The end of the world is a time tested and popular element for gaming. Lots of developers love to stick their game in a far away land previously ravaged by a mysterious, apocalyptic element. For some games, this is all in your face and quite annoying. Others handle it with a bit more subtly and tact. Heart&Slash is one of the latter.
Coming right at us by AHEARTFULOFGAMES and Badland Games, Heart&Slash simultaneously feels like a game we are all familiar with and one that is fresh and new. On one hand, it's a game where you run around and beat up robots until they stop being alive. On the other, it's a thought-provoking roguelike with greater elements at play. It is also hard as all heck! Let's break it and down and see what makes Heart&Slash tick.
Developed by: AHEARTFULOFGAMES
Published by: Badland Games
Available on Steam for $14.99
Available on PlayStation Store for $19.99
Available in English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Italian, German, Russian, and French.
As stated before, Heart&Slash brings a lot to the table. While it first appears to be a high-speed brawler with robots and weapons, a lot of the game's inner beauty comes out slowly as you play. The first thing you'll notice is, unfortunately, the negatives. This game has a few flaws that initially pushed me away. However, its charm wore me down and I soon dismissed those negatives as smaller elements of a larger game. Taking the entire game into account, Heart&Slash is a good game. It's a lot of fun and it's so freakin' hard! If it didn't have those few flaws, I'd say it's a really cute and awesome take on classic game elements. But we'll get to those soon.
This is the heart (another pun!) of Heart&Slash. Even if you've only taken a cursory glance at this game, you'll automatically know one thing: This is a game about a robot who beats up other robots. Right there, I am partially sold and simultaneously skeptical. Robot V. Robot is always a crowd pleaser, but also a bit cliche. Why is this game different?
Well, to start, you are going to die a lot in this game. Seriously, not only is it exceptionally challenging, but parts of the game are specifically designed to be nearly impossible. At certain intervals, I couldn't tell if I was just losing or if I was supposed to lose. I really appreciate games that are great at blending the lines between actual difficulty and scripted impossibility. It makes the whole experience that much more genuine.So while you can double backflip through the air and knock rockets back at enemies with a katana, you also have to keep your wits about you. The slightest delay in your reactions might just be what causes your eminent demise.
Once you die, the first time, you find out something that may be initially infuriating: you now get to start ALL OVER. That's right, death in this game is completely permanent and you have to start the game from the very beginning each time. Now, you don't have to sit through the introduction/tutorial level again (which is nice because it kinda drags on a little too long), but all your weapons, items, and upgrades are gone! You start all over and get to do it all again.
Now, if you're like me, you may have a teeny, tiny, fit of absolute rage when this occurs. And that's ok! It means your normal. Plus, it means you get to try again with a new world and new assortment of stuff! That's right, each subsequent playthrough, while resetting the bosses, also gives you a new randomized selection of gear to discover and upgrade. It really makes the whole thing much more exciting never knowing what you will find. Plus, it sort of incentives death. If you don't like your current weapon/armor set, you can always bite the dust and reroll the dice.
I found myself trying really hard to stay alive in order to progress and discover more stuff, but also secretly hoping I would die in order to see what new weapons I'd be given the next time. It definitely caused some mixed emotions but kept me playing regardless.
Weapons / Items
This game has a massive amount of weapons and items to find, with more constantly being unlocked. On each of my many lives I experienced playing this game, only once did I find a weapon a second time. Plus, I must have unlocked at least three or four new pieces of gear each time I played. This was huge because the game has reputability hard coded into it.
Every single weapon feels different and comes equipped with its own move-set. You'll find guns, swords, blunt instruments, and many other. My favorite weapon I discovered had to be an electrified hammer that did massive damage but could release a short burst around me at the temporary cost of its electrified state. I mean, I got to be a little robot Thor, what more do you want?
The items and armor you find also seem pretty varied, though I didn't successfully progress far enough to find a whole lot of them. I WAS pleasantly pleased to find that, after defeating the first boss, I was starting to stumble across a set of its armor. Nothing is more exciting that defeating a very hard boss and then getting to dress up like it.
Graphics and Audio
This game is adorable. Not only does the main character, Heart, invoke feelings of utter joy and cuteness, but every enemy feels hand crafted and readable. The weapons and armor have a lot of thought put into them and the aesthetics of your gear wonderfully compliment their effects. Once, I found a pair of "Italian Trousers" that let my character do a ground pound attack from the air…it also changed my jump animation to that of Mario and added the accompanying iconic jump noise.
My only criticism is that the game is rather monochromatic at times. Rooms in the first level are typically mostly one color and things can get hard to read when there is a lot of enemies in the room. Plus, rooms started to feel really similar after the fifth or sixth one I entered. If I stopped, I was able to distinguish differences and get a better hold on my bearings, but it put a halt on my progress.
The second level didn't have this problem, as its design was much more balanced color wise. Unfortunately, I only ever made it to the second level twice, quickly dying each time.
The audio in this game is pretty strong. Things make the noises you'd hope they make, enemies explode with appealing booms and bangs, and so on. The music is also very entertaining with one downside…there aren't that many songs. I found myself listening to the same battle music room after room after room. It got rather tedious after a while and I started to get annoyed. This doesn't mean the tracks were bad, I just didn't want to listen to the same one over and over. Specific moments had their own unique tracks which helped break up the monotony.
There are some strong choices with the UI of this game, but there are also a few that aren't so strong. I liked how each weapon got its own unique font and how the menu was easy to navigate. It was also easy to see how much health I had at all times and how much scrap I had collected to build upgrades. There was a mini map present, but while it was very useful for navigating and seeing what rooms you had yet to explore, your character's icon remained static in the center of the room no matter where you went. The map would rotate based on where you were looking, but I wished that my actual position was a bit more specific. Perhaps this was a design limitation, but on a few occasions, I was slightly confused exactly where I was in one of the larger rooms. It wasn't a huge negative, but it was something that I had to get used to.
This game, unfortunately, has its fair share of negative aspects. The game itself as a whole package is pretty strong, but these few issues dropped it down a few points in my eyes. For starters, there is no way to save or quit the game. Not being able to save in a roguelike is understandable, but I couldn't even quit the game without manually closing the application down. That just feels like an oversight in my eyes and a big one at that. It kinda feels like the developers don't want you to be able to put the game down. If you want to quit, you have to lose.
Another thing that kinda bugged me is that, while there are a bunch of upgrades for you, your weapons, and your items, the upgrade menu never tells you what they specifically do. Every upgrade in the game has a description that ranges from playfully obscure ("You hit much harder!") to downright uninformative ("Buy this and see!" Even after buying the upgrade, the description doesn't change, and I have to take it on faith that something actually changed. I understand that adding this element of mystery can be fun, but at least tell me what it does after I buy the dang thing!
Finally, the difficulty itself is somewhat a turn-off. While I am no stranger to hard games, this one was downright brutal at times. Enemies can smack you across a room with a single hit, while all but your heaviest attacks don't phase them at all. On top of that, you can always receive damage by an enemy, even when you are still falling backwards from the previous attack. For such a brutal game, not including any "Mercy Invulnerability" seems like they wanted to make it arbitrarily difficult. I'm all for one standard difficulty in a game, but at the very least it should feel fair. There appears to be such a fun story hidden in this little game, but I just could NOT get past a certain part without having to start all over.
So should you buy this game? In short, why not? It's challenging, varied, cute, and deceptively complex. Long story, depends on how much patience you have. This game somewhat felt like an Early-Access title with a few of its design choices. That isn't a bad thing, but I am curious if the developers are still working on it or if it is finished. If my few grievances weren't present, I'd probably claim this game was the next Rogue Legacy. However, as it stands now, it's fun but kinda under-cooked.
|+ Fun and challenging gameplay||– Frustrating balance issues|
|+ Plethora of weapons and items to unlock and find||– Lack of clarity|
|+ Adorable aesthetic with lots of Easter Eggs hidden||– Missing crucial game elements|