Updated: Apr 8, 2020
One of Us
One of my go-to movies to watch on a snowy winter's eve is John Carpenter's The Thing. The concept is just so terrifying: a group of people trapped in the middle of nowhere, and one of them is secretly an ancient alien organism, hell-bent on the destruction of the human race. The music, the blood-testing scene, those epic beards – all parts of an amazing horror flick. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to play the PS2 game; although I hear it's pretty good.
Now, if we were to turn the tables on this plot, look at things from the alien's point of view, and up the silliness level a bit, then we'd have a game like Hyper Parasite on the Nintendo Switch. This game puts you in the shoes – well, tentacles – of a blob-like alien creature. The goal of this creature is to make its way to the President, possess him, and set off a nuclear explosion, wiping out all of humanity. But it has a long way to go, and won't get very far without being detected (you know, being an alien and all). So it has to take over human host bodies and, using their abilities, take down anyone who tries to stand in its way.
That sums up the plot. The first time you boot up Hyper Parasite, the distinctively 80's-era aesthetics and music immediately kick in, and you are thrown into a pretty detailed tutorial on how to play. Hyper Parasite is a rogue-lite, top-down shooter. You go from randomized room to randomized room, taking out waves of enemies before moving on to the next room. You then take out all those enemies, and so on until you reach a boss room. Old-school gamers can compare it to Smash TV, while those of you who are newer to gaming would find similarities in Enter the Gungeon or The Binding of Isaac.
Each stage has its own specific host bodies that you can take over, but they can only be unlocked if you kill one and they randomly drop their brain. Yes, you heard that right. Once you get their brain it follows you throughout the level until you reach a store owned by another parasite. The DNA you collect from the brain allows you to possess that character; otherwise you'll see a lock above their head and you can't possess them. The goal is to use each host body's primary and secondary attacks to make your way through the level. The character variety is very deep; from melee to gun characters, explosive experts and even mini-bosses; you'll spend a lot of time and runthroughs unlocking them all.
And the variety doesn't stop with the characters. There are also power-ups you can purchase, which can grant you more powerful melee abilities, fire damage, or increased defense. You can also find upgrade stations that will power up your attack or defense abilities, or give your parasite an extra life. It's a very difficult decision whether or not to sacrifice power for that extra life; because you KNOW you're gonna need it!
The music in the game is very enjoyable, and also serves a purpose. Once you enter a room and the wave of enemies starts, the music picks up. And when you've successfully completed a level, it slows down. Aside from the thumpy techno soundtrack, there's a lot to enjoy in Hyper Parasite. Most importantly, the “just once more” aspect of the game is the best part of the game. With each Game Over screen, you'll find yourself saying “OK, next time I'm going to do this differently.” With each death and retry, you'll get just a bit further and further, which only adds to the replay factor.
And speaking of “game over,” the death screen is very original and funny. Instead of a traditional Game Over screen, you are treated to a spinning newspaper that shows the “hero of the day” as the character that killed you. It's a cute way to tell you to try again. Hyper Parasite also has some great throwbacks to 80's pop culture. You'll face off against characters inspired by such 80's movies as Rocky, Teen Wolf, and Big Trouble in Little China. And yes, I even saw a They Live-esque poster hanging on a wall. Nice touch.
I'm going to be completely honest - this is one tough game. You're going to be playing through each level and getting a LOT of 'Game Overs' before you can make it through successfully. If you're easily frustrated, then this may put you off. But those who put in the time and dedication will definitely reap the rewards. Just be ready for a ton of controller-throwing moments. Another concern was that some of the enemies are near-impossible to beat. Once you start the 2nd level, and so on, the enemies are all locked. This means if you lose your host body, you can't grab another one and it's a super-quick end to your run. There's also a mini-boss that refills a good portion of their health every few seconds, so unless you're vigilant, expect a really tough fight.
Also, there's not a lot of direction or explanation as to the different aspects of the game (power-ups, host bodies, etc). Sure, there's a tutorial, but I've been confused as to what the different power-ups do when you collect them. I would have loved to see some kind of digital instruction manual in the game –having an NES-style manual to thumb through would really go well with the game's vibe.