It’s very clear Laser Dog games — and by extension, Laser Dog’s developers — have no interest in your mental well-being.
First came PUK, which pared aim-and-fling games to the bone, pitting you against a relentless ticking clock. Then ALONE… strapped a rocket booster to endless runners, finding you desperately trying to steer a tiny spaceship moving at insane speeds through narrow corridors of deadly, jagged rock. A few games of either and you’d need a little lie down.
Now HoPiKo is here to cause you to have some kind of nervous breakdown and/or hurl your device at the wall in a fit of rage. And we’d be screaming “WARNING: DO NOT DOWNLOAD THIS GAME” at every Stuff reader if only it weren’t so annoyingly compelling.
In theory, HoPiKo is a platform game, in as much as there are platforms dotted about the screen. You leap between them by dragging where you want to go and then letting go, or simply tapping to spring upwards. But really this is an intense, maddening, devious and addictive speedrun test, primarily involving going with your gut.
The premise is the world’s gaming systems have been infected by a virus, and only you can stop it. Instead of getting a bloke with a beard to install the latest Norton or McAfee, you control tiny HoPiKos that take a more hands-on approach, making death-defying flea-like leaps between lethal spikes and laser traps, before obliterating nasty game-knackering code.
Well, we say ‘death defying’, but there’s really quite a lot of not-defying death in HoPiKo. Each of a stage’s 10 runs comprises five micro levels, and everything takes place at a blistering pace. Lurk on a platform for too long and it’s likely to explode. Jump to a new safe area and dawdle for a fraction of a second and your HoPiKo will be impaled by some angry pixels. Die at any point on a run and you go right back to the start.
Exhausting & exhilarating
The entire game, then, demands a heightened state of awareness and the utmost concentration, combined with lightning-fast reactions. There’s little time to think. You must use your instincts. On seeing a new screen for the first time, you must figure out how to tackle it immediately.
You’ll feel like an abject failure for finishing a run of five levels in a ‘sluggish’ 20 seconds. It’s exhausting. It’s cruel. It’s infuriating. But on those occasions where you hold your breath, tap, swipe, and majestically reach that fifth goal, somehow grabbing every bonus along the way, it’s exhilarating and glorious.
Fortunately, HoPiKo’s not so monstrous that you must complete every run before tackling the next. Several are unlocked at most points in the game, and nine from the current stage’s must be completed to unlock the next set (of which there are five in all). Skip ahead, though, and you’re likely to come a cropper when suddenly faced with new challenges your brain hasn’t yet had time to comprehend.
Still, video replays of your successes are stored, so you can at least pretend in public you’re a gaming wizard rather than a sausage-fingered buffoon; and your sobering statistics, showing you’ve a death count in the hundreds, are helpfully hidden away on the app’s title screen.