In 2012, Andrew Hussie, creator of the cult classic Homestuck, launched a fundraising campaign for a videogame inspired by the webcomic. The campaign’s original monetary goals were shattered, as roughly $2.5 million was successfully raised for the project. Since then, the game (developed by What Pumpkin Studios) has faced delay after delay, with many fans growing impatient or outright giving up hope of ever seeing it completed. On September 14th, the wait finally ended with the release of Hiveswap: Act 1. So, is the game good, and was it worth the wait?
Hiveswap: Act 1 is the start of a new story and set to be continued in future installments. The game takes heavy influence from Homestuck in just about every capacity imaginable (graphics, plot concepts, soundtrack, writing style, etc.) but players don’t need to have read the original comic to enjoy the game. This is due largely to the way the plot unfolds. Hiveswap employs multiple first person points of view, as a handful of characters react to mysterious events and struggle to figure out what’s going on around them. The main character, Joey Claire, finds herself under attack by strange aliens, and later on gets teleported to an alien world. Not understanding everything is part of the point: players explore and try to make sense of strange phenomena as the characters do.
One of the game’s main strengths is definitely its writing. The three characters that players get to control all have unique attitudes, hobbies, and manners of speaking (even their texting styles are distinct from one another). The main standout is probably Xefros Tritoh, an alien (referred to as a troll in-game) struggling with self-esteem issues and the oppressive restrictions placed upon members of his social class. Hiveswap cuts deep on multiple occasions: from societal oppression to parental neglect to emotional abuse, the game approaches serious subject matter earnestly and emotively. That’s not to say the game is somber, though. Rather, it is endearingly flippant. No holds are barred, but they are delivered alongside witty observations and over-the-top commentary. Playing Hiveswap is a feel-good experience, even when it treads heavy ground.
Gameplay-wise, Hiveswap is unique amongst its contemporaries. It is definitely a point-and-click adventure–but that’s not a bad thing when there is an almost endless supply of things to click on. Most of the plot takes place within characters’ homes, which are filled to the brim with objects of both plot and character significance. This isn’t a game where characters’ interests are hinted at by two posters on the walls of otherwise minimalist rooms. Almost every inch of every room is filled with thought, whether items be mundane (effectively conveying a sense of realism) or outrageous (matching the game’s humorous tone and/or delivering pertinent information on troll culture).
Throughout the game, players pick up a wide assortment of items that are used in deciphering puzzles and progressing the story. One of the gameplay’s most charming aspects is that these items aren’t limited to single specific uses. Sure, the puzzles are set in terms of how one solves them, but figuring out the answers is fun in and of itself. The process of elimination in Hiveswap is seldom frustrating because even if you choose the wrong item, the game explains the implications of said choice. If you know a certain item won’t create the desired effect but still wonder what it would do, just give it a try. There aren’t many penalties to speak of in Hiveswap, so you can experiment without fear of hindering later progress.
I’ve already mentioned Hiveswap‘s well-furnished backgrounds, which are one of the game’s visual highlights. The amount of attention paid to making the game’s world feel truly lived-in is remarkable. The character sprites are rendered in a much simpler style, but it’s one that stays true to the source material while still feeling cohesive with the rest of the game. Picture an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!–relatively simple character models moved throughout beautifully painted castles and environments without feeling out-of-place. Such is the case with Hiveswap, where the disparate styles seldom clash. On the downside, the shift between gameplay and cut scenes is seldom as smooth. The transitions between the standard game and plot significant animations or still frames often feel clunky and in need of smoothing out. The problem isn’t major enough to drag down the game’s playability too much, but it’s definitely noticeable. These rough edges, along with a disappointingly short-run time, prevent the game from being as impactful as it otherwise could be.
Overall, Hiveswap: Act 1 is a very fun game and introduces a new story effectively while paying homage to its Homestuck roots. The writing throughout is fantastic, most of the artwork is well-done, and the gameplay experience is as cool as it is quirky. Unfortunately, certain rough edges (especially where transitional animations are concerned) hamper things a bit. It is also hard not to feel disappointed by the game’s short run-time. What’s present is fantastic, but just as the plot reaches a crescendo, it cuts off. Nonetheless, Hiveswap: Act 1 is a very enjoyable start to a new series, and one that I would recommend to both diehard Homestuck fans and gamers who have never read the original comic.