Hyperspace Delivery Boy! (HDB) is one of the first solid forays by PC
developers onto the Pocket PC platform. There have been ports and
re-creations but this is a genuine product designed for the handheld
format. The premise of HDB is about as ambiguous as its name. I
certainly didn't know what to expect from it and despite its sudden
overnight announcement from last quarter, it has all the trappings and
polish that denotes a veteran developer. HDB follows the chronicles of
a young budding courier working for the Hyperspace Delivery Service.
Unlike my first impression (which was an interstellar pizza delivery
game), the Hyperspace Delivery Service is like an interstellar version
of your local FedEx office. The story follows a character known as Guy
Carrington who is posted on a delivery ship under the helm of a female
captain. Your job is pretty simple: you must deliver your packages to
certain people in various locales.
Of course, you will eventually run into a myriad of problems.
Recipients of your package may be unreachable due to some obstacles and
this creates the rationale for more, smaller, FedEx-style quests. One
piles up on another until you achieve your objective. Along the way,
you meet a variety of strange customers and their even stranger locales.
Although many of these are absurd, it has the fun spirit of Matt
Groening's Futurama. In fact, the whole concept of the game is
uncannily like a whole slew of Futurama episodes strung together; minus
Bender. There is a wealth of wacky humour including the 'grrl-power' endowed captain you work for to a rail
system where you sit in someone's (something's?) slimy mouth. The charm
keeps much of the adventuring fresh and that's good because you'll be
doing lots of exploring. HDB is not so much an action game as it is
a non-violent adventure game. There is an option for "action mode" but
the pacing of the game (and Carrington's anemic attacks) makes it more
of a way to remove obstacles (and only temporarily) than anything else.
The puzzle mode only serves to remove the action elements but suffice to
say, HDB was clearly designed from the ground up to be more of a puzzle game
than a 2D arcade shoot ‘em up.
The 2D world is extremely colourful and vibrant. The creative design
and wonderfully written dialog helps create an atmosphere that gets you
into Carrington's world. Carrington has to do quite a bit of wandering
around. HDB's levels reward the careful explorer though. There are
plenty of hidden or obscure avenues to gain extra points, Monkeystone
idols and other bonus items. You can even unlock secret "Panic Zone"
mini-games. The most annoying thing about his travels would be the lack
of a run button. Often you must do three levels of sub-quests before
returning to the primary character and to return, you must re-trace all
your steps back to the beginning of a stage; a very time-consuming
process considering Carrington is (ironically) not as swift as Hermes or
Mercury. The gameplay area, however, is massive. Though this allows
for more playing time, much of the playing time is relegated to
re-tracing your steps and seeing the same old graphics all over again.
Once I got past the first world, I got the idea that the real estate
Carrington has to walk in could easily be shrunk by a factor of two.
The FedEx style quests take you to every nook and cranny of the map, so
at the very least, you'll get to see all three worlds quite thoroughly.
You manipulate Carrington using the PDA keys (directional pad and
associated buttons) or using the stylus. Both are easy to grasp and
functional too. There are copious amounts of help screens and the first
ten minutes of the game serve purely as a tutorial to prepare you for
the actual quests you will embark on. With so many FedEx style quests, you'd
think you'd get mired by all of them. HDB features a quest tracker so
you know what to return to whom. This is a great tool and HDB's level
design is good enough that you cannot take on too many quests at once.
Because of the puzzle nature, your manipulation of Carrington depends
more on preciseness rather than swift reflexes. Carrington has to
navigate through electro-shock fields, stationary sentries, moving
sentries and a host of other obstacles. At first, many of the puzzles
seem mind-numbingly insane but HDB has a gentle learning curve. It also
helps through appropriately placed save vortices. For example, a save
point is usually found right before a string of hazardous obstacles you
must dodge. The one thing I don't like about the puzzles is the lack of
feedback on the ones involving crates. Anyone who has played a game
that involves pushing crates will know that some crates can easily get stuck
against walls and certain crates must be removed before clearing a path.
If you end up in a situation where you are permanently stuck, it appears
that HDB has no way of informing you of such a setback and the only way
to unravel appears to be to reload from a previous saved game.
With that said, HDB has a fairly flexible save-game system even though
at first glance, it appears to have its roots in the console world.
Admittedly, someone who looks at the credits of this title will be
disappointed this game isn't the latest in 3D technology for the Pocket
PC. My answer to this query or postulation is: I don't think 3D would
help much with the style of design here at all. The only thing it would
add is a sense of elevation so that overhead bridges are more easily
identified. The one thing that should and will impress even the
staunchest critics is the copious use of aural cues. There simply is a
lot of care put into this department including an ongoing ambient score,
crisp sound and countless numbers of effects included. That, in itself,
almost justifies the almost nine megabyte package that HDB takes up.
Unfortunately, HDB can't be broken up into separate chapters but at
least it can be loaded on to external media (CompactFlash) and is not as
megalithic in size as say Fade.
Holistically speaking, HDB is an intriguing merger of puzzle and
adventure games on the Pocket PC. Its presentation is heavily
influenced by older console titles. The gameplay is fun and perhaps the
most interesting aspect, aside from some of the best sound and music,
par excellence, for a Pocket PC title, is the charming motif. It is a
humorous and light-hearted game that can easily be picked up and let go.
For a game that rests on threaded multi-layered quests, many things
could go wrong but they don't, and so credit must be given to the level
design. The only caveat I have to provide are those thinking this is
the next greatest action title. It is not, despite the inclusion of
action modes. HDB was released at the tail end of an extraordinary year
for Pocket PC titles. Many titles emerged to solidify the Pocket PC
platform as the premier PDA gaming platform. HDB represents an
excellent synthesis of some of the year's best ideas into one package
that is a bold and entertaining foray into handheld gaming.
[08/10] Program Size
[14/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer