HIVESWAP‘s first act was released in 2017, years after an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign that raised almost two and a half million dollars. A huge chunk of that money vanished in suspicious circumstances (through no fault of the people running the campaign, but that’s a whole ‘nother rabbit hole), along with much of the original vision for the game. Over three years later, fans finally have the second part of the story, and the strange legacy of “Homestuck: The Video Game” continues.
So… what is it? I’ll offer as brief a primer as I can, based on my barely functional working knowledge of the Homestuck lore. I’m coming into this review as somebody who’s basically just dipped their toes into Andrew Hussie’s mad brain-child thanks to a recommendation from my partner, so what I’m really looking to discern here is how effectively the source material translates into the gaming medium, and whether it makes any sense to anybody who hasn’t been exposed to it before.
HIVESWAP is the crowd-funded game adaptation of Homestuck, an MS Paint Adventures webcomic created by Andrew Hussie in 2009. Homestuck is absurdly long and complex, featuring a revolving cast of regular characters, over 800,000 words, and a multi-media approach to storytelling that uses static images, gifs and flash animation. HIVESWAP takes place in a parallel dimension, which shares Homestuck‘s established world but isn’t constrained by what’s already happened in the comic, instead telling a new story which sees a human girl transported to the alien world of Alternia, populated by trolls forced into a brutal caste system based on the colour of their blood. So yeah. It’s a fairly simple premise, right?
HIVESWAP is ostensibly a point n’ click adventure, following the heroine Joey as she navigates the colourful and terrifying environs of Alternia, aided by the wimpy but charming Xefros – a “lowblooded” troll who is all too aware of his place at the bottom of the ladder. The two play off of each other nicely – Joey is blatantly unaware of Alternia’s many confusing social norms, causing her to blunder into awkward situations constantly, and Xefros is forced to overcome his cowardice to help her out.
They both have different ways of interacting with the world around them – Xefros has mild telekinetic abilities, and Joey can… dance at stuff, I guess – along with different flavour text for objects depending on who you’re currently controlling.
It’s unlikely that HIVESWAP would be as interesting without both Joey and Xefros at center stage. Joey’s vivacity would be entirely offputting without Xefros’ self-deprecating restraint, and without Joey’s driving energy, Xefros would probably be living in a perpetual panic attack at the first obstacle. They’re an odd couple, but it really works, and their dynamic allows the game to explain complicated bits of background information anew without going over it ad nauseam for long term fans of Homestuck. They’ve even managed to sum up troll romance without giving me a migraine, and that’s basically magic.
The point n’ click parts of the game are perfectly serviceable – they’re never overly complex or puzzling, and if you get stuck, it’s usually because you’ve missed something blindingly obvious – but they’re really just window dressing. Where HIVESWAP really shines is the dialogue, which is good because there’s quite a lot of it to say the least. There’s a huge range of trolls to interact with along the way, all uniquely designed, and often presenting tons of quirky personality with small amounts of text. There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud character interactions, a good deal of humour coming from the game’s awareness of how absurdly complex and self referential the Homestuck lore is.
The characterisation and dialogue are strong enough to keep the game entertaining throughout some protracted trial-and-error sequences. HIVESWAP: Act 2 is acutely aware of its flaws, and characters will often comment on their endless list of menial errands in a way that mirrors how players will probably feel after certain sections. It’s disarming, and reflects Homestuck‘s continuous destruction of the fourth wall – but simply being aware of the game’s weaker aspects doesn’t make them better.
It’s vaguely mystifying how the “adventure game” item usage turned out so basic. From a glance at the Steam page, they wanted to offer up an adventure game experience with none of the trial and error frustration, which is understandable. But in early Homestuck, at least, a running theme is the bizarre combination of items to create zany weapons and tools in an exaggerated spoof of those 90’s point n’ clicks. Even the smallest nod to that in HIVESWAP‘s gameplay would have been brilliant, and it feels like a missed opportunity.
It’s fair to say you’ll spend more time reading text than you will solving puzzles, which usually revolve around talking to trolls anyway – for the most part, this is really enjoyable thanks to the quality of the writing. It can get a little tiresome when you’re trying to figure out what dialogue you need to trigger next to progress, which is more or less part and parcel of the point n’ click experience. If you’re new to the franchise, drawn in by the vibrant, cartoonish alien world and obvious homages to 90’s adventure games, be aware that the gameplay aspects are essentially fleeting but loving references to that genre, not a dominant staple.
The story that drives your adventure is great, accompanied by a fantastic cast of genuinely colourful and unique characters. This is where HIVESWAP really stands out – you’ll meet more interesting, entertaining individuals in your two hours with this than in twenty hours of basically any AAA title. The mini-games and puzzle elements are basically flourishes to further the jokes, clashes and quirks of the trolls’ constantly warring personalities, working well to break up all the dialogue into palatable chunks.
HIVESWAP Act 2 overall thoughts
What Pumpkin continues the seemingly impossible task of distilling the rich, complex, multi-media spanning Homestuck universe into a game that makes sense… sometimes. It’s accessible for new players, although there is a metric ton of stuff that won’t be fully appreciated or understood without existing Homestuck/HIVESWAP knowledge. That’s to be expected though – first and foremost, this was a game for the fandom, and I think it does a great job of expanding the signature humour and artstyle into the gaming medium.
As a writer with a fondness for old school adventure games and witty, absurd dialogue, HIVESWAP ticks a lot of boxes. It is genuinely hilarious on a consistent basis, and stuffs a brilliant range of diverse personalities into a relatively short playtime. However, playing this with the knowledge that it could be years before the story continues suffocates a decent chunk of fun out of it, making it hard to recommend sincerely – as an entry point to the larger Homestuck universe, absolutely. As a standalone, self-contained game, it gets a little bit harder.
If you’re looking for something short, sweet and funny, HIVESWAP is worth your time. But it’s a very small part of a massive universe, and is more interactive story than game when all’s said and done. Ah, well. At least if there’s another three years before Act 3, I might finally have the time to finish Homestuck.