Hellpoint – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by Cradle Games and published by tinyBuild Games, Hellpoint is an action RPG in the vein of Dark Souls with a dark sci-fi atmosphere. Take on the role of a nameless human stranded on a derelict space station, battling monsters and hellish abominations in order to uncover the mysteries surrounding the nightmare unfolding around you. This title is available on all major platforms, with cross-generation compatibility with the newest systems. Links to all versions of the game will be at the bottom of this review.

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank tinyBuild Games for providing the copy of Hellpoint that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own. Please be aware, images used are from the Hellpoint press kit and may not match the visuals of the Nintendo Switch due to hardware limitations.

Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting off with the story. I will also be discussing only the core elements of play that will be experienced within the first few hours of the game, this is to prevent spoilers or ruin any of the excitement of a blind playthrough.

Story – set in deep space, a space station called the Irid Novo has been caught in a quantum cataclysm called “The Merge”. In seconds the entire station was plunged into chaos as parallel universes collided, merging them together and bringing with it the horrors of other dimensions that have invaded the Irid Novo Station. After the cataclysmic event, a nameless being called the Spawn awakes on the station and must solve the mysteries of the Merge, battling against the abominations that stand in their way.

Gameplay – the gameplay style of Hellpoint is similar to game in the Souls series, with intense hack and slash combat, action RPG elements and hellish boss battles. The core focus of the gameplay is split between exploration and combat, pitting the player against the monsters that have been created by the cataclysm. The large space station is split into sections that the player can travel between, with checkpoints called breaches scattered throughout the Irid Novo station.

The game starts with a tutorial that teaches the player the mechanics of the game, introducing the systems that are used throughout the experience. This tutorial walks the player through all of the controls, providing simple challenges that will be faced during the story. The game teaches the player about combat and equipment by providing a set of weapons for the player to learn, along with information on the how armor, shields and other items work during progress.

There are more systems and mechanics that have a distinct “Dark Souls” feel to them that shows the inspiration provided by the games of FromSoftware. For example, the player can run, side step and dodge roll which are movements that have become synonymous with games in the Souls series. One more mechanic that is implemented in DS games and many other action RPG titles is the use of meters to manage the three vitals of Health, Stamina and Energy.

Here is the information on how each vital stat is used in the game;

  • Health – the most important stat that players must pay attention to. This shows how much damage the player can take before death, the lost health can be replenished by using the Healing Injection item. The injection is limited however and can only be refilled by hitting enemies with attacks, meaning the effective use of healing is an important for survival (other healing and restorative options exist, but I don’t want to ruin any surprises).
  • Stamina – this meter controls the capability of the player spawn to attack and defend, with each attack, dodge and jump using up the stamina meter. If the player guards attacks with a shield, then each attack will use up the players stamina, but if the meter runs out when the player attempts to guard they will be stunned and they will be unable to block.
  • Energy – the Hellpoint version of magic, being used to activate skills with weapons, firearms and special weapons called catalysts. This resource can be depleted quickly when using energy attacks and guns, with the only way to replenish the energy bar being successful attacks on enemies.

Inside the opening areas, the player will encounter several types of basic enemy that provide enough experience to get used to the mechanics of battle. This gives players the chance to practice each maneuver that they can use, allowing them to get used to the systems that will be used most during the course of the game. This includes the collection and use of Axions, a currency that is earned by defeating enemies and used for a variety of purposes, from leveling the player, upgrading gear and more.

Enemies that are defeated will also drop items when defeated, with different drop rates that depend on various hidden factors in game. The player can also collect items that are scattered around each area, some hidden in plain sight and others in more sneaky places requiring some puzzle solving skills to obtain. It is important to collect every item that can be found as the player can collect Axions as items, allowing the player to build a stockpile for later leveling and upgrades.

However, the tutorial doesn’t give enough information and details in some situations, causing difficulties that can negatively impact the overall gameplay. Unfortunately the tutorial doesn’t cover character death, which is likely to cause issues for new players. In Hellpoint if the player dies in combat or from a hazard, then all Axions are lost and the counter is reduced to zero. The Axions can be reclaimed, but there is a catch to this.

When a player loses their life, they will respawn at the last checkpoint they interacted with but a ghost will appear of the last life played before death and it will attack the player. The ghost will be using the same gear, weapons and attacks that the player was able to use before death. If the player is able to defeat the ghost they will gain bonus Axions and a Healing Injection charge. However, if the player dies at all before reclaiming their Axions from the point they died they are lost entirely.

The death and ghost mechanics aren’t explained or if they are then there is not enough detail, as I was unable to find any indication of the effects that death have on the play. This gives the impression that the developer expects players to be aware of how a “souls like” game plays, which I am unsure if this is the intent. The inspiration of dark souls and difficulty level also translates to the boss battles, pitting the player against monstrous abominations that will try to destroy them in seconds.

The boss areas are indicated by an orange glow that acts as a barrier, only allowing the player to pass if they are prepared to do so. When crossing the barrier the boss will immediately jump into action when spotting the player, assaulting them with a slew of strikes that can wipe out a health bar in seconds. Each of the encounters will have a different arena that is suited to that enemy and test the skill of the player, with success providing rewards that allow them to progress a little further in the story.

Now with the core of the gameplay covered, I want to discuss some other mechanics that the game implements during play. These will be covered in bullet points for brevity, these mechanics are as follows;

  • Breach – the checkpoints that the player uses which are scattered around the Irid Novo Station. These points are opened by interacting with them, with breach points being located behind obstacles, after bosses and at transition points between areas. The breach allows the player to affect the world and level their spawn up by spending Axions to increase all essential stats like health, stamina and energy, with equipment focused stats that effect the ability to use weapons (explained further below).
  • The Observatory – this is the safe zone/base camp where the player can upgrade weapons and craft equipment from collecting materials during exploration.
  • Weapon leveling – players are able to level the weapons that they have in their possession in a couple ways. The most common is to gain weapon experience from combat, all weapons have at least one combat milestone that will unlock new passive skills and/or weapon skills that can mix up combat.
  • Equipment Proficiency – some weapons, armor and gear have specific stat requirements that will prevent them from being used effectively. If the player doesn’t have their stats at the correct level then the equipment will be ineffective, putting the player at a disadvantage and can weaken the player if poor choices are made.
  • Crafting – crafting recipes can be found throughout the space station, which can be crafted using a dedicated section of the Observatory. Materials for crafting are obtained from enemy drops, hidden drops and by dismantling other items in the player inventory.
  • Conductor – a conductor can be attached to equipment to improve the overall quality and can also be leveled to make it stronger. The conductors can be found while exploring and also crafted in the Observatory, where the upgrade bench is also located.
  • Parallel Echos – throughout the station, hand prints can appear when connected to the internet allowing the player to get hints from others that leave them. The messages that can be left use an in game language of symbols that allow everyone to try and communicate to others regardless of language.
  • Solar Cycle – there is a clock system that changes the environments that the player encounters, strengthening enemies, providing better rewards and altering other aspects of the game. There are several instances of this clock, but I think it would be best to experience first-hand.

The last thing that I want to mention before moving on is the multiplayer aspect. There are two different multiplayer systems that can be accessed, local play and online multiplayer. I have been unable to test either of these play styles but I can provide some minor details.

The local multiplayer uses a split screen gameplay system, but for some reason I was unable to access this no matter how I tried to do it. The game says that you can do so by pressing the + (start) button on a secondary controller, although this just didn’t work. The second way to play multiplayer is to use the online service, you can place invites for others to join in order to help or use a code to jump into a PVP battle with other players. Sadly, I was unable to try this game mode either.

Now with the gameplay covered to an extent I am happy with, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the difficulty.

Difficulty – Hellpoint is a brutally tough game, with death facing the player spawn at every step. The monsters will overwhelm you, beating you down and reducing your life to nothing at any chance they get. This game also implements one of the hallmarks of a “souls like” action RPG title, the arena boss battle. These battles will test the player and they can be so tough that players could lose many times when trying to get past them, with brutal attack patterns that can decimate a full health bar in seconds.

Controls – the controls are comfortable, with easy to use button inputs that react very well in combat and during exploration. There are no issues with lag or confusion with multiple button inputs during tense encounters. I tested the game with both Joy-Con controls and a pro controller, they are both very comfortable, working well when playing the game in both docked and undocked system modes. The controller inputs can be remapped, allowing the player to set the button layout to their preferences.

Presentation – the visual style of the game is a mix of Lovecraftian horror meets Event Horizon. The Irid Novo features large sprawling spaces that give a feeling of loneliness, contrasting with dense industrial zones that feel oppressive and claustrophobic at times.  The graphics look good for being a downgraded Nintendo Switch port, with enough detail to the monsters that the player fights and the equipment that can be wielded by the spawn.

The overall quality of this port is good for the most part, however there are several flaws that can affect the gameplay experience. In game, the text and HUD elements that appear during games can be too small to read well or distinguish what is happening at times. These issues with the display and on screen text are worse when playing the game in handheld mode, which could be worse when playing on the Switch Lite system. The second issue is a fairly big problem, which is the performance of the game.

At several points during the game, the frame rate can drop hard, causing stutter and lag when there are many entities/effects on screen, leading to difficulties in the gameplay in some areas of the game. There is also an issue with hit detection at times, I am usure if this was intended or a bug, but it does negatively impact the experience during play, leading to unfair deaths often.

Unfortunately the performance requirements of the game on the Nintendo Switch can be so taxing on the system (especially in handheld mode) that it can cause the game to crash, closing the game entirely. On a positive note, I want to point out that these issues have been raised with the developers and they are trying to fix it.

The last thing to discuss is the sound which is really good, with atmospheric sounds and wonderfully orchestrated compositions that fit each environment. The best part of the soundtrack is the boss battles, with musical set pieces that give a sense of tension and intensity to these encounters. There is a unique language used for the dialogue in game, with haunting and distorted voices that add to the atmosphere with each line that is spoken in a dialect that sounds like ancient Latin.

Final Thoughts – I have very mixed feelings about Hellpoint. On one hand I am very pleased with the majority of the experience, as the gameplay is reactive and flows really smoothly most of the time. However, the performance issues unfortunately killed the excitement that I had when they occurred, as they really pulled me out of the game when the frame rate dropped or the game crashed. I do have hope that the patch the development team has promised will fix these issues in the future.

I don’t think I can recommend this game right now, but if you are a fan of Dark Souls and games that are similar to it, then I advise that you look into the game for yourself because the gameplay is solid for the most part. There is a diverse range of weaponry, enemies, bosses and environments that are very impressive from an independent studio that has done their best to bring their game to the Switch. It is just unfortunate that the limitations of the Switch and some performance issues hurt the experience.

In the end, I give Hellpoint a final score of 3.5/5. The gameplay is engaging and works well with reactive combat, intense boss battles and a haunting atmosphere that persists throughout the experience. It is just unfortunate that some issues affect the overall quality of gameplay at times, which can disrupt the flow of the game but the developer is working to fix these problems. If you want to check out the game for yourself, links to each version of the game will be below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)

Link to Xbox One version (HERE)

Link to PC/Stadia versions on official website (HERE)

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