Hyper Jam Review: Neon Knockouts

Before the days of online gaming, a multiplayer experience involved piling a group of friends together on a couch, or hauling over computer towers, monitors and a mess of cables to set up a LAN party. Nowadays, you can hop into almost any game with someone around the world in a matter of seconds to get your multiplayer fix. But, there’s something nostalgic about playing a competitive game with people in the same room, something that you just can’t get over the internet.

Hyper Jam is looking to take it old school, not just with the visuals and killer synthwave soundtrack, but with fantastic, competitive couch co-op. The team at Bit Dragon, developers of Hyper Jam, poured a lot of passion into this game, and it’s known from the moment the funky, atmospheric soundtrack hits your ears.

Hyper Jam is classified as an arena brawler, and supports up to four players, either local co-op or online. The game consists of multiple rounds where you will be punching, slicing and shooting your opponents before they do the same to you. The game ends when somebody achieves a customizable set score and then survives a final, subsequent round. The combat controls are tight, and taking down your foes has never been more satisfying.

The addition of draftable perks is what sets Hyper Jam apart from other arena brawlers. At the end of each round, scores are tallied, and everybody is ranked from highest to lowest based on their performance. The person in last place is then given a random selection of more than 15 perks to select from, ranging from more health to freezing enemies every six seconds. After everyone selects their perk, the next round commences, and continues until somebody is victorious. What makes the perk system interesting is that you have the ability to stack perks and become more powerful in one specific area, or spread them out and become a sort of jack-of-all-trades.

One issue that arose from the perk system is a sort of rubber-banding effect (seen in other competitive games such as Mario Kart) that occurs naturally by giving the person in last place the first pick during the perk draft, often leading to a somewhat level playing field. What ended up occurring in many matches was a constant leap-frogging of the individual in first place. It ensured matches lasted longer, and really gave the sense that you could come back, even from last place. But, the trade off is that you’ll never feel too overpowered, which is what this game is all about.

During combat, there are also a host of weapons that will drop during play, leading to frantic moments. Each weapon feels varied, and will require you to adjust your gameplay to be successful. For instance, the rocket launcher is powerful, but requires precise aiming to be effective, while the hammer is slow, but means you’ll need to be very close to an enemy to land a hit. The game comes down to being able to maneuver effectively around each map, avoiding obstacles and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Currently, there are six levels to choose from in Hyper Jam, each with specific obstacles, like walls, ledges or pits that one must avoid while scrambling around the map. Each level has a distinctive retro 80’s-inspired feel ranging from a lush, Miami hotel to the neon-soaked Neo-Tokyo subway. While the available levels are well-made, it would be nice to see some more variety in the aesthetic, as four out of six of them feel too similar.

There are also four playable characters in Hyper Jam, including: Yuki The Lantern, Vance The Fixer, Ghost The Nightmare, and Max The Veteran. Each character leans heavily into the 80’s retro-aesthetic as well with their design. Other than a cosmetic difference, there was no difference between the four characters, which was a bit of a letdown. It would have been nice to see some characters be faster, with a trade-off in attack power, or something along those lines to give a bit of variation to the gameplay itself.
Hyper Jam really excels in delivering fast, action-packed gameplay in a relatively short amount of time. Each round lasts about a minute or less, with matches lasting anywhere between five to ten minutes. After playing for awhile, though, there isn’t much else in the way of other game modes, and the game loses its luster.

The Good

Tight, fluid combat with a variety of different weapons will lend for hours of fun with friends or against opponents online. The perk drafting system is a unique take on the arena brawler genre, and offers a near-infinite amount of possible builds for your characters that is sure to vary your gameplay style from round-to-round. Hyper Jam is a gorgeous game, offering some of the best 80’s-inspired visuals to date, with beautifully-designed menus that are easy to navigate. The synthwave soundtrack is also fantastic throughout, featuring music from: Carpenter Brut, Dance With The Dead, Meteor and more!

The Bad

Not enough variety between the levels, with many of them looking very similar. The four playable characters feature nothing more than a cosmetic difference, which seems like a missed opportunity. Hyper Jam is also suffering from a lack of different game modes. The only options available are changing the target score, both locally and online. While the perk system is unique, consistently offering the lowest-ranked player the first choice leads to a naturally-occuring level playing field. This creates matches that feel too similar, with nobody ever at a distinct advantage, despite skill level.

Overall

Hyper Jam delivers a concentrated shot of nostalgia with its neon-colored aesthetics and ’80s-inspired synthwave soundtrack. It also simultaneously delivers a frantic, competitive combat experience, both locally and online. Matches are short enough that you can jump in and out of the game with relative ease. But, being confined to a single game mode, and an underwhelming cast of characters, Hyper Jam doesn’t feel like it’s got much to offer beyond a few, short play sessions.

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