The twin-stick shooter genre is one of the most overcrowded currently, exceeded only by pixel-art dungeon crawlers. Launching at a rate of around three or four a month, at least on the Switch eShop, it’s certainly beneficial to have a few unique elements to stand out from the crowd. This is where HyperParasite excels – it’s one of the freshest takes on the genre around.

Rather than control a jacked-up super solider or laser-spewing spacecraft, you play as the titular interstellar organism – an ominous blue blob able to body snatch citizens. Without a human host, the blob is weak, although not entirely defenceless. By switching bodies, they can transform into policemen, firemen, ninjas, crime bosses and countless more to utilize their abilities. These include a surprisingly wide range of melee and projectiles attacks, some more beneficial than others in different circumstances. Taking a melee character into a boss battle isn’t best advised, for instance.

The size of the character roster is genuinely impressive – each stage has around twenty citizens to brain snatch, unique to that area. Human hosts essentially act as lives as every time you leap into a new body, the health bar is restored. They also double-up as the enemy roster, handily. Everyone on the gritty streets, from shopping-trolley shoving hobos to bandana-wearing wrestlers, is out to destroy the blob. Their motivation? A hefty cash pay-out from the president.

To stop you from constantly swapping from host to host, ergo having a limitless amount of lives, the city’s ill-fated citizens must be unlocked first. The bottom rung meat bags are generally weak – it isn’t until randomly encountering ‘elites’ and snatching their brains that the character pool starts to populate, with each new character requiring an outlay using the money found in breakable objects. The more characters available, the better the chance of clearing a stage. Some can be seriously time-consuming to unlock, the ‘80s pop-culture inspired mini-bosses included.

It takes a while to get into the swing of things. We went into HyperParasite hoping to simply shoot our way to victory but soon discovered progression is much more methodical. The bosses put up a good fight, rendering the starting characters from each stage pretty much useless. This forces you to grind for cash to build up the roster, hoping that one will have vastly improved stats or an attack that causes hefty damage. You’ll soon learn to bank your cash at the in-game store – ran by a scruffy alien-loving weirdo – before attempting a boss. Fail to do so, and that last run will be for nothing.

Being a roguelike, each run is different from the last. This includes the starting character, stage layout, and items available at the store. The level algorithm is robust, with dead ends and closed off corridors relatively few. Some locations have a set-piece – including turrets that activate if you fail to kill a certain enemy quick enough – while the rest are mostly square rooms with explosives scattered about, simply tasking you with killing everyone to progress. Backtracking is kept to a minimum thanks to the map having a warp ability – something we foolishly overlooked early on.

If you don’t keep on top of investing cash into new recruits, progression can be slow and frustrating. It can take a dozen attempts to learn the bosses attack patterns and eventually emerge victorious, experimenting with different citizens along the way. Eventually, though, you’ll have a ‘breakout’ moment and finally gain a character that gives a serious advantage. Reaching a new stage for the first time and encountering an all-new cast of misfits is genuinely exciting. Being mobbed by enemies or dying during a boss battle while waiting for a capable host, less so.

The game’s presentation is an equally mixed bag. The 2D pixel art used during the intro and cut-scenes looks great and is full of personality, but in-game it’s a bit scruffy and low-res. Characters have comic-book-style outlines, similar to cel-shading. This should complement the bright colour palette, but due to the diminutive size of the character models, the lines overlap and look messy. This doesn’t damper the general atmosphere – inspired by ‘80s dystopian future movies – too much thankfully. Despite some well-worn puns, the pop culture references also manage to raise a grin.

Unlike its titular anti-hero, HyperParasite isn’t wholly consuming. It’s a game of fits and starts, joyous victories and crushing lows. While this is par for the course for most roguelikes – roll the dice and see what you get – more refined shooting mechanics and less chaotic boss battles would have made for a smoother ride. HyperParasite’s grind isn’t too gruelling, however, and once it gets under your skin it provides an itch that’s satisfying to scratch.

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