Indie sidescrolling platformers have become a staple of the industry since games like Braid and Fez took off years ago, and now a small group of developers have collaborated to produce Hiiro, the latest downloadable title in the genre. Where they’ve set out to differentiate from many games is coming up with gameplay that values exploration and discovery above difficulty and complicated mechanics. While the finished product is not without issues, gamers who find that promise appealing may have some fun with it.
The minimalist plot sees our nameless red protagonist setting out to help his dying home in the sky by collecting magical yellow cubes strewn throughout the world, and that’s basically the gist of it. Again, Hiiro has been pitched as more of a relaxing experience than in-depth or stressful, and that applies to the dialog-free wraparound story.
I’ll get my biggest complaint out of the way right now: The game is not visually appealing. It’s apparently going for a minimalist style to go along with the previously mentioned overall approach to the game, but the abundance of environmental elements that are shaded one flat color and sporting jagged edges gives the impression of a quick MS Paint doodle. It doesn’t help that the game’s native resolution is pretty tiny on most modern displays, and while there’s an option to go fullscreen, the graphics don’t properly upscale, resulting in a very blurry look when blown up.
Thankfully, the actual gameplay of Hiiro is more pleasant to deal with. The game provides a large, connected overworld for players to freely explore. Think Metroid or Castlevania, only with certain areas locked via hidden keys and items rather than abilities and weapons. Indeed, there’s no need for the latter here, as you won’t encounter enemies or hazards, and can’t get hurt or killed, though there are still generous auto-saving checkpoints.
The running and jumping controls are basic, but thankfully still responsive, though I noticed my character would always slide forward slightly on icy terrain even when falling straight down onto it. You can also use an action button when near specific context-sensitive objects, ranging mostly from switches to doors during the environmental puzzles throughout the adventure.
The game’s world is fairly big, and thankfully packs some good variety in each area’s environments and gimmicks. You might find yourself lowering chains over floating islands for an easy way back up, flicking switches that control powerful air currents in a temple, or activating some machinery in a mine. It’s straightforward in a way that makes the game a good introduction to younger gamers unfamiliar with conventional platformers, but still has enough to give veterans some entertainment.
The caveat of the world’s decent size is that the game feels in desperate need of a quick travel system, especially since the map display is overly basic and vague. The map is nice enough to give hints on cube locations in areas you’ve previously visited, but backtracking to get to some of them is the least enjoyable part of the game for sure.
You can beat Hiiro in a handful of hours if you know what you’re doing, but its brevity is easy to swallow, considering its asking price of only $3 on Steam. The developers certainly weren’t trying to make a flashy epic, and they were thankfully generous enough to not overprice a basic but enjoyable game. The soothing ambient soundtrack also adds to the overall laidback feel in a positive way.
Despite some sloppy visual work and reliance on backtracking, Hiiro‘s still a decent game overall for those interested in the likes of laidback, exploratory platformers like Fez and Journey. It’s not going to take the indie gaming scene by storm, but it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to. If you’re up for playing a game that revolves around poking around rather than frenetic action, there’s some fun to be had here.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
Despite some iffy visuals and tedious backtracking, Hiiro's calm gameplay and atmosphere, combined with a low asking price, results in an accessible adventure for platformer fans.