Homestuck and Hiveswap: A Reflection and Review

Note: While I normally write about visual novels, I felt like trying something a little different with this post. I hope any followers I have will still be interested in my opinions on a point-and-click game, but don’t worry if you’re not—this blog will continue to be focused on VNs in the future!

In September of 2012, I was just starting my second year of university, still relishing the relatively-newfound freedom of being a young adult, and fascinated with a work of fiction called Homestuck. Even as its plot grew increasingly absurd and hard to follow, I was still intrigued by the way Homestuck blended images, text, music, animations, and even the occasional short webgame into a long and sprawling story on the internet. So when I saw that Homestuck’s creator planned to continue expanding his fictional universe through a full-fledged video game, and that I could help with its development costs and reserve a copy with my shiny new credit card, I was happy to contribute. Five years later, my interest in digital interactive fiction is still a big part of my life—I write a blog about visual novels, for one thing—and part of that $25 investment has finally been recompensed in the form of Hiveswap: Act 1.

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I even cosplayed once. It was a strange time in my life.

I’m sure there are already a lot of articles out there about the factors that contributed to a poorly planned crowdfunding project raising almost $2.5 million only to deliver a decent but underwhelming product over three years after its originally projected release date, so I’ll just move on to my personal feelings about part 1 of Hiveswap. The biggest issue the game’s five-year development process has caused for me is that it’s been enough time for me to get over Homestuck, but not enough for me to circle back around to nostalgia. I have some fond memories of my time spent reading it, and some of the game’s mentions of older characters brought a smile to my face, but that momentary amusement is about it. I don’t have nearly the same level of enthusiasm as I’ve had for new works in old series I had been away from for longer—the return of Twin Peaks, for instance. The game also tries to evoke some nineties nostalgia with its setting as a prequel, but I didn’t find any of the relevant pop culture references particularly interesting either. While Hiveswap does remind me of things that were once parts of my life, I don’t find myself reacting much beyond a brief, “Huh, I remember that.”

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The nineties seems like kind of a weird decade choice for the game’s target audience too. I guess it’s half homage to classic point-and-clicks and half necessity for the prequel elements, but I was into Homestuck during its peak popularity and I wasn’t born until ‘93. Surely there must be a lot of younger fans missing half the references.

I do think Hiveswap succeeds, however, in recreating some of the better elements of Homestuck: minimalist yet expressive character art, and cute and funny dialogue that includes some good wordplay. I was especially impressed with the character of Xefros, a troll the protagonist Joey meets once she goes through a portal to the troll planet of Alternia. (Trolls live in hives, and Joey seems to have switched places with one of Xefros’ friends, which is the reason for the title.) Homestuck had something like 24 troll characters, all of whom had their own unique typing quirks, so I had wondered whether there would even be any funny ways left for new trolls to type that hadn’t been used already. But Xefros’ endlessly creative uses of the letter X—like “XXsive” to mean “excessive”—might have been my favourite part of the game’s dialogue. Interacting with Joey’s brother Jude prior to the swap was amusing as well, and the game’s short cutscenes do a lot with Joey’s facial expressions. I actually would have rather spent more time exploring the character’s relationships than solving the puzzles, which were okay but nothing really special in my opinion.

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I had to give it to him—it was a pretty good burn.

For a final comment, part 1 of Hiveswap is only a couple hours long, which may be a problem for some people. I personally enjoy short games, but even I felt that some segments could have been longer and included more challenges; the part where you play as Xefros was especially brief, and the items he obtained during it had no bearing on the rest of the episode, although I assume they’ll be relevant in part 2. Anyone who didn’t back the kickstarter and is still interested might be better off waiting until they can play the game in its entirety. Overall, while playing Hiveswap: Act 1 was an enjoyable experience, I wouldn’t necessarily rate it any higher than an okay way to spend a couple hours if you have the chance. I am still looking forward to seeing what happens in part 2, but not with nearly the level of hype I might have had if this game had come out years ago when I was still emotionally invested in its universe.

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