Hyper Universe took up a sizable portion of the show floor at PAX South 2017. After playing the game it more than earned its prominent spot at the front of the expo hall.
Hyper Universe is a colorful, side-scrolling MOBA developed by Korean designers Cwavesoft and published by Nexon. MOBAs, those Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas have exploded in popularity thanks to popular esports games like League of Legends and DOTA 2. MOBAs now come in all shapes and sizes. Hyper Universe carves a unique niche by combining the look and feel of a 2D platformer or fighting game spread out over a single, massive level.
“We took two very popular genres and mashed them together,” said Hyun Joo Kim, Associate Director at Nexon. “We took a MOBA and a classic 2D action game like Street Fighter. From that, chaos and fun ensues.”
The large demo map at PAX included seven layers (or lanes to use a MOBA term), with each team’s base situated at the far end of the center. The three middle layers are considered the main lanes where most team fights break out, while the outer top and bottom layers provide a chance to battle NPCs and bosses to level up and add new units to your side.
Each side has a base that must be destroyed to win the match, as well as a handful of towers that need to be taken out to push your wave of NPC allies closer to your opponent. Battling with friends on a large, multi-layered 2D map gave me fond memories of playing Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.
But make no mistake, Hyper Universe is absolutely a MOBA first. It’s 4v4 and designed to play with and against other players, though you can also play with AI bots. Matches are on the shorter side of MOBAs such as Heroes of the Storm, around 20 minutes. One of the biggest hurdles in this often non-user friendly genre are the very lengthy matches. I’m very pleased that Hyper Universe plays much faster and more chaotic than most.
A staple of the MOBA genre is a large roster of diverse heroes. In Hyper Universe they’re called Hypers and their designs are fun, silly and a bit overly sexy. “We took a lot of inspiration from iconic pop culture but we like to think that we gave our own twist to them,” said Kim. “We don’t take ourselves seriously. We have a lion wearing a shark suit, and a mongoose riding a rhinoceros while wearing knight’s armor. We aimed to be ridiculous!”
There were 12 Hypers available to play at PAX South, ranging from melee bruisers to support and direct damage. There are six classes all together: Tanker, Bruiser, Technician, Striker, Supporter and Stalker.
I played as squid captain William, a Tanker that could spew ink to blind opponents (literally blacking out portions of their screen like the Blooper in Mario Kart 8). His ultimate ability, which you acquire at level 6, summons a giant squid whose tentacles knock over anyone in the path in front of him.
I played alongside the aforementioned mongoose knight Fang as well as Dahlia, a secret agent with twin pistols and bayonets that absolutely wrecked everyone. There was Olga, a mercenary soldier with a rocket launcher and a heaving bosom and the supportive priest Chastity….who was also very well-endowed. Did I mention Dahlia was super sexed-up too? Character designs were fraught with the male gaze. Almost every female character is built like a pin-up pornstar wearing a swimsuit or less. It sort of fits their goofy over-the-top theme but it’s tiresome when every female character is the sexy version of something. In a post-Overwatch world it feels like a step backward.
Each character in a match levels up separately, to a max of 20. In the match I played everyone stayed fairly close together. Equippable items are available that you can activate and level up during a match but for the purposes of the PAX demo we had them set to auto-level.
The match was deliciously chaotic and fun. Levels were large enough that you could explore and battle NPCs in the corners, and small enough that it never took long to quickly jump back into the action after dying. Just as in other MOBAs positioning is key, with damage dealers hiding behind tanks and using NPC allies as support. Team fights were an insane symphony of colorful death, with beautiful animations operating like a modern day arcade beat ’em up or 2D fighting game.
My biggest complaint came from the controls. Hyper Universe uses a two-handed keyboard scheme. You control your hero with the arrow keys and activate abilities with a familiar Q-W-E setup. But a 2D side-scroller is begging for controller support. “We are looking into controllers, definitely,” said Kim. “A lot of people at PAX have asked for them. We’re working on it.”
Hyper Universe has been in open beta in South Korea since late last year where it launched with 30 playable Hypers. PAX South showed off alpha gameplay in English for the first time, with the beta coming soon. Currently you can register for the beta on the main website. When it launches Hyper Universe will be free-to-play and available on both Steam and Nexon’s own gaming service.