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Why Everyone Is Obsessed With A Game About Toys

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Gif: Digital Cybercherries / Kotaku

Over the past week, the gaming world has been obsessed with an indie shooter coming to Xbox, treating it with the fervor (and wildfire social media metrics) of a forthcoming AAA tentpole. But here’s the weird part: This game’s already out. It’s been playable on multiple platforms for years.

You may have heard of Hypercharge: Unboxed, a wave-based shooter that casts you as an action figure pitted against a ton of other action figures—big Toy Story vibes here. Developed and self-published by Digital Cybercherries, Hypercharge does a lot with a little, marrying both first- and third-person shooting with base-building elements in childhood-inspired environments. It’s also multiplayer, sporting both online and, in a sadly rare but much appreciated boon, local co-op.

By most accounts, Hypercharge is pretty damn good, sporting a “very positive” (91%) rating on Steam. Here’s a brief summary via Kotaku’s Zack Zwiezen, who wrote positively about the game two years ago:

The basic gameplay loop has you break out of your toy packaging and then you search around a map for tokens, which you use to buy defenses and upgrades to help protect your energy stations. After a few minutes, a wave of enemies attacks. You fight them back, and then get another few minutes to search for more loot and build more defenses. It’s not a terribly new or fresh spin on this type of gameplay, but what is here is solid. Guns feel good, enemies react when you shoot them, and movement is fast and snappy.

An action figure shoots a toy dinosaur in Hypercharge, a multiplayer game coming to Xbox.

Screenshot: Digital Cybercherries

Though it was first released in early access five years ago, Hypercharge saw a full release for Switch and PC in 2020. But you wouldn’t immediately glean that from the game’s official feeds, which could easily be read by a casual observer to indicate the game isn’t out yet. On Twitter specifically, Hypercharge has picked up the sort of buzz typically reserved for big-budget games, thanks to what appears to be a shrewdly engineered digital marketing strategy.

Right now, Hypercharge’s Twitter page laser-focuses on Xbox to the exclusion of the other platforms it’s playable on. The current banner photo specifically calls out “Xbox players,” urging prospective players to vaguely “sign up” for…something. (Click through, and you’ll learn it’s a newsletter.) The pinned tweet—a post that stays at the top of a Twitter account’s feed, regardless of the chronological order of posts—refers solely to the “Xbox Series S.” The bio is a call to action for “Xbox players” with no mention of other platforms, as is textbook for pretty much every other game with a social media presence; if you want links to Hypercharge’s Steam or Nintendo eShop storefront pages, you’ll have to first click through a Linktree.

Video clips about Hypercharge’s gameplay have gone mega-viral a few times over the past few months in the wake of a marketing push, seemingly launched in the spring, to build buzz for a potential Xbox release. Just this weekend, one such clip picked up more than 13 million views, thanks in part to cross-feed shares by popular gaming personalities with large followings, like esports commentator Jake Lucky. (Lucky’s accompanying text could also be read as if Hypercharge is a yet-to-be-released game: “These 5 dudes are trying to make an indie game where you play as an action figure in a toy store…and it’s sick.”)

This strategy—essentially, treating Hypercharge as if it’s a totally new game—makes sense, seeing as the game hasn’t exactly taken off on existing platforms. According to Steam-tracking database Steamcharts, Hypercharge’s all-time max concurrents is less than a thousand players. And while official metrics aren’t publicly available for Nintendo’s storefronts, c’mon.

It’s unclear just how much the studio anticipated the recent buzz. Representatives for Digital Cybercherries did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

An action figure shoots toy soldiers in Hypercharge, a multiplayer game coming to Xbox.

Screenshot: Digital Cybercherries

But intentional or not, the dividends are apparent. Digital Cybercherries says more than 20,000 people signed up for the newsletter last week. That’s in addition to the videos that pick up millions of views, and the relatively high level of engagement on its social media posts, which regularly garner thousands of likes. Of course, this level of attention regrettably has drawbacks. Last week, the studio released a statement calling out the toxicity it’s received regarding the lack of a specific release date.

Speaking personally, and maybe I’m just a sucker, but the past few weeks of buzz are…totally working on me? Hypercharge is not the sort of game I’d play on Switch (not enough technical horsepower) or PC (no gaming rig for me). But I’d totally play it on Xbox—where I typically play local co-op games, which are, and I’m just reiterating how much of a bummer this is, few and far between these days.

A week ago, I thought Hypercharge was just another shooter. Now, it’s charged to the top of my “gimme gimme gimme” list. Hypercharge is broadly slated for an Xbox release early next year, according to The Verge’s Tom Warren, with the window open for a launch on Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s enormously popular games-on-demand service. Let’s see if the buzz can hold ‘til then.

 



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