Hover (Switch) Review
Release Date: September 20, 2018
Publisher/Developer: Plug In Digital/Fusty Game
Platform: Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PC
In a far future world, an evil organization has deemed fun illegal. All forms of entertainment are banished. The Great Admin has cut off all communication with the Galactic Union and tyrannically oppresses the citizens of ECP17, more commonly known as "Hover City."
You are a newly-minted clone recruited by the rebellion (The Gamers) to try to overthrow The Great Admin and bring fun back. The Gamers' plan consists of running around the city in high-tech body gear allowing amazing speed, powerful jumps, and turbo grinding on rails, walls, just about everywhere. Your aim is to help the citizens in the community with general tasks, challenges, and the like, quashing the oppression of the city sabotaging propaganda and making it a better world. Your end goal is to reach the Orbital Station and reestablish contact with the Galactic Union, ending the reign of the Great Admin.
Hover wears it's homages right on it's sleeve. The cel-shaded design, grinding, running from authorities, and even spray painting drop you into the feel of Jet Grind Radio from the very first trailer. The core of the game evokes JGR very well. JGR had a difficult control scheme compared to modern free roamers, and Hover does it's best to improve on it, but it seems floaty at times. I understand that parkour would have quite the severe punishment for missing a jump, but I often found myself relying on the game's "rewind" mechanic. It touts this as a way to get past puzzles--the world doesn't rewind around you--but I see it as a necessary shoehorn in to pick back up after a fall. Without the floaty controls, it wouldn't feel so free, but until you get the hang of it you'll be falling a lot. Another key difference between Hover and Jet Grind is verticality. Hover's levels have a lot of upwards motion involved. There are tons of surfaces and haphazard obstacles to grind and parkour your way to the top and the rewind function keeps you from having to start over at square one.
Once you've created your character and done the tutorial you are dumped into the city. Here you can play online with others or go solo. If I were the dictator eliminating fun in the world I would have started by killing neon. It's everywhere, and at times this is a detriment. Too much wild color, especially cel-shaded, makes the busy world blend together. It takes a while to get used to the city.
The game seems to be a quick port over from PC and this can cause problems. Your mission objectives are loosely guided, and with the vertical nature of the game, the arrow by your character doesn't always show the fastest route. You can aim the camera in the direction of the target, but they are lightly highlighted in another neon box that blends with the rest and labeled by very tiny text. All of that screams "PC game with 4K monitor you are six inches from" instead of "console game on TV across room." Menus are big chunky buttons that you have to move a reticle onto instead of traditional button taps between. Two major actions binded together to two separate buttons, it just screams "left click" to me. I got tired of getting to an activity and "holding A to start" to have my character start shaking a spray paint can instead and I blasted my quest givers with spray tags several times. Those two actions easily could have been separated across the two buttons they're both bound to and eliminated a lot of frustration. Activating switches even involves holding a reticle over them and clicking the button very reminiscent of mouse movement. Some of these qualms are fixed in handheld mode, with full touchscreen and the tiny text being easier to see closer to your face, but the game could have benefited from a little more home-console care.
Multiplayer has been pointless on Switch, as the infrastructure for online chat isn't really there yet. I'm sure you can voice chat on other systems, but I couldn't organize anything when I went online. Online just felt like solo play with jittery framerates thanks to the lack of proper chat functions. It appears that this is a selling point of the game, as many online videos show thrilling races with multiple online gamers. It's sad to see this not well implemented on Switch, but this is more on Nintendo than the developers themselves.
The story is loose. It's told to you through text boxes with static pictures of the characters you are talking to. There's no animation in the characters or opening cutscenes to show why we should care, the game just throws you in and says "go to the checkpoint." While it is a blast getting there your quests start out as basic races, deliveries, and "Gameball," an organized sport with courts in a land where fun is banned. If I stayed on my parkour path, gameplay would be exhilarating. It's the kind of game I can get lost on my way to my destination and still have fun, like popping in Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately the generic missions make the in-between the meat of the game. The game does have upgrades to collect and a customizable skill tree, so you can make your character more unique and tailored to specific challenges before taking them online.
While I'm not a PC gamer, I feel that Hover is better at home on it's original platform. The mouse/keyboard combination would help with the interface, and likely make the floaty controls more manageable. While the parkour is well done and the environment amazingly detailed, some of the clutter could have been downgraded for the benefit of a more streamlined game experience. The verticality of levels adds to the fun of the parkour, and reaching new heights is a rewarding experience. This value-based title is definitely a thrill ride, although it may be more at home on other platforms.
-Core gameplay works! It's genuinely fun to grind around the world.
-Neon-tinged city is rich and beautiful.
-Personalizing your Gamer and making them your own is a slow but rewarding process.
-Floaty controls take time to learn and rely on the rewind button too much.
-Blatantly optimized for PC causing headaches for console gamers.
-Story is just "there" and not presented in an engaging way.
Special thanks to Plug In Digital/Fusty Games for providing a code for review!