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Hyperbolic Ignition (PC) artwork

Hyperbolic Ignition (PC) review

"Not terrible, but terribly pointless"

Shoot-em-ups are in general are a dying breed. (Although, they’ve been dying a slow death for decades now, so you really could say that they’re still going strong -- it’s a matter of perspective.) Of the subgenres beneath the shooter umbrella, the ‘multidirectional’ ilk is the least prolific and the least celebrated, as well as the type with which I have the least experience. Sure, I’ve dabbled with Super Stardust HD and Geometry Wars, but I’m no expert. I'd like to think that makes me open-minded and easily impressed where these games are concerned. And yet... Hyperbolic Ignition is woefully unimpressive by any conceivable measure.

But there should be an inherent excitement involved with controlling a spaceship that careens about, unbridled in its forward motion until you change direction with the left stick and the ship snaps about on its axis, you firing frantically all the while. You going from trying to shake tails to facing down what was after you head-on like some interstellar high stakes game of chicken. But it’s hard to get right, and Ignition doesn't. And the game looking as drab as it does made it incumbent on the developers to make it play well. It’s catastrophic that it doesn’t.

I played Ignition immediately upon its release and had my thoughts in order right away. Here was a stripped down, bland reminder of 1989’s Thunder Force II and that game’s poorly received overhead levels. To be clear: a wholly inferior cardboard shadow of a shooter which was the nadir of its own canon back in the late eighties. But Ignition’s developers updated their title twice since it came out, and the end result is that the game is worse off for it.

We are offered four missions to be carried out in the inky blackness of outer space (there's no real story behind the action), and each of the four levels provide as their only distinguishing landmark, four teleportation circles, ostensibly to assist you in escaping the clutches of pursuing enemy ships. (In my experience, though, pursuing enemy ships would happily and easily pursue me right through the teleporters and continue their dogged chase right up my arse.)

Anyway, bash enough enemies or stay alive for enough time -- I’m not sure which -- and a boss will announce its arrival. Bosses are large and appropriately, do a ton of damage. Once one has been dispatched, you are compelled to fly to a fifth teleportation circle in the centre of your map where you are whisked off to the next level, which looks pretty much like the one you just left behind.

In the opening stage, you’ll fly around aimlessly, picking a fight with coloured prongs that tumble across your bow or stern. In later levels, you won’t need to do the fight-picking; the alien spacecraft will chase you down mercilessly and your ship will reveal just how deplorably inadequate it is in those moments.

The idea, of course, is to make an educated about face and it’s into the breach once more, slipping enemies and projectiles alike. That’s the idea. The reality is, there's a ton coming at you, and foes, missiles and debris will all register as overwhelming and indiscriminate noise which is difficult to penetrate safely. It’s better to run away. So thank god that the developers thought to equip your flimsy ship with the bomb.

In addition to your initial pea-shooter, you’ve got a secondary shot , shield, and the aforementioned bomb. Each is mapped to its own face button and limited by a fast emptying gauge. The secondary shot is a crimson, phallic burst of death by default, but can be swapped for any number of power up pick ups you come across in play. Despite how cool that all sounds, I found it mostly worthless. The shield, for as long as it lasts, is invaluable when you are forced into an enemy swarm, but the real game-saver was the bomb. Drop one behind you and leave widespread destruction in your wake, like Super Mario Kart’s banana peel, if it were charged with hellfire.

I found that the best way for dealing with Ignition’s challenges was to strategically and determinedly round up as many pursuers as possible through clever, winding maneuvers, before hitting a flat out straightaway and dropping your bomb for maximum carnage. Playing this way, Ignition was playable, if fleetingly. You could eke out some modicum of fun wiping out chasing enemies before it all got repetitive and you shut it down until the next time you felt the itch for this particular brand of mindless shooting, if that itch ever returned at all.

You’ll note there was a lot of past tense in that last paragraph. And that’s because, while the bomb was limited by the charge meter -- like everything else -- you could drop several before bottoming out and having to wait the short time it took for the refill.

Two updates later, and in all their wisdom, the developers have nerfed the bomb.

They’ve undermined its capabilities to the degree that it is now only useful as an absolute last resort. The meter that drives it now only permits a single drop, taking an appreciable amount of time before allowing a second to follow it. The change has forced you to meet your enemies head on nearly all the time. As a result, entanglements are consistently flirtations with death. Perhaps this is what the developers really had in mind; this may have been more akin to their original vision, so I applaud them for making a bold change towards realizing that vision. As long as they realize that that vision will not likely be shared with many.

Ignition is fundamentally flawed -- nerfing the bombs shouldn’t kill the ‘joy’ the way that it does. The game wants you to fearlessly enter the fray but your papier mâché ship doesn’t cooperate. You could be having a record run, and it won’t take much for any and all success, and your entire vitality bar, to be extinguished in a second. The difficulty of tracking projectiles and enemy craft both, even as the explosions you're creating add to the confusion, leads to adopting the coward’s approach. It’s most prudent to play carefully, rounding up foes and bombing them to death and with that option gone, we are left to hurtle into the devil’s maw, arming the shield at just the right moments, and hoping for the best.

Hyperbolic Ignition began its life as a small, relatively uninteresting multi-directional shooter with low production values and marginal playability in its original state. It was always dull and difficult to progress in, with its underwhelming enemies and monotonous “score,” and no compelling reason to endure any of it. But the bomb helped make the black sky, relentless enemy bits and pieces, and suicide strafing runs nominally palatable.

There was a BOMB here before. It’s gone now.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (March 25, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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honestgamer posted March 25, 2018:

I've played a number of shooters where the bomb had an over-sized role. And I would gain a stock of three more when my ship crashed, so eventually I could bomb my way through a level. I'm better at shooters now, and no longer have to do that so often, but I can understand easily how a bomb can make an otherwise unmanageable game less tedious.

This game looks like Every Extend Extra, in the screenshots, and yet it's clear it doesn't have any sort of interesting dynamic to make it work when it looks so bland. I've enjoyed shooters others haven't (like Darius Twin) just because they were so much fun to look at while I was dodging bullets. A black background and a bunch of boring lights that don't amount to anything hardly seems enticing.

By the way, I really liked this sentence: "Drop one behind you and leave widespread destruction in your wake, like Super Mario Kart’s banana peel, if it were charged with hellfire." You had a number of great sentences throughout, but that one really summed up the power a bomb could have in the game... and makes me mourn its nerfing.
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Masters posted March 26, 2018:

Thanks for reading, Jason. Glad you could relate.

Also, I share your enjoyment of Darius Twin. It's more fun than a lot of Darius games, and it's a two-player shooter! Not many of those, then, or now.
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EmP posted August 09, 2018:

I came back because I felt it important you knew that I totally got that Silent Hill reference. I forget if I mentioned that the first time around.
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Masters posted August 09, 2018:

Ha, nice, I'm glad you appreciated it. How the hell did it come to mind months later?

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