Hippocampus: Dark Fantasy Adventure is the tale of Lord Moebius who in order to once again see his beloved Lorelei, has used a powerful hallucinogen in order to make his memories more vivid, and, much more terrifying. Sword or axe in hand to fight the horrors within, you’ll be running and jumping your way through various puzzles as you work your way through the various challenges that lay before you.
Taking it from the top, Hippocampus visually brought about a sense of nostalgia from the PS2 era of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. It’s atmospherically dark, the colors blend together to create a heaviness to the shadows, and our protagonist isn’t wearing much in the bright color department. From the premise to the visuals, everything had been laid out for one hell of an adventure especially when there was a promise of heavy combat almost looking like Devil May Cry and some puzzles to go along for the ride. Sadly though, while all of the legwork was there, the execution is where things suffer.
From a technical perspective, I think Richard (who was over from out of town and visiting) can attest that I was getting visually mad especially with the combat sequences and the falling physics to jump off of certain spheres in order to solve certain puzzles. Hippocampus comes with so many great ideas, but the execution of them felt flawed. Starting with combat, you can either attack, power up attacks, or dodge. Attacking is easy and you just swing and it does little bits of damage. Powering up can almost instantly destroy enemies, but it comes at a huge cost, your memory / life bar. Loading up for a boost and that bar will shrink so fast if you don’t hit and defeat an enemy that it’s often better to simply attack normally and dodge if there are a few enemies on screen.
Now, this doesn’t sound like much, but at the current point in time, you can often find yourself dead before even knowing that you are. Powering up lasted a bit longer, the enemies hits registered a bit later, dead and respawn at the last checkpoint. Add-in that a lot of enemies hit very hard and can one-shot you in the first place? You’ve really got to “git gud” Dark Souls wise and fast otherwise you won’t make it far. Only upping the ante is that some enemies have nasty range so when four spawn and they refuse to seperate? You almost have to race to their spawn point, power attack the worst of them quickly, and then play the cat and mouse game for a little bit until you can finally clear them all out.
The other factor that works against a smooth gameplay experience are the physics in place for moving, jumping and falling. Moving around on the ground is fine but Moebius never seems to land where you want him to. The puzzles are well designed, but often you almost have to luck out in order to get them done. For example, a lot of puzzles require you to jump off of the ledge and onto a glowing sphere. These spheres can do one of the following. Blue shoots you upwards, green shoots you forwards and yellow creates a platform that lasts for a limited amount of time that you need to land on and use to run to another orb. Great in concept and I loved all of the ideas behind it, however, actually landing on these orbs properly is an artform to itself and often I just didn’t have it.
This is where the physics were off. If you fall off a ledge, you can move just too far to the right, or the left, behind or in front of an orb too easily. Landing where you want, your timing has to be almost spot on otherwise you’ll often not get to jump as far as you want to. Just tweaking this alone would go a long way to smooth the experience over because flying across a room at a fast speed and having to time your jump is already hard enough without having to worry about the more minute details of it all. Finally, whenever there’s a jump upwards, the camera skews to the side and it makes it harder to keep track of where you’re going in a vertigo kind of fashion.
Everything above all said and done though, including all of the frustrations, there’s a hidden gem underneath that just needs to be polished in order to truly make it shine. The puzzle format which is what you’ll be spending most of your time doing when not in combat is clever in some subtle ways. It makes you have to think both inside of the current box that you find yourself in, and, slightly outside of that box as you need to remember that it’s possible to double jump from an orb that you yourself have if you put it “down” while up in the air. So yes, I got frustrated, but it was more from not being able to do what it looked like I should be able to do smoothly instead of hte harder time that I was presented with.