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Hiveswap review

You don’t need to be a Homestuck fan to enjoy this charming point-and-click

Official background splash art.
| What Pumpkin Games, Inc.

Homestuck has attracted an air of confusion from many people.

In 2009, Andrew Hussie, who creates webcomics in “point and click adventure” format, began the journey known as Homestuck. This “comic” spanned across nine years, 8124 pages, 817,925 words, dozens of Flash videos, several albums of officially-sanctioned fan-made music, a few “games,” four hours of film and more. Though daunting, this multimedia project fostered a massive fandom-community, one as rabid for each new update as it was completely baffling to anyone outside of that culture.

In September 2012, Hussie announced a Kickstarter for Hiveswap, a video game companion to Homestuck. The campaign garnered a massive $2.4 million in funding, but it also received a healthy dose of skepticism — for its source material, for the seemingly outsized amount of funding compared to the tiny team handling it and for behind-the-scenes drama as fans waited for the game to arrive. Five years later, Hiveswap’s first of four acts is finally here. So, as a fandom adage goes, let me tell you about Hiveswap.

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Hiveswap: Act One instantly launches you into a dilemma: Joey Claire’s house is being threatened by a mysterious surge of monsters, and she needs to help her brother, Jude Harley, get these vile creatures out and away. Every playable character is also a pre-teen deeply unprepared and unequipped to handle this threat. Not that it matters, as things take a twist when Joey activates a portal against the advice of her brother.

Hiveswap isn’t afraid of showing its heart and soul, and it’s a heart and soul that lovingly, chidingly side-eyes the past. It’s not nostalgic exactly, but more appreciative of the culture that came before it. Hiveswap: Act One is a warm, sing-song culmination of Hussie’s respect for point-and-click adventure games. This admiration shines through every step of the way, from the vibes of the opening animation to the cluttered, explorable backgrounds.

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But Hiveswap also shows hilarious disrespect to the era those games grew popular in. Hiveswap takes place in 1994, but it addresses the old bits of the past in a childish but candid way, as if to yank my thin-framed, circle-shaped rose glasses off. Yes, the 90’s were cheesy, Bubsy was creepy, and it was so weird that you could get a doll of a dog that gave birth to a mystery number of puppies, and the game takes no shame in finding humor in it all. (Relax, of course there’s an X-Files reference in this game.)

Hiveswap isn’t just an empty nostalgia trip though; that culture is merely a backdrop to the curious and detailed world that the game introduces. In the first half of Act One, you’re given space to learn about cluttered and busy, yet precious mini-worlds built into what could otherwise be a mundane environment. In the house, the kids are a mess; their dad’s an adventurer who’s never home, and their babysitter’s a horrible adult figure. But this bad lifestyle allows for their home to become a treasure trove (literally and figuratively) for players to explore.

Hussie and his art team gorgeously give life to these settings, the characters and their unfortunate series of events through fantastic and varying cutscenes. The most vital cutscenes are fully animated by hand, while other moments in the game opt for expressive still shots. We even see the return of exaggerated two-frame animations, an Internet relic from both Homestuck and art/image boards. And even when the characters are drawn in a simplistic manner, the backgrounds are all stunning and well-detailed.

In a break with point-and-click tradition, Hiveswap does feature some “fights,” but you’re not really fighting anything. Called “Strifes,”, these segments act as just another type of puzzle. (MAJOR epilepsy warning for the text in these, by the way.) There are no health bars, no time limits and no way to lose, die or get sent back otherwise. It’s a confrontation that takes some trial and error to get out of, but even if you pick the wrong items, the game treats you to unique, humorous interactions.

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Unfortunately, Strifes are where the user interface becomes an issue, as the game only puts mild effort into introducing how to find your way around. Yes, Hiveswap is a relatively simple point-and-click, but it’s weighed down by a convoluted UI. For instance, the game gives you a few mild “abilities,” including “tap dance” and “ballet dance” among others. However, the acquisition of such abilities is extremely sudden, and there are specific and few uses thus far.

For all of the liveliness Hiveswap: Act One provides, the build I played was slightly glitchy. Things like the computer in Joey’s room and the closet in the same space would provide odd prompts or even none at all. Clicking on one item glitched out my game’s visuals altogether, applying an effect overlay that affected every screen I went into (even the main menu!), and I had to reset. These game-altering bugs are an irritating note on an otherwise sweet game.

With all said and done, the first act of Hiveswap took me a total of 100 minutes. If I were a slower reader, it would have likely amounted to at least two hours, which I think is a fair amount of time to spend with the game and its universe. For an introductory chapter of such a reading-heavy game, though, this felt like a perfect length.

WRAP-UP

Hiveswap: Act One is brief, but I already have a lot of hope for the world and cast introduced here. (And the music. Oh god, yes, the music.) There’s a lot to see, and anyone looking for a light-hearted adventure will have a great time. Despite its minor bugs and short length, both Homestuck devotees and those who never experienced the webcomic will find a fantastic, humorous introduction to this new pocket of an already-massive universe.

Hiveswap: Act One was reviewed using a pre-release “final” Steam download key provided by What Pumpkin Games, Inc. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.