When you take a massive cast of characters of varying design motifs, team-based competetive action and hear the term ‘Free-to-play’, one’s mind invariably wanders to the ever popular MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). With so many popular, AAA titles representing this space already in games such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and Smite, how can any other game seek to succeed in this market?
Enter ‘Hyper Universe‘, a fresh new take on the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) formula from Korean developer CWAVESOFT, Inc. In a nutshell, Hyper Universe takes the gameplay of your standard MOBA, but presents this as a sidescrolling platform fighter with fast paced gameplay which blends the two together.
For the uninitiated, MOBA games typically take the form of team-based competetive gameplay where the objective is to destroy the opposing teams base structure whilst also preventing them from doing the same. Often these games feature several routes or ‘lanes’ down which ‘minions’ will march like lemmings to attempt to destroy whatever is in their path, and gameplay will often revolve around attacking enemy characters or enemy minions, while leveraging the strength of your own minions to assist in eventually destroying their base. Throughout a game, you will accrue gold with which to upgrade your items and experience with which to increase your character level and thus your ‘stats’, making your character stronger.
Unlike other titles, in Hyper Universe, the game is presented as a side-scroller. Yours and other players’ characters move towards your opponent via ‘floors’ which act like the aforementioned lanes. You can move to other floors via ladders, launch pads and clear floors that you can drop through. Some of these floors will see yours and the opposing minions march towards each other, with ‘Tower’ structures along the way which fire damaging shots at whatever comes close. The general strategy here is to clear the opposing minions and move in on the tower with your minions which will take the brunt of the damage from the tower while you work on destroying it. Destroying the towers one by one allows your minions to march on fowards and attack the enemy base.
A Hyper and Minions attack a Tower.
MOBA titles also often feature ‘neutral’ areas with minions which don’t attack unless provoke and similarly in Hyper Universe there are neutral minions and objectives which can be completed amidst the fight. Along with the standard experience and gold, they may also drop consumable items which provide extra gold, experience or stat-related boosts which can last from a couple of minutes to the remainder of the match – all of which encourage the player to seek out and defeat the neutral camps when presented with the opportunity.
Another mainstay of MOBA titles, items or ‘Equipment’ which provide various stat bonuses and effects, are present in Hyper Universe as well. Where Hyper Universe deviates from the standard is that your six items are picked as a match is starting from a handful of sets of six items which you piece together between matches yourself. These items are upgradeable over the course of a match, consuming gold which you have earned to do so.
The idea here appears to be to be that you decide on the set of six you want straight away, and you only spend your gold on upgrading them as the game progresses. This system would have the player ideally craft a few different sets of items between games and then when a match starts they select the one most appropriate for their role in the team or against the threats on the other team. I see this as a positive difference in that allows the game to achieve its aim of being an action packed brawler that seeks to minimise ‘down-time’ with tasks like looking at items at a ‘shop’ mid-match. You don’t even need to return to base to spend your gold – simply press the hotkey corresponding to the item you wish to upgrade.
Now that I’ve set the scene, I’ll talk about the important part – the gameplay. Controlling your character, called a ‘Hyper’, is done with the keyboard (with the option for a controller being available). You use the arrow keys to move and the ‘Q, W, E, R, A, S, D, F’ keys for most of your attacks and abilities. It is refreshing to play a game in this genre without a mouse – the task of positioning your character is somewhat simpler to a standard MOBA as you aren’t clicking positions on an isometric map and instead position yourself on a 2D plane. To complement this, there aren’t any collisions to worry about as you can stand on top of minions and even other Hypers.
The abilities you have feature some movement (dashing and jumping), some basic offensive attacks (a weaker and stronger melee or ranged projectile) and four abilities/attacks which often consume a resource like mana. Many or all of these abilities feature a ‘cool-down’ – a period of time before it can be used again which alongside the mana or other resource they consume dictate the frequency you can use them and often reflect the potency of their damage/effects.
While some (including the trailers themselves) would position this games combat to be akin to a 2D fighter, there are a number of aspects to the combat which are lacking in that regard. For example, traditional 2D fighting games such as Street Fighter have mechanics such as blocking, grabbing and attacking with different punches and kicks forming combos. While characters across the board may feature aspects of these things in their abilities, it is not universal across the games roster. The attacks and abilities are more similar to a MOBA where you activate abilities within a certain range for different effects and damage.
This is certainly not a bad thing however. The designers of these characters appear to have done a good job of thinking about sets of abilities which form a clear game plan for the player and work within their own set of abiltiies and with other characters. The characters fall into one of six classes which describe their role in a team. These are familiar roles with defensive roles like Tanks or offensive roles like Strikers. Their sets of abilities typically reflect their role.
I was sceptical at first around how well a characters abilities would look and feel on a 2D plane, however the game delivers extremely well on this. Playing the specialist character ‘Aisha’ is a good example. Aisha is a mage-type character who attacks with snow and ice. One of her abilities, ‘Snowstorm’ hails an area in front of her with Snow, dealing damage to all enemies caught by it. This inflicts a status named ‘Frostbite’ which slows their movement. You can then use her next ability, ‘Cold Snap’ to deal damage and freeze enemies in place briefly. Finally, follow this up with her Ultimate Ability ‘Murphy the Snowman’ which drops a giant Snowman on top of your enemies in front of you dealing damage and slowing them again. These abilities look great, with effects rendered in 3D giving the visuals a satisfying depth. They feel great too – using one ability after the other to execute the game plan is satisfying. Other characters have disruptive abilities which can knock up, drag in or otherwise displace enemy characters, placing an emphasis on the need to be positioned safely, a common and skillful aspect of MOBA games.
Aisha freezes enemy Hypers with her ‘W’ Cold Snap skill.
On the topic of design, the game features gorgeous 3D animation and 2D artwork amongst its menus and character portraits as well as voice acting to bring the characters to life. All of the characters and much of the stages you play on are in 3D (despite playing on a 2D plane) which as I described before, provides the game with a satisfying depth. The designs amongst the characters are consistent in terms of aesthetics, but the motifs are quite varied. The story of Hyper Universe brings ‘Hypers’ together from across the universe, effectively giving this game a license to have characters which look like they belong to Greek Mythology fight alongside Robots from the future or a character who unashamedly looks like Bruce Lee fight alongside a character that looks like she’s straight out of ‘The Incredibles’. Typical of this genre, the characters feature different looks or ‘skins’ which can be selected before a match and also typically, these skins require either the player’s time invested into acquiring materials for its crafting system or cost the player real money to acquire (part of how the game earns money despite being free to play).
When I picked up this game for review I wasn’t expecting much and so I was pleasantly surprised to not have a great deal to say about the game negatively. Characters require an investment of time to unlock via currency earned in game, which is not always seen as a negative thing. The items available to a player are also not all unlocked from the get go. This is similar to the previous Runes and Masteries system from League of Legends, which required players to grind out games in return for in-game currency to purchase them. This means that a player might be put at an immediate disadvantage just because they haven’t unlocked better or more suitable items yet. The saving grace is that these items can’t be purchased with real money, tasking all players of the game to work towards them.
The other bug bear is the lag. Playing games as an Australian can be unfun when lag gets in the way and I have had my fair share whilst playing. You have a number of regions to choose from and I have found the closest server (the Asian server) provides just 2 bars of signal strength resulting in some laggy moments and delayed ability inputs.
If you can get past that, Hyper Universe is a fun game. It delivers on its promise of fast and chaotic action with moments of satisfying brilliance when you’re able to execute your Hyper’s game plan and work together as a team, laying down ‘Crowd Control’ and dealing big damage. Matches are fast and the visual design is pretty. Without a monetary barrier to start playing, I recommend giving this one a dig if you’re looking for something fresh and new in the MOBA genre.
Hyper Universe is currently available on Steam and is free-to-play – http://store.steampowered.com/app/591530/Hyper_Universe/