Adventure games took the world by storm in the ’80s and ’90s, thanks in large part to the hits made by both Sierra and LucasArts. As the industry continued marching on, developers tried to continue that same style pioneered by King’s Quest and the like to varying degrees of success. Lori Ann and Corey Cole, the veteran developers behind the acclaimed Quest for Glory series, returned in 2018 with Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, and have now brought the title to Nintendo Switch.
I honestly did not expect to fall so hard for this game. But over the course of its 50 in-game days, the many hours I’ve spent crawling through secret passages and challenging rich kids to card games, I was completely hooked. From the groan-inducing puns to the surprisingly deep combat mechanics, there was enough content to really sink my teeth into and be satisfied.
STORY – ROGUEISH RUMORS
Our story revolves around Hero University, and the mysteries it contains. Players take the role of Shawn O’Connor, a one-time aspiring thief who gets intercepted and placed at the school under strange circumstances. He’ll have to attend classes, interact with classmates, and investigate mysterious circumstances over the course of 50 in-game days.
Shawn is a fine enough protagonist, even if he speaks almost entirely in puns. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pun. But nearly every single line that he utters is dripping with some sort of smirking comment. Standing on their own, his jokes are great, but when inundated with the injection of humor, things quickly become skippable filler talk. The main story and important conversations are thankfully safe from the comedic stylings of our would-be hero, but there’s also a pretty large amount of side-stories and filler dialogue, and man, I just want a break.
Other than the everlasting clowning, the supporting characters flesh out some expected stereotypes pretty well. The wealthy rival, the enchanting (and clearly Romani) immigrant, the brainy kid who doesn’t belong, the sly hustler, and the strong innkeeper’s daughter all have storylines and questlines throughout the course of the game, along with a handful of teachers and school staff. This all means that Hero-U is incredibly fleshed out, providing players with a packed school of content to comb through during their stay.
There are some strong Harry Potter vibes at play here. You’re in a school inside of a castle, the administration hates you, and you have classes in the dungeon. It’s easy to make these comparisons. But the writing isn’t trying to be on par with an incredibly popular book series. It’s the fun story of a boy who gets thrust into a situation and starts poking around where things seem weird, and I feel like it pays off really well as the game progresses.
GAMEPLAY – EXPERT EVASIONS
To be clear about the type of game this is: it’s an isometric point-and-click adventure. That all works okay, but just like the issues with the cursor I had in Great Conqueror: Rome, I don’t think this was the best choice on Nintendo Switch. Using a cursor with the Switch control sticks is just too cumbersome and doesn’t feel good to use. I’d much rather have controlled the character directly. I understand that would have made perspective a difficult hurdle to overcome, but at least traversal would have been more comfortable.
Anyway, as an old-school adventure title, you go through the game clicking on and interacting with anything you can see. Tables, sconces, bookshelves, suspicious walls, it’s all subject to the scrutiny of your investigative eye. This leads to many, many instances of dialogue where you (the IRL player) direct Shawn (the player character) to do silly things like steal a suit of armor, resulting in the aforementioned wisecracks.
Combat is straightforward and rarely frustrating. If there’s a challenging enemy, then I simply need to train some more before I try and tackle that particular corner of the wine cellar. As the entire conceit of the story revolves around being a student striving to grow, so there are training rooms available to increase stats like lockpicking, agility, strength, etc. In a very similar way to titles such as Punch Club, players need to manage their time, money, and attention in order to advance.
I found the overall progression speed really satisfying. Gradually, more and more shortcuts and mysteries were uncovered and made available. Typically, when a title has a limited amount of in-game time, I feel stress the whole time, thinking that I’m running out of time (thanks, Majora’s Mask). But I never felt that way here. Days didn’t fly past me without any meaningful furtherance, and I didn’t encounter any loose story beats that I had to skip out on. I was able to see the end of everything that interested me.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – PRETTY PUZZLES
Logically, I know that the developers of Hero-U were behind some of the biggest adventure titles of the ’90s. I know that in my brain, but I’m still impressed with how well they stuck the landing on the retro art style. The title looks nearly like a straight port of a classic PC title, rather than something crafted in the modern day with that pedigree behind it.
The pixel art is really beautiful, especially in the backgrounds and static screens, and the 3D models of characters don’t look out of place against the 2D backdrops. At times, I got a sense of even turn-based isometric titles such as Fallout, due to the gritty, dirty stylings of the dungeon areas. The enemies I encountered and areas I explored held a presence. None of the rooms were bare or devoid of set dressing, and it all felt like a living environment, filled with things that the characters would actually interact with.
I do have to mention the interstitial pixel art, used during events when time passes. These would show up most often during meals or overnight, to signify that there was a progression in time. That’s a fine mechanic, of course, but some of the character art was… unsettling? Specifically, Shawn’s face, which seems to have been designed with one expression in mind. I just don’t think it translates well to other emotions. His smile disturbs me.
That might be the point, he is an aspiring street thief, after all. But the frequency of which I had to look at his ridiculous smirk did make it somewhat offputting to see. Other characters didn’t seem to have a problem, so maybe this is just like when you come across a particular doll that you don’t care to look at. There’s nothing inherently wrong with its face, but it isn’t compatible with your life.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A key was provided by Transolar Games.