Three years ago, a visually-charming puzzle game called Hiveswap: Act 1 was released on Steam, and was well-received enough to leave fans curious for more. Between then and now, What Pumpkin Games have put out small projects in the form of Hiveswap Friendsim (a friendship simulator that was made to tease supporting characters due to debut in Hiveswap Act 2) and Pesterquest (a continuation that crosses into the story of Homestuck, the comic everything spawned from).
Throughout its slow development, the fans were given a glimpse of what to expect from Hiveswap: Act 2 and it looked to be promising. But was this game worth the three-year wait?
The story picks off where Hiveswap: Act 1 ended, with main character Joey Claire riding into the outskirts of an alien neighbourhood with a blaze of destruction behind her. Act 2’s title screen comes with a ‘Recap’ button, which is perfect for when you’re playing the sequel to a game that came out three years ago. If you’ve played and beaten Act 1, you can even import your save file to make your new playthrough feel more connected to the previous.
Your goal is to make your way back to Earth. However, due to complications, it will require seeking distant help and boarding a train filled to the brim with a most unusual cast of characters from every walk of life. Along the way, you’ll be treated to insight on a society where blood colour dictates your worth in an ever-expanding empire. You’ll be acquainted with aliens from many diverse backgrounds, from dramatic assassins to stereotypical otaku. And religious clowns. You know you’re in for a treat when religious alien clowns are involved.
Both Hiveswap: Act 1 and Act 2 are point-and-click adventure games, so what you see is what you get when it comes to gameplay. You’ll be able to switch between the human Joey and the alien Xefros, who are each equipped with separate abilities to help you overcome whatever obstacle happens to be in your way. On top of that, there are several unique minigames key to your progression that make things more interesting and pad out the overall playtime. One minigame has since been removed due to complaints regarding player accessibility.
The main focus, however, has to be the amount of interactivity. Every area has something to look at or someone to talk to, with items in your inventory offering special responses at times. Even when there isn’t much to do, the backgrounds have a strong visual appeal. Background characters who exist only to fill the scene have personality despite the player being unable to interact with them in any way.
Just like last time, the soundtrack for Hiveswap: Act 2 was composed by duo James Roach and Toby Fox with additional tracks by Clark Powell. The music sets the mood well in whatever situation you find yourself in, from waking up in the wilderness to fighting on a train. It’s certainly one of the high points for Act 2.
However, no game is without its flaws. A good chunk of playtime involves reading through blocks upon blocks of dialogue between the main and supporting characters. Some characters say so much in a single textbox that it can be daunting, whether it be a long-winded answer to a simple question with little to no punctuation throughout or a critique on your taste in culture that includes footnotes inside of footnotes. The option to just skip through it is there, but it will ultimately result in having a loose grasp on what kind of character you’re talking to.
The story is, for lack of a better phrase, filled with padding. Attempting to get off the train takes up half the game as what should be such a simple objective is dragged out and linear, for the most part.
Each train car has a problem and requires different tasks in order for you to progress, such as participating in a court trial that pays homage to the Ace Attorney series with its structure, music and an alien version of the iconic “TAKE THAT!” and “OBJECTION!”. However, this mingame is anything but ‘mini’. Before you can proceed, you’ll need to conduct a thorough investigation and question every character until there is no new dialogue. The trial itself is the worst offender when it comes to characters giving block upon block of text, with your opposition taking up a majority of the overall word count and the screen flashing for dramatic effect, so proceed with caution if you’re sensitive to flashing lights.
Although the game has a hint function that you may want to use, be warned: the hint button only works with Joey and can be selective with its information. If you’re looking for a casual game to sink several hours into then I’m afraid you’ll have to do a lot of trial and error in your playthrough. Unless you’re using a guide, you’ll need to be extremely thorough and exhaust every possible option until the obvious solution hits you in the face with the force of a baseball bat, especially if you want to earn every achievement.
Hiveswap’s second instalment successfully builds upon the original with more interactions between characters and its worldbuilding, though much of the gameplay becomes repetitive thanks to the back-and-forth fetch quests and tasks requiring a ludicrous amount of trial and error. But at least you’ll have sweet melodies of James, Toby and Clark to keep you entertained throughout.
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After three years of development, Act 2 is just fine. Hopefully the next instalment is stronger and will come earlier than 2023, but we’ll have to wait and see.
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