Five years ago a Kickstarter for a “Homestuck Adventure Game” raised $2.5 million and had people asking: “What the hell is Homestuck?”
Except for me. I was deep into the world of this webcomic and ready to play.
This review was conducted using a free review code of the retail game from the publisher.
I had backed the Kickstarter for what would become Hiveswap back in 2012, but it was perpetually in production and had few reports on progress. Work on the game slowed updates to the comic it was based on. Eventually, both the game and comic both fell off my radar.
Then I found out developer What Pumpkin finally finished the title, a point-and-click adventure game in the world of Homestuck. I finished the last ~200 pages of the 8,000 page webcomic to prepare for re-entry into the fandom. That’s where I was when I loaded up Hiveswap’s first episode: Kansas City Shuffle.
Soon I played a cute kid named Joey, clicking through her room to find a walkie talkie. The room is covered in junk from the nineties, which is appropriate, because the year on my calendar is 1994. There are stickers and glowing stars everywhere and I see neon-pastel, Lisa Frank-style posters on the walls. It’s as clean as her room ever gets: clutter shoved to the walls so there’s open space in the middle.
Monsters separate Joey from her brother, Jude, who’s trapped in a tree house. Her goal is to get to the safety of the attic, but first she must find the key. Play switches between characters as Jude lends Joey a hand from afar. After Joey stumbles through a portal into Alternia, she finds a tablet and talks with Xefros, who we then play as after they talk. He is a telekinetic troll,, and he helps her to get home while searching for his friend who vanished mysteriously. Joey and Xefros work together remotely, messaging back and forth until near the end of the act.
Gameplay in Hiveswap is the typical ‘“find a thing and maybe combine stuff to get to the next area” style. I enjoyed that the gameplay mechanics to reinforce its character building. Even with shadow monsters at large and guns all over the house, Joey refused to shoot them. If I tried to equip a gun, the narrator snottily told me that Joey did not do business this way. Both charming and frustrating, each mouse hover over an items reminded me I was looking to find Joey’s solution to the problem, not my own.
Hiveswap follows the rules of “show, don’t tell” by letting game actions tell the story. You have to figure out how to defeat the monsters with a flashlight because Joey is a nonviolent character. You scour for food in their own kitchen, making you wonder why Joey and her brother seem to have been neglected. Even in the game’s battles, Hiveswap keeps its characters and stories center.
In-game “battles” pull from the style seen in the Homestuck comic. Though they look like battles, they’re actually puzzles, with Joey using the weapons she’s willing to equip to defeat enemies. disposal. You can’t die in battle (I’ve tried), But I did feel like my life was on the line during the first play through. It was an interesting way to bring more of the comic to the game, while still sticking to the point-and-click adventure formula.
“Kansas City Shuffle” is only the first act of four and a good introduction to the Homestuck universe for newcomers. Even with Homestuck history aside, Hiveswap is a good game. Still, I’m frustrated that I still feel like it’s missing something. Maybe my expectations were too high for a ”good game” to meet them.
For me, Homestuck was a groundbreaking media experience. It integrated GIF panels, snarky adventure game text,colorful chat logs, epic flash animations, and even interactive games. It felt like a part of the internet itself. Homestuck was so different than other webcomics that it made picking up others difficult. Deep down, I wanted Hiveswap to have the same effect on me. I wanted it to change the way I look at games.
Exploring the environment and finding narrative elements hidden in objects builds immersion into the game. Each time I walked into a house in a Fallout game there was a quiet story I read about how the owner left it. It was in the placement of their furniture, suitcases, and sometimes their bodies, a flash fiction of game narrative. This tells you more about the characters and lends realness to the setting. When I’m playing these games, I don’t need to accomplish main story quests to feel like I’ve achieved something because getting to spend time in the setting is satisfaction enough.
I wanted to feel immersed in Hiveswap, but I just couldn’t. Hiveswap’s first episode was a good game that hit all my nostalgia buttons for Homestuck, being a kid in the nineties, and adventure games. Still, somehow, I wanted that sense of immersion from Hiveswap, too. I wanted to spend time in the world picking over items and learning more about it. After waiting nearly five years for the game to release, I wanted something epic. Kansas City Shuffle was good, but it was just too brief, too direct to get immersed in. And not knowing if the next episode will come out in a year or five years makes it hard to get excited about the rest of the story.
I had fun, but I’ll be able to load up another point-and-click adventure game just fine. With any other game I’d be okay with that. I wanted Hiveswap to change my life and consume me. I wanted that feeling of being on page 500 of 5000, of starting on an epic adventure.
I wanted something to magic away the feeling of being overwhelmed with life and instead I just got a good game for a couple hours.