Hover came to be via Kickstarter as a passion project aimed at capturing the truly unique vibe from Jet Set Radio, an admittedly old title, but fondly remembered nonetheless. After a successful campaign, the team at Midgar studios were able to bring their project to life, and while it’s clear they’re diehard fans of the Jet Set Radio series, Hover doesn’t quite stick the landing. Hover clearly tries very hard to be something close to Jet Set Radio, but its elements just can’t fill the roller-blades of the beloved cult classic title.
Set in the dystopian city of ECP 17, you take the role of a “Gamer” (groan), set on joining up with others to wreak havoc across the city with the goal of overthrowing the oppressive regime to bring fun back to the people, but don’t expect to actually feel that during gameplay. You’ll occasionally soar across cluttered, neon neighborhoods, interacting with a variety of objectives that you don’t ever really feel engaged in pursuing. It’s a shame because, on paper, this sounded like a rather promising concept, especially when the man behind Jet Set Radio’s groovy soundtrack, Hideki Naganuma lent some of his talents to the game as well in the form of a few songs. Hover rarely manages to accomplish building a genuine sense of speed, largely due to its almost motion sickness inducing camera movements, and unresponsive controls that seem to act up randomly. Multiple points during cutscenes I couldn’t even advance the text naturally, having to resort to the Skip button. I was admittedly already turned off by the plot of Hover, but why even both putting effort into the writing and overall plot of the game if I can’t read the damn thing at my own pace?
The fun doesn’t start there, either. You’ll have a variety of races to participate in, and admittedly there are some that don’t feel like a total chore to complete. The controls aren’t actually all that terrible, and the idea of a free-running game sounds good, but it being marred by this awful camera really made the races much more of a hassle then they had to be, especially when it throws so many of them at you to begin with. The inclusion of a rewind button is admittedly an interesting mechanic, as it only affects your player and not the entire world. Puzzles in the game made use of this to varying effect, with it being an interesting idea that ultimately never really felt like it was used to the fullest. Traversing the city isn’t a complete chore, and the times you are rarely sailing across the city are fun, but the terrible camera brought that blazing sense of speed to an even more abrupt halt.
There’s a surprising amount of content in Hover, featuring roughly 90 missions in total, but they, unfortunately, boil down to two things, Races, and the Frankenstein’s creation that is Gameball. As you fool around in Hover’s always online world, you’ll get the chance to try these two plenty of times, but only one of them offers any shred of enjoyment. Races are absolutely the stronger missions of the two, featuring some creative usage of the maps to have you scaling across a variety of obstacles. Gameball, on the other hand, is a complete mess. It’s a weird chimera of sorts, bringing basketball and rugby together to be a weird game that feels really chaotic, even more so when other players are thrown into the fray. Much like it’s controls, there are times where Gameball is almost kind of fun, but despite this, the chaotic nature of the game is amplified thanks largely in part due to multiple players building their own senses of speed, so everyone is going at a different pace. What you get is an absolute mess of a match that is largely decided by chance, and that’s not how a game like this should be.
I’ll give Hover credit where it’s due though because it is clear that Midgar Studios are huge fans of Jet Set Radio. For the most part, the art style in this game does feel very close to the cel-shaded goodness of Jet Set Radio, and there are times the game actually looks pretty nice. The character creation is surprisingly diverse as well, allowing for you to create a character all your own. It goes without saying too that Naganuma’s tracks are easily the highlight of the game, showing that he does indeed still have that talent he showed eighteen (yes, it’s been that long) years ago. It’s just a shame that his excellent tunes have to take the stage, especially when he only did so few tracks. It feels like there was a lot of potential with Hover, and I wanted to like it, considering how much of a fan I am of Jet Set Radio. I was also hoping that a bit of time would help this title stand out after our initial impressions, but it seems that this is still the same boring package as we got back in May, except with less of a cringey title this time.
***PS4 key was provided by the publisher***
- Lots of content for the price
- Hideki Naganuma kills it
- Poor mission variety
- Uninspired story
- Parkour never takes off
- Awful camera controls