Every year, without fail, quality games simply fall through the cracks. It’s the nature of the industry. Large AAA titles soak up the public’s attention, and whatever scraps remain are split between hundreds of other efforts. Such was the fate that befell Hob back when it originally came out in 2017. Despite critical praise, it was lost in the shuffle of a hectic fall schedule. However, the late Runic Games’ swan song has been given a second chance with the arrival of The Definitive Edition on the Switch.
The world of Hob is one cloaked in mystery. From the start, you are thrown into a world of beautiful color and splendor that has been ruined by someone or something. This disgusting, purple-goo substance even manages to infect our nameless-hero. However, a robotic friend sacrifices a bit of their own body in order to ensure our survival. Patched-up and good to go, the red-cloaked protagonist heads out on an adventure to clean up this rampant corruption.
If it seems like I’m being vague with that description, it’s because I am. That’s only because the title itself is also pretty vague about what’s going on. There is no dialogue, no text, and pretty much nothing to go on for what’s the deal with the world of the game. Any information or history you get from it will only be gleaned from visual cues and character animations. I don’t hate this approach to story-telling, but it does make it harder to get invested. When it can be so easily ignored, you start to wonder why you’re doing any of the things you are doing.
Your time in Hob will be spent exploring the vast open wilderness, solving puzzles and killing baddies as you go. The world is a cross between mechanized and natural, which apparently means that everything is operated with switches and levers. In order to get it all back to normal, you’ll have to pull a variety of switches and levers. As you cleanse the land around you, the more dangerous and deadly the adventure becomes.
The highlights of the title generally come from uncovering more and more of this mysterious world. It’s a fascinating place to take in, and discovering different regions never gets old. As mentioned, the way to do this is by deciphering the mechanics of how everything operates. Much like the story, you are given little help when it comes to working out these puzzles. That just makes it all the more satisfying when you do stumble upon a solution. Nothing in the game ever felt too difficult to solve, but it still feels nice to get through something with as little guidance as possible.
Working in Hob’s favor is how interconnected everything feels. There’s a decent amount of backtracking during your quest, but since you are always working to progress forward, it never feels out of place. Whether it’s using new powers to reach a previously off-limits area or being able to activate a switch that was previously non-functional, there’s almost always something new for you to do. Besides being good for making progress, it’s also fun to go back into previously conquered locations in order to suss out the title’s many secrets. I’m not typically one for doing so, but I found myself spending more time than needed doing that here.
If there’s a weak point in the title’s gameplay, though, it’s arguably the combat. Our scarlet-cloaked hero has two main ways of attacking enemies. A chiseled, if slightly archaic, looking sword and the robotic appendage that replaced his actual arm. Both can be upgraded through finding pieces hidden around the world. The combat is not particularly challenging, but it feels both dull and unrefined. There’s a noticeable lack of variety in the engine. The further you progress in the story, the more bored you are to likely get from every encounter. Even the few special abilities you can get, such as a damage-dealing dash, can’t spice up the action enough. At least Runic Games decided to mostly focus on the parts of the game that actually worked well.
Since the original developer went under a few years back, port specialists Panic Button Games handled the move to the Switch. I’m not familiar with the original release, so I’ll take their word on the assorted quality of life improvements added for this release. I do wonder how Hob originally ran upon release, though, as this iteration is far from perfect. Bouts of lag in both docked and un-docked modes was a frequent issue, even with the less than impressive graphics. I also experienced a couple of hard crashes, times when my character would get stuck in objects and extremely noticeable pop-up. Even the camera, which is claimed to be improved, is far from ideal. It’s certainly possible this is an improved release, but it’s certainly not without issue.
While playing through Hob: The Definitive Edition I couldn’t help but feel sad. Not because I was having a bad time. Quite the opposite in fact, as I largely enjoyed my time with the title. No, I felt sad that Runic Games would never get the chance to improve upon the solid foundation here. There are elements I really love about this, such as the intriguing world and tightly-designed puzzles. However, there are almost as many areas where improvements could be made. It’s a shame that this will probably be the best version we will get, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.
This review was based on the Nintendo Switch version of the title, which we were provided with.
Design and technical issues aside, Hob: The Definitive Edition is a solid little dungeon crawler that will hopefully find a new, more appreciative audience on the Nintendo Switch.