The modern game release cycle is a strange one. Sometimes I’m aware of games months or even years before their retail release. Other times a game will come out of nowhere and grab me instantly. Hack ‘n’ Slash from Double Fine is one of those games.

The first I heard of it was on Steam’s front page. I watched the trailer and was instantly hooked. On the surface Hack ‘n’ Slash appears to be a straight-forward Zelda clone, isometric adventure in a fantasy setting. I quickly realised it was a puzzle game in disguise, thanks to an ingenious central game mechanic: hacking.

Your character has the ability to hack into enemies and world objects, enabling you to modify gameplay behaviour and unit characteristics. You can alter how much damage enemies cause, change their idle routine, and even turn them from enemies into allies. This hacking changes the actual object variables in realtime and I was blown away by the concept.

I picked up the game on sale and sat down to play. My first playthrough I bounced off pretty hard. First of all the controls aren’t great. The joystick tends to travel a lot and I’ve died countless times because my character stayed in motion even after I took my thumb off the stick. As well, the starting area isn’t very intuitive and I found myself backtracking quite a bit. The hacking ability seemed largely restricted and I wasn’t having any fun.

This pattern repeated a few times as I tried to come back to the game. I knew there was something special with Hack ‘n’ Slash but I just wasn’t seeing it. Finally I gave it one last try and suddenly everything clicked. I saw the whole game open up in front of me and I realised how clever and innovative it really is.

Even beyond the USB sword your character uses to hack, the game has a number of cool mechanics that allow you to play with the rules of the world. You can slow down or speed up time, change the day/night cycling, and view the hidden paths around the world. The main thrust of gameplay involves using a variety of items to manipulate and maneuver the world.

I’m only a few hours into Hack ‘n’ Slash but the majority of that time’s been spent in exploration. Exploring the world, the game’s systems, and the methods you’re given to modify them.

I’ve still got some minor gripes, like the controller issues I mentioned before, and other occasional platforming problems, but there’s a lot to like in Hack ‘n’ Slash. Double Fine have developed a clever, playful, and self-referential title that pays homage to classic RPGs while bringing something new to the genre. Give Hack ‘n’ Slash a try and, if required, a second, third, and fourth try.