Dec 21 2013
Simple but surprisingly challenging, Hoplite delivers an incredibly replayable experience while managing to stay fresh every time.
Hoplite is a great example of how unassuming packaging backed up by solid mechanics and rewarding gameplay can all combine to make a simple game into something I can’t stop myself from coming back to over and over again. The game does everything right, from balanced AI to achievements that actually reward you with something tangible.
The game has you playing as a single Greek hoplite soldier moving through the depths of the underworld and fighting off demons so that you can save the golden fleece. You’re placed on a hex-tile grid and can only move one tile at a time, although every move you make is followed by every single enemy on the grid moving one hex as well. Pretty simple so far.
There are four enemy types, each with specific ways to attack you. Some are long range, some short, some throw bombs and some just hack at you from one tile away. You really have to think about where your next move is going to take you if you want to survive.
There are a number of ways to kill enemies but learning those moves will probably be the hardest part of getting into the game. You can jump over or into enemies to kill them as well as slide beside them or just throw your lance to gut one. The game gets especially difficult when you realize that you can’t do all your attacks when your lance is lying on the ground so half the game is just planning out when and where to throw your lance and wondering whether or not it’s worth it to just play the short-range game instead.
“It forced me to try out new approaches and really helped me appreciate the game as a well-rounded experience.”
The game really opens up when you start unlocking and using the multitude of powerups available to you. Killing enemies or finishing the game under certain conditions will grant you the ability learn new powers throughout your run with one chance to get a new power per depth (i.e. per grid).
The powers range from the ever-present chance to get a bigger life bar all the way to being able to sweep your shield in a full circle around you to bash away bombs and enemies. Since you can only get one power per depth, you really learn what your play style is and how you typically approach enemies. I personally went for an early health boost then try to get shield bash and lance powerups so I could easily distance myself from opponents as well as take out a potentially-pesky wizard that keeps avoiding me.
If there’s one thing that keeps the gameplay fresh and interesting it would be the powerups. Every game is different since you only have four powerup options available to you on each grid and they’re not always the same. Sometimes I had to compromise and take a jumping powerup because my precious lance upgrade wasn’t available. This forced me to try out new approaches and really helped me appreciate the game as a well-rounded experience.
On top of all of this great gameplay, the game doesn’t even end when you get to depth 16 and pick up the fleece. No, you can keep playing for what seems like forever and just keep racking up points by killing enemies (or slipping past them). However, if you don’t return the fleece to the altar after you pick it up–read: if you die first–you don’t get the coveted crown next to your score and you lose out on some points as well.
I loved the risk involved with continuing on after picking up the fleece. Naturally, the first time I picked it up, I went straight to the altar and got my first real high score. But the next few times I tried to push my luck and, much to my chagrin, I failed spectacularly at making a splash on my personal high score board.
The reason this mechanic of “you win but not if you’re greedy for points” is so genius is because it challenged me to keep playing a game even after I had ostensibly beat the entire thing. Even though I still haven’t beat Spelunky, I know that once I get to the end, it’s just over. I love Spelunky, mind you, but I think Hoplite is definitely on to something here.
“Hoplite is a great way to kill ten or twenty minutes (or hours, if you’re one of those annoying people who take a half hour to play one turn in Scrabble).”
If I had to make a complaint, I would say that the aesthetic of the game wasn’t particularly exciting. Staring at the same grey tiles over and over gets a little repetitive and I eventually shut the music off entirely because it really doesn’t get much better as the one gothic song plays over and over again.
Still, the character sprites are detailed and you yourself look majestic as all hell. Hoplite has a definite Final Fantasy look to it, with eyes looking out from the depths of a helmet and relevant weapons protruding from each sprite. Even though I’m not really one for the retro pixel-art look, this one didn’t bother me too much and I soon found myself ignoring it entirely.
Hoplite is a great way to kill ten or twenty minutes (or hours, if you’re one of those annoying people who take a half hour to play one turn in Scrabble). Either way, it’s definitely worth the time. From varied gameplay to tons of unlockable achievements and powers, this mobile game will definitely not be deleted from my phone any time soon.
+ MAJOR: very replayable due to smooth gameplay
+ MAJOR: achievements keep things fresh
+ MINOR: higher scores earned by taking risks
– MINOR: environment design is lacklustre
Flipped Stomach is Mikael Raheem. He writes a lot of stuff, from fiction to game reviews to feature articles to bathroom stall phone numbers. You can find more of his work at flippedstomach.com or follow him on twitter: @flippedstomach.