The term Roguelike has been thrown around a lot recently to describe anything with dungeon crawling aspects, procedurally generated levels and, most notably, permadeath. While these elements are present and very much at the forefront of the game, the core of Heart&Slash is that of an action hack and slash in the vein of Bayonetta (Xbox 360), or the Devil May Cry Series. These two sub-genres might seem like unlikely bedfellows, but how well do they mesh together and is this unusual combination worth your time?
Our protagonist, Heart, is a robot that has been rebuilt in a world where Humans no longer exist, having been wiped out by the machines during a period of time known as the Robolution. The robot leader QuAsSy, or Quality Assurance System, wants to make sure that everything complies to some obscure standardization protocol, but there are a few robots that malfunction and are fighting back. Heart is one of these malfunctioning robots. During your numerous attempts to progress, you will come across Slash, another malfunctioning robot, who attacks you on sight believing you to be one of QuAsSy's quality assurance robots. Depending on the outcome of your first confrontation, the circumstances will be different the next time that you encounter Slash. It is this that drives the story forward, but it can easily be missed if you don't actively look to progress these moments. By using procedurally generated levels, there will also be times that you don't have the opportunity to do so.
In essence, you only have a single life with which to complete the game, but like many other Roguelikes, the story is told over many playthroughs. Every time that you start a new game in Heart&Slash, you start in the same dark, familiar room, the assembly facility that puts our robot protagonist back together after yet another failed attempt to reach your goal. This is where you find your starting equipment, three pieces of randomly generated gear. If you're lucky, it might be a sword to which you've grown accustomed, or at least feel comfortable using. Of course, you can't always be that lucky and more often than not you're handed some of the more useless items, such as Wooden Planks or the Rubber Duck, or something that you have never seen before. Whatever it is, you’ll either need to make do or recycle it straight away.
Recycling equipment is one of the only ways in Heart&Slash to recover lost health. If you choose to recycle equipment when at full health then you gain a little bit extra, so the choice is up to you. Holding on to something that you may not want to use could be handy if you need some more health in a pinch. Extra equipment is scattered across the map and is randomly generated just like everything else. There are 75 different weapons and 60 pieces of armour to find throughout the game, although not all are available from the outset. Most are unlocked by completing various challenges, like defeating a certain number of a specific enemy; the more that you play, the more variation there is in the game.
Weapons and armour can also be upgraded using experience that is gained from defeated enemies. Each defeated enemy drops a varying amount depending on their size and this is represented by bolts in the top right hand corner of the screen. Each time that this experience bar is filled, a box appears below it that represents a point that can be spent on upgrades. Any upgrades that are purchased are lost upon death, but any unspent points are retained for the next attempt. Players can save up all of their experience points from a couple of runs and then spend it when they have equipment with which they feel comfortable.
With Heart&Slash being an action hack and slash title, combat is an integral part of the gameplay. Heart is very agile and moves very quickly - even quicker once the speed upgrade has been purchased - and can double-jump and dodge, both of which are needed to survive the onslaught from the numerous enemies. Combos can be strung together using a two-button combo system that, depending on the weapons that you have equipped, can launch enemies, allow you to dash towards them, or just let you pummel them. Three weapons can be equipped at the same time. By holding either the left or right trigger, you'll switch to your second or third weapon respectively allowing players to create some spectacular combos. It is a simple mechanic that opens up Heart&Slash's combat tremendously and gives players an almost limitless number of combos to discover. It may not be as deep of a system as some of its influences, but it is highly satisfying.
Of course, with the title also being a roguelike, enemies are certainly not push-overs and a small mistake can have drastic consequences in the long-run. Learning to dodge the multitude of different attacks is key to success in combat, but avoiding combat completely where possible is also a viable tactic. There is a definite sense of risk and reward where avoiding combat will allow players to explore the environment and progress further, but by doing so it will limit the number of upgrades available unless they have been saving experience from previous runs. This leaves a lot of choices up to the player depending on their own play-style, which can be overwhelming at first but becomes second nature after learning the basics.
Unfortunately, the camera control is overly sensitive at times and you will end up turning it far more than you would ever need on many occasions. On top of this, the camera also has a tendency to zoom towards the character's head while jumping. While in combat, the view zooms out to an almost overhead view that gives a good overall view of the battlefield but makes it very difficult to judge aerial attacks on flying enemies, leading to quite a lot of frustration. Finally, straying too close to walls can lead to the camera zooming in on the top of our protagonist's head, leading to situations where you end up disoriented and unable to see anything else while getting pummelled by the various enemies in the room.
Heart&Slash is presented in the “retro” style of pixelated character models and environments that try to replicate the style of the 8 and 16-bit consoles. We have become more accustomed to games using this style of art since the advent of games like Minecraft. While it may be a point of contention to many, the choice in art direction is one that manages to convey a lot of character and personality. Alongside this is a soundtrack that is very catchy, memorable and would feel right at home in the MegaDrive (or Genesis) era. While it may get a little repetitive at times, Heart&Slash's cheerful musical accompaniment is a joy.
Like the rest of the game, the achievements aren't for the faint of heart. A large portion of the 20 available achievements are unlocked through story progression, although these may still take some time to unlock as the story isn't as straight-forward as most games. There are also achievements for defeating specific bosses; KNIGHTED and DOOMED, for example, are both bosses that can be fought early on, but the random nature of the game may leave you fighting the same one over and over again. A few will prove to be a little more time consuming to unlock. The ROBNIN achievement requires players to unlock all available bladed weapons, which currently stands at a TA ratio of 8.00.
SummaryHeart&Slash is a highly fun game that presents a real challenge and requires a lot of determination in order to progress. Unfortunately, the sporadic camera spoils what would have been a great game. The decision to include permadeath might dissuade a lot of people from the title, but its accessibility, responsive controls, and frantic combat are definitely its strongest points and makes it worth checking out if you're a fan of the action hack and slash genre.
- Fast and frantic combat
- Tight, reactive controls
- Over 100 pieces of equipment
- Cheerful graphics and soundtrack
- Poor camera control
- Easy to get lost
- Permadeath isn't for everyone
EthicsThe reviewer spent approximately 14 hours exploring, dying, testing out new weapon combinations, dying, and doing his best to not conform. During his many attempts to reach his end goal, he unlocked 5 of the game's 20 achievements. A digital copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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