By Nicole Prieto | Staff Writer
Homestuck fans rejoice: After five long years and a few unexpected delays, Hiveswap: Act 1 finally released on Sept. 14.
It is 1994. Spunky teen Joey Claire and her younger brother, Jude Harley, are just enjoying a fall afternoon with their dog — until they are beset by a hungry serpentine monster that chases them around their yard. With Joey trapped in her bedroom, Jude in his treehouse and their poor pet cowering in her doghouse, the siblings have to find a way out of this mess, as more monstrosities pop out of the woodwork.
Hiveswap is the anticipated companion game to hit web comic Homestuck, which concluded on April 13, 2016, after a seven-year run. The game first made waves in 2012 with its highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Not only was the campaign goal of $700,000 met in just a couple days, but contributions hit over $2.4 million over 28 days. According to PCGamesN, Hiveswap became the fifth ever Kickstarter campaign to reach seven figures.
One of the top features of this point-and-click adventure is its approachability. Players do not need to have read Homestuck to become immersed in the HS universe’s various eccentricities. Given that the web comic is notorious for its massive length, this is a blessing. Newcomers are seamlessly introduced to characters’ color-coded typing quirks and to some of the convoluted, linguistic mashups of the trolls’ alien language.
Creator Andrew Hussie’s signature self-referential, deadpan humor oozes out of every dialogue box that pops up. Spoiler, but once you figure out Joey’s battery conundrum, for instance, the game tells you: “[P]utting batteries in a thing isn’t technically ‘solving a puzzle,’ you suppose. It is just overcoming a minor inconvenience, that you created yourself, using mundane, widely available modern technology.”
Of course, the game is also loaded with references that returning HS readers will likely appreciate more than newcomers. Joey and Jude’s babysitter is a familiar face, and old fans may have a disappointingly less flattering impression of “Pa” after seeing him from Joey’s perspective. As the episodes are released, fandom faithful are likely to key in on how Joey and Jude’s adventures with their troll counterparts fit in amongst Homestuck’s convoluted timeline shenanigans, especially given the heavily “hinted” return of one of the comic’s star antagonists.
With respect to gameplay, the puzzles are fun enough, if not as challenging or intricate as they could be. As mentioned above, one of the first tasks requires Joey to fiddle around with her belongings before she can find an appropriate set of batteries for her walkie-talkie. The remaining puzzles do not deviate far from that model. (Though, there are a few extra challenges when you solve door codes Alternia-side.)
Monster “strife” battles throughout the Half-Harley Manor serve both as puzzles themselves and as unusual throwbacks to ’90s pop culture. Flashing lines of text give Joey hints about whether she should try to abscond or use unusual items on a monster to defeat it. While not immediately intuitive, it is a step up from mindlessly hitting an attack button. All-in-all, it only takes about three hours to blow through a first-time run just solving the main puzzles, engaging in mandatory strifing and looking at everything at least once.
This is an homage to point-and-click games, however, and Hiveswap makes up for the short canonical game-time by loading the adventure with innumerable item combinations that reward players with optional dialogue boxes. Trying to use batteries on some of Joey’s books, for example, will earn you the reprimand: “Books don’t need batteries! They run on the power of the IMAGINATION! Which means your imagination has to work a triple-shift to make a book anywhere near as fun as something that does need batteries.” On a more serious note, other combos give disarmingly sad revelations about Joey and Jude’s home life (or lack thereof) with their parents; the game is not shy about reinforcing how much Joey misses her mother, A. Claire, and how much she resents her chronically absent father.
After moving production in-house with What Pumpkin Games in 2014, the game-to-be eventually switched from Myst-esque 3D models to a lushly illustrated 2D style. This ended up being a fortuitous move. The end result is that Hiveswap is downright gorgeous. From the Half-Harley Manor to troll Xefros Tritoh’s hive, each scene and viewpoint angle is unique and loaded with detail. Interactive items blend in with rich scenery, and players are encouraged to click on just about anything to learn about characters’ hobbies and quirks. There is just a right amount of animated background elements that give urgency to Joey’s tasks, reminding players that danger is afoot. Combined with a catchy music score, Hiveswap is a 10/10 for atmosphere.
The game’s biggest thorn is that some players have experienced glitches with the cut scenes, which may freeze or not play out entirely. This is a problem for a game that relies entirely on moving its story with its visuals. Hopefully, this will be addressed by What Pumpkin in the near future. In the meantime, PC players may need to adjust their game or computer settings in the hopes of landing on solutions that work for their particular machines. Update: According to Hiveswap’s support page, What Pumpkin released Patch v1.1, which should address this issue. What Pumpkin advises players to “check that [they have] downloaded the latest version of the game.”
Despite this unusual glitch, What Pumpkin has put out an impressive debut episode with an engaging story and beautiful artwork to match. Hiveswap is set to have three more episodes and a companion series, Hauntswitch. There is no word on the upcoming release dates, but players certainly have a lot to look forward to.