By Max-Vader and Andrew Erickson
Let me tell you about Homestuck.
Actually no, let’s not do that. For better or for worse, Homestuck is something you don’t so much get explained to you as it is something you just experience. I mean, how would you even begin to unravel a story to someone who has never read it where the author literally physically appears in it and at one point pushes two screens together at an exact distance in order to enable the main characters to travel said distance at light speed in three years so that they can go from their doomed universe to a rebooted version of it with alternate teenage versions of their caretakers in order to win at the most overcomplicated videogame this side of NetHack and create a new universe that is also a giant frog?
If this is still making too much sense for you, I’d recommend reading the comic yourself. If nothing else, it’s pretty unique, though some characters are massive faggots in both senses of the word. Anyway, Hiveswap. It still feels surreal that it has even come out, given how troubled the production was (we’ll get into that later). Funded to the tune of 2.5 million dollars (seriously) back in 2012, it is a throwback to old adventure games and serves as a prequel to Homestuck. As to how accessible it is for people who aren’t familiar with Homestuck I’m the wrong person to ask, because I know more about this comic and it’s insane fandom than any reasonable human being should. Therefore, I’ll pass that question off to the other writer of this article about a game based on a webcomic funded by people with more money than sense. And I guess by that token, this also counts as an Andrew in Steamland article.
I’m Andrew, and I don’t know what a Homestuck is, aside from the secondhand knowledge I picked up from the period where it was inescapable on the internet. There are some kids who play a video game, which somehow leads to a war for the universe against a dog, a cyborg, some leprechauns, a fish lady, and a billiards monster with the mind of a child. Somehow this involves trolls, which are aliens custom-tailored to appeal to mentally ill teenage girls on Tumblr. I don’t know.
Anyway, my initial impression of Hiveswap, based purely off of the title, was that it must be some kind of disgusting bee porn. And while at least one of the game’s artists would agree with me, it’s actually a Homestuck prequel point-and-click adventure that got split into four acts sometime during production, with another four-act game in the works that will tell the story in parallel, from another perspective.
Would you believe me if I said that Hiveswap is actually incredibly straightforward in its structure and presentation? Maybe Hussie’s mellowed out in his old age, or, this being Act 1, the insanity simply has yet to ramp up to baseline Homestuck levels. Either way, the story opens on Earth, c. the mid-90s. Our protagonist is Joey Claire, an ordinary teenager with a love for tap-dancing and a suspicious amount of Bubsy memorabilia. It’s a lovely little nostalgia bubble of a setting, right up until monsters crash her mansion and start trying to eat her and her little brother Jude.
I think this video game just turned into a JonTron review.
Interestingly, unlike in most adventure games, trying to use or combine incompatible things won’t just result in the character shaking their head but instead have their own little scenarios or additional lines, which are often puns or jokes. While the puzzles tend to be on the easier side, I still find this to be infinitely preferable to variants of “try to hunt a single pixel” or typical adventure game moon logic in the vein of “get hair from this cat to make a fake mustache even though your fake ID does not feature a mustache”. Actually, while I’m busy shitting on old adventure games – and believe me, they deserve all the shit they can possibly get – that brings me to the topic I alluded to earlier. I should add that I am not claiming that any of these things are necessarily true. I’m merely presenting you the rumors I’ve heard.
So, why did it take so long for this game to come out, and in parts, no less? After all, other Kickstarters have done much more much faster and with much less (see A Hat in Time, if you can get through the sea of loli porn of the protagonist). Well, aside from simple inexperience in game making, the studio they hired to produce this thing supposedly dragged their feet for a while, then used some technicality in the contract to run away with most of the money and used it to make King’s Quest 2015. Seriously. If that story is even remotely true, this game coming out is practically a small miracle in itself. Even more astonishing though is the fact that it’s good. Oh, did we let the cat out of the bag? Yeah, this game is good.
It’s even more impressive considering that, after being left with no money and no studio, Andrew Hussie repurposed his merch distribution team into a game studio. Hiveswap is the debut title of What Pumpkin, with a little help from a guy who goes by Dril. And the result is surprisingly good for a debut effort. I add that caveat because while I enjoyed Hiveswap for its endearing character interactions, high-energy soundtrack (co-composed by Toby Fox, who for the first time in his life didn’t slip a “Megalovania” cover into the OST), and the fact that any item can be used with any other item or interactive bit of scenery for some unique text, there isn’t very much of it. Even taking your time and combing the game for every joke and aside, it won’t last more than three or four hours.
Surely the pogs will resolve this somehow.
But hey, if I judged games just by how long they are, all I’d ever play is JRPGs. Regardless of how much time it takes to beat Hiveswap, the game’s funny and engaging. Which is good, considering that, like most point-and-click games, it has very little in the way of traditional gameplay. The closest it comes is the occasional RPG-style battle against one of the monsters rampaging around Joey’s home, but I’m not sure if it’s possible to lose in these segments. Cuphead this is not. Neither are the puzzles especially taxing, and there isn’t a single “Sorry, but you talked to the wrong NPC three hours ago and the game is now unwinnable” moment.
Mao Troll Tung
The unfortunate part is that, in the absence of notable gameplay features, it’s difficult to actually describe the game’s content without either spoiling the story or turning the review into a highlight reel of our favorite jokes. If you enjoy quirky humor and can tolerate a bit of rebellious teen bullshit, then Hiveswap will draw you in and occasionally throw a rib-crushingly funny joke at you. Of course, there’s no payoff for the story or any of the characters’ arcs yet, so I can’t blame anyone who wants to wait and see where this goes. At any rate, it’s made me at least consider reading Homestuck beyond the bits where Jack flips the fuck out, which is probably a good sign.
Even though this game is indeed good, whether you enjoy it or not will largely depend on your tolerance for anything Homestuck-related. If you already have a seething hatred of it, whether it be because of the comic itself, the obnoxious fans, or other reasons, this probably won’t be the thing to turn you into a true believer. Of course, this review was written for people who either aren’t fans of Homestuck or never heard of it, because those who are hardcore fans have already bought this game anyway. So yeah, in summary, if the concept of Homestuck doesn’t turn you off completely, you’ll probably like this game because it’s good.
Resting Homestuck face.