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Maybe Your Best Course Would Be to Hoplitely

December 27, 2014

Things that go Hop in the Lite

As a mobile game, the title “Hoplite” doesn’t immediately call to mind the spearmen of Ancient Greece, instead sounding a bit like the free trial of a cheap Hopscotch knockoff with numbers upwards of 4 locked behind a paywall. Hoplite is a bit like hopscotch, come to think of it, only rather than numbered squares, you have a hex-grid, and in place of childhood laughter and frivolity, you have a spectacular turn-based strategy game. So.

It might not look like much, but it's got a lot of spear-it

It’s the only mobile game to ever come close to scratching what can only be described as the “Spelunky itch” – it sounds like a rude rash, but it’s actually a desire for a randomly generated game (thus infinitely playable) with clear rules, interesting systems, and utterly predictable consequences. In Spelunky it’s learning the movement of the bats, the timing of the bombs, the terror of the Temple Priests. In Hoplite, it’s knowing how many hexes will take you out of an archer’s range, or learning the difference in distance between a Bash and a Mighty Bash when you’re hoping to nudge a bomb explodingly towards a demon sorcerer.

Where Spelunky has shops with jetpacks and shotguns and climbing gloves (the holy trinity), Hoplite has an altar on every floor. On your journey to rescue the Golden Fleece on the 16th floor, you choose a prayer at each altar, granting basic abilities like a longer jump or a faster cooldown on your shield bash, or more advanced ones, where three kills in a row grants you a nifty bonus or some such.

And as is the fashion in today’s post-Souls world, it’s ruggedly and punishingly fair. Rush a move, and you’ll miss an enemy’s angle of attack, losing a precious heart. It never obfuscates: you can tap an enemy to see exactly where and how far he’s aiming, and holding down on a potential move will show you exactly whom you’ll attack and whom you’ll ignore.

But, as anyone who’s played Spelunky knows, predictable consequences don’t lead to predictable games. Because all the necessary information is always at hand, most levels start with you feeling in control, manipulating enemies into the right positions, or nimbly manoeuvring yourself betwixt sightlines. But before you know it, it becomes a matter of damage limitation – when every possible move lands you in trouble, you have to figure out which is the least damaging.

See? Fair. But you’re human. You’ll slip. Concentration will lapse, and you’ll suffer. You’ll do something stupid. And you’ll kick yourself, and do better next time. I’m crap at it sometimes, and you will be too. You live, you learn. You love, you learn. And I recommend trying this game, free, to anyone, I certainly do.

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