HopBound is an insanely tough horror platformer for the discerning masochist.
A few years ago, when perusing the App Store, I happened upon a little game called Dere Evil Exe, a viciously difficult platformer with a creepy story and some terrifying visuals. Darius Guerrero, the gentlemen behind this, and a number of other games in the series, has released a new game in the form of HopBound — a nice, friendly, endless runner game that has absolutely nothing horrific in it at all…
I want to try and avoid going into too much of the story here, as there are a few twists along the way, but suffice to say, you begin by playing HopBound, a 2D endless runner in which your character leaps from building to building, trying to get as far as possible each run. If you’ve ever played Canabalt, it feels a bit like that. You jump from rooftop to rooftop, occasionally crashing through windows and running through a building interior, using your double-jump and ability to shoot to survive as long as possible.
You’ll shoot genuinely horrible monsters as you go that are far more unsettling than they should be for something with such a retro aesthetic, all whilst the gaps between buildings become more difficult to navigate. The distance alone isn’t always the challenge, thanks to a double jump which is there to assist you, but there are often obstacles along the way that make some jumps seem impossible. Rotating spikes, exploding enemies, and other obstacles will block the way and make things very tricky.
Now, if you’ve played anything from this developer before, you’ll probably be able to guess that things aren’t quite what they seem in HopBound. You’d be right on that count, and the endless runner aspect hides something significantly more, and there are checkpointed levels that deviate from what has come before. Things get brutally tough as you go on, to the point with this being nigh-on a ‘rage game’ — games that tend to lead to players rage quitting due to the difficulty. In Darius Guerrero’s games, there’s often a purpose to this that ties into the plot, so it’s worth persevering to find out what’s going on. There were points at which I thought I wouldn’t be able to get any further, especially towards the end. Often it turned out I needed to rethink the route I was trying to take before perfecting the timing. It’s often incredibly tough, but rarely unfair.
That isn’t to say you won’t be killed out of nowhere. There are no tutorials here, and you are regularly taught through being utterly blindsided. Nearly everything will kill you instantly, and it’s not uncommon for something to happen so suddenly that you don’t stand a chance. The checkpoints are near enough to these moments that it’s rarely a frustration, and you can progress again with your new knowledge ensuring you won’t get caught out by something similar again. As I say, incredibly tough, but rarely unfair.
This being a horror game at heart, you’ll see some pretty unsettling enemies as well as some creepy moments during scenes that occur as you go. There are some dark themes in HopBound, with some characters you’ll come across from time to time who have some unsettling moments when they converse with you. I’d have liked a few more of these characters, as the ones that appear are interesting and another one or two would have added a touch more to the world. I’ll refrain from going into more detail here, as the plot often surrounds these characters.
The visuals and music really do help sell the unsettling atmosphere. The black, white and green colour palette in the levels evoke a retro style but it somehow makes the monsters that appear feel all the more unsettling. There is another visual style that gets used here, but I’d rather avoid discussing that for the sake of spoilers. The music is also well used, changing styles at appropriate moments to punctuate what’s going on on-screen. The sound effects are used very well, and lead to genuine jump scares when boss monsters leap out at you. It’s worth noting that the atmosphere really adds to this, and those jump scares wouldn’t catch you out nearly as much if not for that.
The main game took me about two hours to play through, at which point an utterly evil bonus chapter unlocked that will test the mettle of even the most seasoned platform aficionado. I will note here that I played this on PC, meaning I was able to use a keyboard which I feel made it slightly easier. Having played the previous games on mobile, I’m aware that a touch screen can make these sort of games quite tough, so be warned that the challenge may vary somewhat depending on your platform of choice.
I had a great time playing through HopBound, and I’m keen to see what other horrors the developer will bring in future games. This is an absurdly challenging, creepy platformer that is well worth a playthrough thanks to the story and surprises that crop up along the way. I’ll see you on the leaderboards! Or in hell, whichever comes first…