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Hyper Light Breaker hands-on: I'm here for the hoverboard

The new game from Heart Machine hits Steam Early Access this summer.

Heart Machine

Hyper Light Breaker is a hoverboard sim. Technically, it’s a third-person roguelite adventure set in a luminous fantasy-cyberpunk universe, but after playing a 30-minute preview, it’s clear to me that Hyper Light Breaker is all about the hoverboard. Vicious beasts, secret alcoves and shiny weapons are secondary to the feeling of gliding over green hills and shallow waters on my glowing blue slab, finding joy in narrowly avoiding enemy encounters.

Intentionally skipping battles was probably the opposite of what lead animator Chris Bullock wanted me to do during the first public hands-on opportunity with Hyper Light Breaker — but if that were the case, then he shouldn’t have told me about the hoverboard.

Hyper Light Breaker
Hyper Light Breaker (Heart Machine)

Hyper Light Breaker is set to go live in early access on Steam this summer, complete with three-player online co-op. Developers at Heart Machine are letting people play it for the first time at Day of the Devs: San Francisco Edition, which is held in conjunction with GDC this week. I played a remote preview of the game at home, solo style, while Bullock watched on Discord (and probably cringed a whole lot).

Breaker is an open-world game with a hub station called the Cursed Outpost, a futuristic strip mall with shops, upgrade stations and NPCs. I briefly explored the outpost, but the bulk of the game plays out in the Overgrowth, a landscape of ever-shifting biomes, and I focused on diving into these. Biomes in the Overgrowth are built with hand-crafted and procedurally generated elements so that players will never enter the same realm twice, and each one has a boss to defeat called a Crown. Despite my desire to peacefully hoverboard through the half-hour demo, I messed around with two loadouts, took out a few slime hordes and twice tried to slay one of those Crowns — a huge bipedal wolf warrior with a golden sword named Dro.

In both of my battles with Dro, she started attacking instantly and with incredible force, swinging her blade wildly as she leapt in a giant arc across a temple and directly onto my head. I dodged and attempted to fill up her stagger meter by landing basic attacks with my sword and firearm, but the wolf was relentless, especially compared with the basic enemies I easily dispatched around the biome.

Hyper Light Breaker
Hyper Light Breaker (Heart Machine)

Dro defeated me twice. At the end of each fight, I heard the game’s siren song luring me in, making me believe I could beat the big bad wolf next time, if I just employed an updated strategy. Parrying was key in this fight, according to Bullock.

“Her first opening attack, you immediately went for the parry on that,” Bullock said as I prepared to fight the boss again. “I love that you picked that up right away; that was the intention on that one.”

The parry had been an accident on my part, but I’d immediately noticed how effective it was, giving me a half-second at the very beginning of the encounter to step back and strategize. What I’d experienced with the parry was a fury attack, Bullock explained. Some beasts in Hyper Light Breaker glow red and then perform big moves that have to be perfectly parried in order to cancel out the damage, reverse a projectile or stun the enemy. With a fury attack, a non-perfect parry will mitigate some damage only.

“That is definitely the design goal, to make the combat clear, know when you're doing something well,” Bullock said.

These moments of tactical clarity are exactly what makes a roguelike or roguelite addictive. I can see how to beat the boss; now I just have to get good enough at the game to implement those moves before I'm killed.

Hyper Light Breaker
Hyper Light Breaker (Heart Machine)

There’s no dialogue in Hyper Light Breaker, much like its predecessor, Hyper Light Drifter. Drifter was an incredibly stylish 2D action RPG that came out in 2016 after a few years of crowdfunding and significant hype, and it solidified Heart Machine’s reputation as a stellar indie studio. Hyper Light Breaker is technically a prequel to Drifter, since it's set 15 years before the events of that game.

Drifter co-designer Teddy Dief went on to found Team OFK and release the musical visual novel We Are OFK, while lead developer Alx Preston stuck with Heart Machine and released Solar Ash in 2021. Much like Breaker, Solar Ash is set in the same general universe as Hyper Light Drifter, but it’s a vastly different game and it’s not a direct sequel. Solar Ash is a third-person action platformer built around an incredibly satisfying glide-step mechanic, and its world is filled with alien environments, massive monsters and vaguely threatening deities.

Hyper Light was a way for me to get started, it was a way for me to be more grounded and put together a crew and understand, can I do this? Can I actually make games?” Preston told me in 2021, during the lead-up to Solar Ash’s release. “And so having answered that question, then the natural next step for me was something in 3D. Can I put something out there that really opens up the world and makes you feel like you can truly escape into something, a creation that is otherworldly, that you otherwise wouldn't have the experience of? A lot of my childhood was spent escaping into those bigger experiences.”

Hyper Light Breaker
Hyper Light Breaker (Heart Machine)

Breaker feels like the perfect amalgamation of Hyper Light Drifter and Solar Ash. Replace the Solar Ash ice skates with a hoverboard, add some friends and you’re set. Developers at Heart Machine plan to keep Hyper Light Breaker in early access for about a year, though they noted that this timeline might change with player feedback.

The full release of Hyper Light Breaker will support up to three players in online co-op, and it will have a handful of characters to choose from, each with customizable loadouts. I tried out a basic, slashy blade and a hefty buster sword, plus a standard rifle and a shotgun-type firearm, and they each performed well, though I ran out of ammo quickly and often. The heavy sword was slower than the simple blade, but it moved smoothly and hit hard. In the Cursed Outpost before loading up a new biome, I was also able to select four abilities called Holobytes from about a dozen options, such as increased armor or faster healing. My favorite trait was the blooming corpse seed, which planted an exploding AOE flower on the bodies of slain enemies.

But once Bullock told me that hoverboarding was an option, it was all I wanted to do. I spent a good chunk of my Hyper Light Breaker demo time gliding along the bright green grass, landing small jumps and occasionally falling into a pond. I’m still itching to find Dro again and fine-tune my parrying abilities across a range of weapons (and corpse flowers). Mostly though, I’ll be dreaming of that bright blue board until Hyper Light Breaker hits early access this summer.