudden Death will be announced and a circle will appear in the arena, with the area inside the circle remaining normal but the area outside the circle turned red as it becomes a damage-dealing kill-zone. This circle then slowly shrinks, forcing the combatants closer and closer together if they want to avoid taking any additional damage. It also makes for risky choices as a player may be tempted to venture into the killing circle to grab a weapon lying on the ground that is just out of reach.
Perk Progression and Drafting System
The combatants fight each other in successive rounds, gaining points for things like being the last man standing or for dealing damage, and losing points for things like falling off the map, not dealing damage, or killing themselves by accident (yes, it’s possible). Once a player reaches a certain threshold of points, they just need to survive as the last man standing for one final round and then they win the game.
In order to spice up the game, after each round a certain number of perks become available to add to the combatants. The twist is that whoever has the lowest points and is last in the game gets first choice in which perks they want. Perks overall are fairly balanced, however, and usually there isn’t a clear choice of which perk is better. Perks do stack, however, and so a three-stack perk for one player might be better than a new 1st level perk.
The team behind Hyper Jam had worked in different Melbourne-based game studios while they developed Hyper Jam’s core mechanics and identity in their spare time. After they attended GDC 2017, they were inspired to leave their respective game studios and found Bit Dragon, where they began work on Hyper Jam full time.
Final Review: 8/10
Because of the aesthetics, soundtrack, and fun game play, I highly recommend this game. The game play mechanics are smooth and work well, the perk draft keeps things interesting and allows players to catch up, and this is simply a game that sounds great and looks beautiful. As a brawler it’s great, but don’t expect any story whatsoever, as there is none. This game shines in multiplayer fighting, as playing against bots can become a bit boring after a while. For myself, I ended up taking a long time waiting for an automatic match-making to happen so I could play against someone else online. Fortunately, you have the option to play locally against bots while you wait. The fact that this game offers cross play means that with the new release on the switch, hopefully the game will become more popular and thus more players will find it and play it. This is definitely the type of game I would love to play locally with friends who come visit, or simply online. My hope is that Bit Dragon Studio can continue developing this game, by adding even more weapons, maps, characters, and having more people play online allowing for faster multi-player matchmaking.
Note: Portions of this article previously appeared on Cyberpunks.com