Just like I didn't really think Homestuck would return after its first year-long break, I never really believed that Hiveswap, the game Kickstarted by the Homestuck team, would ever see the light of day. But now, Hiveswap: Act 1 has been released. It's incredible that it exists, but more than that, it is a phenomenal, heartfelt game.
Homestuck was in part inspired by point-and-click adventure games, so it fits that Hiveswap is solidly in that genre. The game follows the story of Joey Claire, a dancer and aspiring veterinarian, as her family home is overtaken by monsters.
You explore environments by pointing and clicking on things. Puzzles are mostly based around combining items you pick up to create tools to unlock doors or defeat monsters. They're just tricky enough to be challenging while also not being too obscure. These aren't puzzles for the sake of impeding the player's progress, but small hurdles that get in Joey's way that make sense in the plot and have logical solutions.
There are a few minigames, like Simon or Snake, but these diversions don't overstay their welcome. From Hiveswap's lovingly animated opening cutscene, to its incredibly catchy music, to its arch sense of humour, I had a complete blast from beginning to end.
There may be monsters, aliens and magic portals to other worlds, but at the heart of it, Hiveswap is a game about Joey and her complicated feelings about her dead mother and absentee father. It's about being a teenager and growing up, bad parenting and toxic friendships. Behind all the science fiction nonsense, there's something most people can relate to in this story.
This game is very funny -- there's an incredible gag with poorly-trained carrier pigeons that keep flying away instead of delivering their package -- but it's also quite touching.
Early on, Joey bickers with her younger brother Jude over their walkie talkies, but despite Joey making fun of Jude's weird interests, you quickly get a sense that they care for each other deeply.
Jude is a paranoid conspiracy theorist who has rigged their house with traps. He speaks formally, ending all his sentences with "over," warning Joey of the "cryptid vanguard" currently attacking their home. Joey makes fun of him but still heeds his advice. At one point Joey and Jude disagree over whether the Mulder Pog that Jude stashed in the battery compartment of Joey's flashlight is cooler than the Scully one.
The conversation ends with Jude promising Joey the Scully Pog if she makes her way to safety right away. These small interpersonal moments elevate the game from "fun romp" to affecting coming of age story. The way that the fantastical trappings give way to realistic teenage angst reminded me why I liked Homestuck in the first place.
If you're worried about whether or not you have to read all 8,000 pages of Homestuck to understand this game, don't be. There are a few references to existing characters that will intrigue fans of the series, but Hiveswap doesn't get bogged down in lore. One puzzle requires you to have a passing familiarity with a fictional alphabet from the comic, but the game gives you a cheat sheet.
Otherwise, Hiveswap does a good job explaining the things you need to know as you come across them. In the latter half, where you go to location mentioned in the comic, not really knowing what's going on is part of the point.
To say I was surprised that Hiveswap is good is an understatement. What's even more surprising is that it's good enough that I would recommend this 3 hour PC game to any and all fans of adventure games. While this is a treat for Homestuck fans, everyone will be able to get something out of its lush art and animation, catchy music and fun puzzles.
While this is only the first act of the game, which is set to come out out in instalments, it feels complete even without a narrative resolution.
Still, it'd be a shame not to return to these characters -- let's just hope it doesn't take years until we see them again.