Long time readers of Xbox Tavern may know by now that I enjoy a good 2D, retro styled platformer. Hayfever looks to provide a unique spin on the formula, but perhaps went a little too far with the challenge.
The protagonist of Hayfever is a postman who’s daily mail has been scattered in the breeze and he must platform his way through each day trying to collect them. He is unfortunately aflicted by some quite severe allergies, though rather than be bogged down by them, he actually uses them to his advantage. By inhaling clouds of pollen he is able to let out an almighty sneeze, helping him jump higher or further. We need to be careful though, as he can only take 3 pollen clouds at once before it all becomes too much and he lets out an uncontrollable sneeze. Later areas mix up the formula with different spins on using the pollens, but by and large we spend our time bouncing from one cloud to the next while hunting out the hidden letters on each stage. Levels constitute one calendar day, with a full month concluded with a boss battle that is quite the exacting challenge – and stretches the patience thin.
Hayfever is a tough game. Things start off fairly simply, with us using the pollen to hop up high ledges or over small spike pits. When things are kept to a platforming style, Hayfever is quite enjoyable. Trying to get the hidden letters offers up a fun, optional challenge and the difficulty curves just the right amount to keep things interesting without becoming overly impossible. There’s certainly more than one moment where we find ourselves having to walk away for a minute before the cost of a controller needs shelling out, but overall the challenge is just about right. But by about half way through the first month things take a turn and unfortunately begin to become too exacting for our tastes.
Enemies hovering about spike traps while others fire projectiles off at us mean we get stuck not just more frequently, but nigh on constantly. A fairly generous checkpoint system does help, but it also shows to highlight just how tough each small section is. Our hero can only withstand one hit, and often we find ourselves just glancing a hazard, forcing a retry. A mistimed jump often spells failure, with very little chance to recover. When new allergy based powers come in to play – such as being able to fly like a released balloon for a brief period – the challenge ramps up even further. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, but Hayfever really put that enjoyment to the test.
The first boss battle exemplifies this; a non stop run through tricky platforming sections that use the standard pollen clouds as well as the dark red variety that instantly fill our meter and shoot us of in whatever direction we’re holding. Each new section became a battle of muscle memory rather than reactions (which admitedly are slowing in me at this age…). I often felt that the direction I was holding when hitting the red pollen wasn’t accurately reflected, especially when going between multiple pollen in a row. Getting hit forced a full restart rather than a check-pointed one, and finally clearing it after many…many tries was greeted not by joyous relief but by even less of a desire to carry on.
Of course, there’s a high chance that those of you out there reading this may fare better, and it could just be my skill just isn’t where I think it is, but after an enjoyable start to things, I soon became too frustrated with Hayfever to carry on. I really enjoyed the pixel art style, and the levels are at least very cleverly designed. The backing music is incredibly repetitve and was quickly muted, though.
If you’re after a good challenge, Hayfever may be up your alley. While the early stages show off it’s unique concept well, unfortunately, the sharp difficulty curve soon brings more frustration than fun.