Hyper Universe is Nexon's new entry into the MOBA space, a free-to-play side-scrolling game with a colorful cast of characters and multiple levels of action. It's developed by CwaveSoft, a Korean developer founded by a former head director at Nexon. I had a chance to try it out this weekend at PAX South, and my overall impression is … well, it's a MOBA.
Just to clarify, in case you're just looking for a high-level overview of the game: Hyper Universe is a MOBA. If you like the League of Legends or Dota 2 style of gameplay but would rather it was a side-scroller instead of having its pseudo-overhead view, then Hyper Universe might appeal to you. If you don't like that kind of gameplay, it probably won't.
Still with us? OK, here's how my time with Hyper Universe went …
Hyper Universe's hypers (heroes) are “inspired by” a number of pop-culture or commonly used fantasy tropes. Yes, that's a Red Ranger. There's also an archer lady, mysterious magician guy, woman with a large gun, and so on. Browsing the character select screen, it was also pretty clear what kind of demographic the game was going for; all the women were large-breasted, they weren't afraid to show them off in their profile pics, and there's plenty of bounce as they run in the game. I'll leave it to you to decide whether that's a net positive or negative.
I chose the archer hyper, figuring that she would be fairly easy to use. Ashe is a pretty simple League character, right? In addition to my basic attack, on the S key, I had a charged attack, a knockback, and a backwards dodge roll, all on cooldowns and with a mana costs. I could also dodge naturally, and my Q button was my ultimate maneuver, which greatly increased my rate of fire and damage for a short period of time, turning my bow and arrow into a machine gun – not literally, though I wouldn't put it past the game to do something crazy like that. Movement was controlled by the arrow keys, though controller support is definitely on the horizon.
While the controls are simple, they did take me a little getting used to. More than once, I found myself dodging right into an enemy attack, but I don't think that's due to any inherent flaw with the game. Due to the multi-level nature of the battlefield, enemies can suddenly appear behind you, forcing you to deal with threats in all directions.
Right, the battlefield! This is the point that most differentiates Hyper Universe from its MOBA brethren. The play area is divided into seven levels. On level four is where you'll find your and your opponent's nexus. (Sorry, I know there are non-traditional-MOBA terms for all these things, but I was playing while it was described to me and didn't have the chance to take notes.) On the third and fifth levels, you'll find turrets, akin to towers (OK, I remembered that one), and minions, while the levels above and below are filled with non-hostile-until-you-poke-them NPC mobs, a.k.a. the jungle. There's a barrier on the fourth level, requiring you to go around and through enemy turrets on the other levels, so you can't just waltz across the center of the map to the heart of the enemy's domain.
As I said before, mastering the map's vertical nature is key. Ladders connect the various levels, letting you get the drop on unsuspecting enemies or helping you make a quick escape when you need it, which I did often. Otherwise, the game plays like a traditional MOBA. In addition to the lanes/minions/towers gameplay, you'll upgrade your skills when you level up and earn gold from defeating enemies that you can use to purchase from a wide catalog of items. Lather, rinse, and repeat until you take down your opponent's nexus.
So how did I do? I was bad. Very, very bad. Fortunately, my team made me feel better by being even worse. When the final stats scrolled by, we had something like six total kills while each of our opponents were in the double digits. Of course, every time you die, your respawn timer gets longer and longer, another MOBA staple.
So yeah – Hyper Universe is a MOBA! Sorry if that seems repetitive, but that should be the #1 consideration as to whether you'll want to play it. The different viewing angle, the control scheme, and colorful characters are nice, but MOBA-style gameplay is at its core. Nexon is hoping that Hyper Universe can find its fans among people looking for something familiar but a little different, sort of like how Smite worked for Hi-Rez Studios. If there's enough of an audience for that, it might have a chance.