Hylics

In "Hylics," the player runs through a hazy pixelated collage of drawn-over clay while fuzz guitar plays, fighting the occasional nonthreatening enemy by angrily snapping their fingers at them. And yes, the animation is fluid. 

WayForward. What can you say about them? They exist at the more modest end of the strange zone between AAA and independent business practices that reviewers like to dubiously refer to as “double-A,” yet they hold a lot more niche clout than most of their contemporaries.

Known for their continuing “Shantae” and “Mighty” franchises (the “Mighty Switch Force” sub-series in particular) as well as their many licensed works, they’re something of an anomaly to me. On the one hand, WayForward’s projects are popular, release frequently (they put out three games a year at a minimum), and tend to display a good degree of creative passion; on the other, their insane schedules, crowded original IPs, obsession with motion-tweening for original projects, and often rote design can lead to less than stellar results.

I say all this because most of these aspects are present in the 2015 remake of 2008’s “LIT,” which is available on Steam and iOS. I’ll come out and say it right now: “LIT” is the definition of mediocrity. Not mediocre for lack of effort, and not mediocre by the current standard in the games industry, but mediocre as judged by what mediocrity should be. As a puzzle game, its central mechanic of controlling light sources feels tired in practice, as the whole game is placed on a grid and darkness merely denotes walled-off tiles. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult or unique, and the entire game can be completed in less than 30 minutes by a competent player. The visuals are simplistic and vibrant, but the sound effects and music are as stock as it gets.

At the price of $6, “LIT” is a decent enough time-waster to fill out an afternoon, but it’s surprising how little is there given the team of over two dozen developers that made it.

It turns out that the version of “LIT” I played through is actually a slapdash de-make of the much-more-interesting WiiWare version, which was in full 3D, had much more fleshed-out lighting mechanics, was almost twice as long, contained several aspects of survival horror, and is now forever lost to time. This explains why the Steam version is so incongruous with what I remember of the original marketing — the tone was completely changed.

“Hylics” comes from a long-running tradition of RPGMaker games that make no sense. “Yume Nikki,” “OFF” and “Sluggish Morss” are probably the best examples of this, showing how the focus the RPGMaker engine places on audiovisual over technical creativity has led to its fair share of surrealist opuses (although the influence of “EarthBound” on the RPGMaker community is also a component of this phenomenon).

In “Hylics,” battles are normal while nothing else is. The player runs through a hazy pixelated collage of drawn-over clay while fuzz guitar plays, fighting the occasional nonthreatening enemy by angrily snapping their fingers at them. Text is randomly generated, animations are fluid, and avoid the ambulant skulls. It’s been well-documented that the game is actually about the Gnostic concept of “hylics,” people completely bound to matter and material things.

The player has to go on a quest collecting items to upgrade their characters and fight the final boss. Some examples include using a trashcan as a shield and toilet paper as armor. Meat is used to increase maximum health. Televisions teach you magic. Multiple cool vehicles are needed to progress, including a boat, a plane, and a rocket. If you die, the main character’s face melts off. Juice boxes and burritos are important in battle. The protagonist tends to squish things at random. One party member is obsessed with the paper cups you need to get mana upgrades from water coolers. There is a room with a device in it that literally turns people into money, and more than a few over-the-top text snippets (“There is a stick of dynamite in the box! Of course you take it!”) hint at kleptomaniacal tendencies in the hero.

The whole game seems to be “about” material desire and need, a delirious obsession with getting things and getting things done. Is it worth $3? Yes. Is it longer and much more interesting than “LIT”’s remake on visual, auditory, and interactive fronts? Also yes.

Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer.

If You Play

Platform: PC, Mac, Linux, (Hylics and LIT), iOS, Android (LIT),

Price: $2.99 (Hylics), $5.99 (LIT)

Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 136 MB (Hylics), 100 MB (LIT)

ESRB Rating: N/A but would likely be T (Hylics), E10+ (LIT)

Release Date: Oct. 2, 2015 (Hylics); Feb. 9, 2009 (LIT, original); Oct. 29, 2015 (LIT, remake)

Genre (if applicable): RPG (Hylics), Puzzle (LIT)

Developer: Mason Lindroth (Hylics), WayForward Technologies (LIT)

Challenge: Low (Hylics, LIT)

Novelty: Moderate (Hylics), Low (LIT)

Polish: Heavy (Hylics), Low (LIT)