Ziggs gets his due
Out there, somewhere, there’s a fan for every League of Legends character. I have a “top 10,” but my number one spot probably goes to Morgana. Given how many cross-media projects Riot is pumping out these days, she and her region of Demacia are bound to pop up eventually. For now there’s a big focus on Piltover thanks to Arcane, and that’s where Ziggs and Hextech Mayhem comes in.
It’s time to blow stuff up to a soundtrack.
The first thing you should probably take notice of with Hextech Mayhem is the developer: Choice Provisions. That’s the Choice Provisions, thank you, the studio who brought us Bit.Trip Beat and all of the follow-ups for nine years or so. They’ve been tinkering with other projects since their inception, but this is likely their biggest partnership yet. And it’s a smart partnership, no less! The addition of the League mythos adds a lot of flair to what is already a very competent rhythm game.
Much like the Bit. Trip Runner line (arguably their most popular), we control an avatar (a little Yordle named Ziggs) that moves forward automatically. Our options are to jump, zip down immediately while in the air, and throw a bomb. As a three-button game, Hextech Mayhem offers a surprising degree of finesse. Prompts (with green, white, and blue colors respectively, because who doesn’t love video-game-blue-bombs) will pop up and basically tell you how the song should go, like a lot of similar action rhythm games. At the time of this review, a key-binding option was added, then removed due to issues with the update, with the intent of coming back in “soon.”
The secret sauce is how you can manipulate that information to your benefit. The prompts are more like….guidelines. You do need to generally do them all to get a high score (and they ensure you don’t bump into walls or hazards), but there are a bunch of things you can jump on, drop down to, or bomb, all boosted by a double-jump mechanic. Doing these extra actions enhance the soundtrack, which is already some of Choice Provisions’ best work, drawing from a variety of different genres, with plenty of mascot platforming homages.
The game explicitly tells you this after clearing the first few worlds, planting the flag in the ground of “freestyle” play, but you can intuit it before that if you just start pressing buttons. Now it’s not the most open system in the world, as there are still limits as to when you can do all this, but it’s fun to see what is ostensibly a smaller, more focused character-driven game open up a score-attack ceiling. It cleverly feeds into the “mayhem meter” metric, which makes a lot of sense given that you’re controlling Ziggs.
The characters are a large part of why a general audience will bother playing a game like this, too. Ziggs is a trouble-maker, a fiend with the attitude of a ’90s TV mascot with a bit of 2000s attitude. When I ran through the opening level I felt shades of Crash Bandicoot injected directly into my veins, with a touch of Animaniacs. It’s silly and irreverent, and the stylized versions of the characters (particularly Ziggs) stand out above the crowd (and he does shout out loud). I wanted more of it.
Cutscenes are few and far between (there’s only a handful), but they’re fun and reminiscent of classic toons, drawing inspiration from sources as far back as Bugs Bunny. The lack of story bits, as neat as they are, encapsulate my one main criticism of Hextech Mayhem: right as it’s approaching its apex, it ends. The game is only a few hours long, and outside of unlocking skins (including a lovely Commander Video reference or a timely Jinx outfit), longevity is only going to appeal to the hardcore completionist/score-attack crowd.
For 10 bucks, you’re getting a personality-driven rhythm romp with the hindsight of a decade-plus of genre experience. That’s pretty good! I mostly just wish it was bigger; because if it was, it would be able to expand its firm foundation and take things to the next level. That said, the ease of access of Hextech Mayhem ensures that if you’re coming off of Arcane, you can immerse yourself in the League world with a lot less strife than the MOBA.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]