I have now finished playing through Act 1 of Hiveswap. As promised, I will review the game and give my thoughts on it.
NOTE: As I wrote this post, I fell into pretty much all the pitfalls I did towards the end of the lifespan of my Homestuck post series that made it so slow and so I pretty much gave up partway through so you get this. Maybe I’ll follow up with a post on gameplay and music later, which logically shouldn’t take as long.
A major thing that was hyped up about the game was bringing back the feel of early MSPA, particularly the first few acts of Homestuck. Overall, the game really delivered on that point. It got the general narration style and sense of humor down very well—far better than many would have probably expected knowing the Snapchat stories (which are at this point probably nothing more than a failed experiment). The flavor text for every combination of using an inventory item on an object in the room possible was a surprisingly good touch, and probably made for good writing practice.
I’d argue the writing wasn’t exactly like early Homestuck. It definitely took things in a bit more serious light than the comic did at first. For instance, when we met each of the beta kids, the comic didn’t really take much about their lives or their relationships with their guardians seriously. The most infamous example would be the case of Dave and his long-debated relationship with his guardian, but it’s also worth noting how oddly carefree Jade’s life on a lonely island living with a dog was. Granted, she spent most of her time dreaming about the future and being a cryptic mystery girl, but only in later conversations about her grandpa’s death do we ever learn what kind of trauma she really went through. However, when Joey examines her house and the narration discusses the little of a relationship she had with her parents, it already comes off as serious and somewhat depressing from the start. But it’s about the right degree of seriousness that it doesn’t really come off as a tale of trauma and terror, mostly just a kind of lonely life.
Meanwhile, the trolls’ storyline in Homestuck tended to have the edgy alien feel played too high to reach the sweet spot of a story that really takes itself seriously. This is averted later on in the comic when the characters get into deep conversations about the darker aspects of their regular lives, but that is never fully explained through introductory narration alone. Hiveswap doesn’t handle troll introductions quite as differently from Homestuck as it does human introductions, but unlike in Homestuck, the first human/troll interactions went straight ahead into talking about what troll life is actually like.
I’ll start by saying that Dammek and Xefros’ relationship is nothing like what I thought it would be. I’m 100% certain that was the point—did you see the word “tetrarch” even once in any of the game’s teasers?—but still, I feel more surprised by that than I probably should have been. The teasers of the game made it seem like they’re two dorky best friends who slack off all day, eat pizza, and run a terrible ska band; when one artist referred to them as “moirails”, most people dismissed it as the strangely common misconception that the term is a synonym for “best friends”. But going from Xefros’ perspective—the only perspective we’ve seen thus far—it’s more like a boss/slave relationship that happens to involve the boss making the slave participate in said terrible ska band and eat pizza as I think it was a reward for something? I’m not sure what to say about Xefros himself, besides what we’ve seen about that troublesome relationship that pretends not to be a troublesome relationship. I guess I’ll have to see if in later episodes of the game they effectively develop his character from the cowardly archetype.
As for the human siblings, Joey is endearing but feels pretty much exactly like the other human Prospit dreamer kids. While that’s not a bad thing in itself, she doesn’t really have much about her that really sets her apart from those other characters. Again, I want to reserve my judgement for when later episodes of the game come out, but I can’t help but feel her character has been built up already far more than any of the kids in Homestuck were in the acts where each of them were introduced. Jude, however, is a completely different story. He has already been set up as something of an eccentric conspiracy theorist who owns various animals and experiments on all sorts of weird things—a description that doesn’t fit any characters in Homestuck at all. Though we haven’t seen as much of him as we have his sister, he’s the kind of character I’d really look forward to seeing more of, especially seeing as he and Dammek (a character we’ve only seen talked about) will meet and presumably go on their own adventures after the first four episodes of the game are done. I’d argue the game would be more interesting set up through these storylines alternating per act, but it doesn’t seem like that’s how things will be set up.
The story of the game so far was basically executing the obvious premise: Joey stumbling upon a device that takes her to the trolls’ universe and meeting some unfamiliar people who are starting a rebellion against a brutal heiress. At the end of the first act, the story seems to be headed towards working through the troll rebellion without its leader around? I’m not really sure what parts of the story’s continuation I’m anticipating most. Knowing how many trolls were teased in the game’s previews, it’s a safe bet we’ll learn quite a bit more about the trolls’ side of the story.
I was pretty struck by the story’s connections to Homestuck’s continuity. Early in the game, when you get to examine the pictures in the house, you get quite a bit of exposition that kind of gives us another side to the character of Jade’s grandpa. All indications are that he didn’t really care much for his children and spent most of his days going on increasingly exotic adventures, especially after his wife’s death. Last Joey heard of him he was exploring the Pacific Ocean, which is an obvious lead in to him finding the frog temple island and raising Jade, assuming we can still deem “raising” to be the right word. Rose’s young mother, meanwhile, had a near-sibling relationship to the siblings central to the game but was just on the verge of becoming a full-fledged alcoholic. By the end of he comic, it is assumed that she became an alcoholic because she knew all would come to an inevitable end and couldn’t deal with that any better way. Considering that this game was emphasized not to focus on the cast of Homestuck, we got a generous amount of new information about its world. I can only imagine that we’ll get similar things for the trolls’ universe at some point, or maybe see things from Jude’s perspective. Did he have a closer relationship with his father than his sister did? It’s quite possible, but we’ll have to see.