Early Access Preview: Hot Lava
One of my most loved and hated trends in gaming right now has been games that push challenging to a whole new level. Super Meat Boy and Trials stand out to me as games where the formula is simple as can be, but it pushes the envelope on the level of precision it asks you to achieve if you want to get the best possible run. These hard as nails games have been labeled by some as massecore, or splatformer games. Games that make your blood boil, obscenities fly, and the restart button get smashed over and over again. Hot Lava, from Klei Interactive, sets out to do the same in a first-person parkour style game that is dripping with 80’s Saturday Morning Cartoon style.
In early-access you can currently play as one of four action figure characters that look like a G.I. Joe toy comes to life. The game has charm and style oozing out of it from the second you boot it up. The intro takes place in a house as your mom calls down that it’s time for bed. You quickly stand on your couch and look down as the floor turns to molten lava. In classic “the floor is lava” fashion you must do whatever it takes to make it to the end of the level without touching the floor. Coffee tables,bookshelves, boxes, it’s all game as long as it keeps you off the floor. One wrong misstep and you find yourself sinking into the lava, but hitting restart puts you back to the last checkpoint immediately. It’s here that Hot Lava really shines as a massecore game.
One of the staples of the genre is the instant restart. Super Meat Boy made a name for itself on how quickly it pushed you right back in with no delay when you die, allowing you to die over and over as you muttered to yourself “one more”. Hot Lava has a dying animation if you want to see it, but hit that restart button and you are back instantly to the last checkpoint. No delay, no loading screen. I have spent over an hour trying to perfect one run on a course because it was so easy to pop right back when I messed up. Just one more run and I’m sure I would have completed it.
The early access preview comes with a tutorial gym level that has a regular floor so you can get your parkouring legs, and then it drops you into the first hub world. The School. Running through the halls you run into other players loaded in the same hub instance and can see them die to lava wherever they are in a kill feed in the corner. In the hubs, there are challenge doors to start the actual levels. Each has a 6-star rating for completion. Three of the stars are based on times with another star each for no deaths, getting a golden pin, and collecting a hidden comic. To complete all of the challenges is really not a walk in the park, but if you aren’t running for a time you can at least explore the space more. Unless you try the final challenge in the preview currently.
The game plays it easy with you for most levels in the early access preview, and up until that point, it reminded me of a solid version of Mirror’s Edge with a unique style. The last challenge however is called Chasing the Grade, and unlike the others which are often checkpointed courses, there are no checkpoints to this one. You see a floating letter in front of you when you start, and the second you start moving it does too. It moves on a long winding path through the entirety of the school, and the letter is a grade that goes from A to F depending on how far away it is from you. Don’t let it get too far or your vision will dim and you will fail the challenge. The main challenge is an entire lack of any checkpoints to the extra long course. The lava waits with bubbling anticipation to send you back to the start with the slightest misstep. It was at this point it went from Mirror’s Edge to Trials. I found myself smashing the restart button over and over, cursing under my breath as the grade continued to leave me behind. I haven’t been so frustrated in a while. I also haven’t had so much fun trying to perfect a run in a game in some time.
Mobility plays heavily into the game and mastering it makes the difference between a 2-star run and a 6-star completion. You find yourself bar swinging, air steering to cut around corners, and surfing on angled surfaces in a way that I haven’t seen done since I last played a cs_surf map in Counter-Strike. All of the movement flows incredibly well and even when you are jumping on very narrow platforms I never once found myself cursing the controls, as much as my inability to execute them. Chasing the grade was a brutal challenge, but it pulled me in again and again, trying to keep momentum, shave a little time with some tricky surf jumps, and cutting whatever corners I could.
Of course, as you progress and earn stars you also unlock tickets and playsets which are loot boxes of cosmetics for your character, and they all look like pack-in accessories for a G.I. Joe toy. Nun-chucks, a cross-bow, and space sword are only a small subset of accessories to outfit your action figure. Judging by the menus in early access there are also plans for new emotes, as well as a slew of other hub worlds with their own levels.
I have loved my time with this game, and for $9.99 on Steam currently, you can pick up two-copies of the game so you can destroy a friendship as you fall helplessly into lava over and over again. I look forward to seeing the updates and challenges that get added to this game as time goes on.