- Developer: Digital Cybercherries
- Publisher: Digital Cybercherries
- Release Date: 31/1/2020
- Price: $19.99 / £19.99
- Review code provided by Digital Cybercherries
Reporting for duty
Referring to Digital Cybercherries’ tower defense-shooter hybrid HYPERCHARGE: Unboxed as Toy Story with guns would be overly reductive, but it wouldn’t be that far off. Taking place in a universe where toys have come to life and become entrenched in mortal conflict, HYPERCHARGE: Unboxed vies to reproduce the whimsical intensity of childhood imagination within the confines of a polished, kinetic gameplay experience that marries disparate genre elements in a tight digital release. While it has a few rough edges, Digital Cybercherries’ efforts coalesce in one of the first exemplary eShop titles of 2020.
The art of war
From my first moments with the title, I was enraptured by its presentation. Heavily evoking Pixar’s Toy Story, HYPERCHARGE grounds the player in a lived-in recreation of the human world from the perspective of a child’s toys. The game’s wave-based missions all take place in familiar locations, from a bathroom, to a bedroom, to a toy store, and everywhere in-between. Seeing the world through the lens of an action figure produces an interesting scale shift especially in the context of warfare, as household objects suddenly become pieces of cover to use defensively, or vantage points to leverage as you mow down waves of incoming opponents. The subversion of perspective is inherently novel, and I found myself constantly fascinated by the ways in which Digital Cybercherries repurposed staple, real-world objects as functional, battlefield elements.
Beyond the overall concept of the presentation, the game’s intricate level of detail helps sell HYPERCHARGE’s aesthetic and makes its world feel even more alive. Every level is strewn with objects that push its visuals beyond simply being a representation of the location it attempts to depict. Take, for instance, the Dawn of the Toys mission which is set in a child’s bedroom. There is a half-eaten lunch sitting in front of the computer on the desk, across from the disorganized bed with its pillows and blankets askew. The shelves are adorned with action figures and the walls are plastered with posters. All of the additions like these helped further the aesthetic and really immersed me in the game.
The success of HYPERCHARGE’s presentation extends beyond pure visuals, though, as the game’s locations all serve as compelling battlegrounds from a gameplay perspective as well. Being a three-inch tall action hero means that every element in the surrounding area is taller than you, lending each map a significant amount of verticality. Bearing that in mind, traversing the vertical space from floor to ceiling of each map is largely informed by the game’s real-world design too, as you’ll have to think critically about the relative placement of objects in order to climb around. After all, humans have no need for miniature ladders that stretch from the floor to the edge of a sink vanity, so it is up to the player to leap across laundry baskets, shelves, radiators, tissues boxes, and the like to reach areas of higher elevation.
Scouting the territory
Keen map sense and the ability to find routes of traversal is integral to success in HYPERCHARGE, as it is a game that demands that the player multitasks. As previously mentioned, HYPERCHARGE: Unboxed is a tower-defense game that infuses first-person shooter gameplay. Each battle saddles the player with the task of defending Cores strewn across the map. The fights are split into waves, with each wave divided into two distinct phases, the build phase and the combat phase. During the former, points can be spent on the creation of defenses that are invaluable when the combat phase rolls around. You’re be doing everything in your power to hold the line against enemies that come with increasing numbers and variety as the waves progress, so foresight in the building phase makes all the difference.
While the combat phase is where gameplay really heats up, the build phase is more than just about setting up barriers and traps. It serves as an opportunity to explore the map, both for collectibles and resources. There is significant justification to spend a solid amount of time simply roaming the maps, as doing so will reward you with plenty of Markers to be spent on defenses, as well as weapon upgrades that offer a leg up on the opponent. Unlike the combat phase which ends when all enemies in the wave are wiped out, the build phase is timed, so juggling exploration and defense creation is integral to success. Also, worth considering during this phase is the upkeep and repair of defenses and shields, which can truly come through in a pinch. There is a lot of nuance in this facet of the gameplay, and so I found myself truly engaged by each build phase. That said, all of this preparation is largely rendered pointless if you cannot back up this planning in the combat phase.
Fire at will
Luckily, gunplay in HYPERCHARGE: Unboxed is largely satisfying, making this part of the experience tactile and compelling. Mowing down the onslaught of toy soldiers, aliens, and robots that march for your three Cores demands more from the player in terms of critical thinking than mechanical precision, though, as pummeling round after round into a target is typically a sufficient mechanical strategy. The challenge comes in not being overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemies by balancing reloads and deliberately moving around the map, taking an advantageous position to repel the threat, and then moving on to the next spot that demands your attention. Considering that the guns feel punchy and the movement feels fluid, it is rather easy to enter a rhythm and careen around the map, gunning down the incoming attackers.
While this is a fundamentally solid gameplay experience that proves to be plenty of arcade-y, kinetic fun, there are some problems that arose from time to time and dampened my enjoyment. There are minor quibbles such as the occasional glitched enemy or graphical hiccup, but largely the game looked and ran smoothly. Two of its design decisions did draw my frustration, though. Firstly, placing traps and defenses is only possible on designated spaces on the map, and the lions share of these are directly around the Cores you have to defend. This means that creating a bulwark against incoming attackers, chipping away at their numbers and falling back slowly as they break through layers of defense isn’t often possible, meaning that even with optimal defenses, the combat takes place rather close to the Cores. This choice simply bottlenecks strategy and forces particular approaches to defense, which isn’t as engaging as getting to more freely place down traps.
This is compounded by the fact that enemies will come at the player from many different entry points, which certainly ups the challenge, but also ups the frustration in proportion, particularly in single-player. This is due to the fact that HYPERCHARGE lacks a permanent mini-map that shows where attacks are coming from, and this can lead to many moments of annoyance as defenses can be broken and Cores damaged before the player even has the time to react to where the threat is coming from. Of course, this issue is mitigated to an extent by playing in multiplayer and having everyone keep an eye on a Core, which speaks to another of the game’s strengths.
War can be changed
There is a lot of room to tailor your experience in HYPERCHARGE, both in terms of ways to play and customization. For those who enjoy fighting alone, Rambo-style, the game can be played in single-player, but those looking to squad up can not only play the game locally with friends, but online too. This flexibility in design is matched by flexibility in options and rules as well, as there are a lot settings to tweak and alternate control schemes to mess around with, including gyro aiming, which ought to be a staple of all Switch shooters. The game likewise features a robust suite of customizations for both appearance and loadout, and plenty of new defenses and maps to unlock as well.
This does raise one other issue with the game, though, as a lot of unlockables are gated behind rank and medal based achievements. On one hand, requiring the player score highly on preceding maps to unlock new locations and defenses does offer great incentive to improve and become further proficient with the game’s mechanics. On the other hand, though, it does artificially slow down progression, and I found myself having to replay earlier maps over and over just to see the next location that the game had to offer. Parceling out maps more organically simply as completion rewards and locking weapons or aesthetic customizations behind rank proficiency would’ve made progression more satisfying, while still rewarding the player for being skilled at the game.
Even considering my frustration with the game’s progression system and its few other issues, HYPERCHARGE: Unboxed is certainly one of the most robust and polished shooters on the eShop. Boasting a well-realized aesthetic and tactile, solid mechanics, I see this being a game that develops a healthy online community. Two of its maps are labeled as coming soon, and with any luck Digital Cybercherries will continue to grow and improve this title in the months to come. Considering the strength of the base game, DLC will only sweeten the deal and make this title even more compelling than it is now. With the dearth of co-op shooters on Nintendo Switch, this is a fantastic addition to the library and a title that I can easily and emphatically recommend to fans of the genre.
- Fantastic presentation
- Compelling mechanics
- Great map design
- Plenty of customization options
- Limited room for tactical experimentation
- Sorely lacking a mini-map
- Artificially slow progression
While HYPERCHARGE: Unboxed isn’t devoid of flaws, its few issues do little to hold the game back from being one of the most polished and interesting shooters on Nintendo Switch.