Ready your FrankerZ emotes. This one might be the run.
HoPiKo takes the idea of a platformer and boils it down to its most basic form. There’s no running and jumping here—jumping is the only thing you can do. How you jump is the interesting part though. There are two jumps: the first is a quick jump that sends you straight up (relative to where your feet are), and the second is a slower jump that goes in whatever direction you flick the analog stick. If you wanted to you could play through the entire game with just the slower jump, and that would theoretically be a lot safer. But speedy play depends on knowing which jump to use at a given moment. To get through levels as quickly as possible, you’ll want to use the quick jump whenever it’s viable, but sometimes you’ll want to use the flick jump creatively to skip parts of the level as well.
HoPiKo’s 250 levels are strung together in groups of five called consoles, and you have to clear an entire console on one life. If you die on the fourth level of a console, you’ll have to go back to the first level and try again. At first glance, this can seem pretty frustrating since you’ll end up replaying a lot of content you’ve already cleared, but with each replay you’ll start to get better at the stage. You’ll optimize your path through the level as you learn exactly when to jump to skip over an obstacle, and sometimes you’ll accidentally stumble upon a new path that feels like it wasn’t intended by the developers and will make the stage go even faster. As you struggle on later stages in a console, your time spent in earlier stages will get even shorter. This makes HoPiKo particularly unique because it’s imitating a style of gameplay that is often self-imposed: playing HoPiKo is like practicing a speedrun.
Given that HoPiKo first released on PC over two years ago, I’m actually shocked it’s never appeared at a major speedrunning marathon. Developer Laser Dog has so perfectly captured the trial and error loop of speed gaming that I imagine they must have spent a lot of time watching live streams of runners grinding out world record attempts of their favorite games. An optional speedrun mode lets you string together ten consoles and attempt a full run of 50 levels in a culmination of everything you’ve learned up to that point. If you’re feeling brave, you can really put your skills to the test with a hardcore mode that features no checkpoints at all across a full, 50-level world.
Unfortunately, HoPiKo isn’t totally free of issues. While zipping around a level with the analog flick can be really fun, it can also be really inconsistent. Full 360 degree aiming isn’t easy on the Joy-Con analog stick, and sometimes the controller would register my thumb trying to move back into a resting position instead of the direction I was trying to jump towards, sending me flying away from my target. Playing with the Pro Controller’s more robust sticks tended to be much easier, though there would still be the occasional tough angle. On top of that, the consoles would vary in length a bit too much. While most consoles start with shorter levels that make it less frustrating to reset after a death, there was the occasional console that had five long levels, making each attempt drag on. Since those tended to be the most difficult levels, there were times I’d be stuck on a console for over half an hour only to clear the following console in less than a minute. A more even difficulty spread would’ve helped the pacing a lot.
Despite a few hiccups, HoPiKo is still an incredible game. It’s a pure test of mechanical skill set to a breathtaking chiptune soundtrack, and while that may not be for everyone it is absolutely for me. Playing each level over and over until I had mastered the quickest path through it was insanely fun, and I can see myself coming back to this one to beat my best times again and again.