This fast paced and frenetic robot brawler will have you spin slashing as Heart, a robot who thinks the machines should be allowed to keep their own identities, and fight against standardization. The Quality Assurance System (QuAsSy) wants all machines of their type to look and perform the same.
With 6 characters to play as, a whopping 135 pieces of equipment to collect and upgrade, and 93 (yes, count them) enemies, this is a game of epic proportions, for what started as a lowly Kickstarter campaign.
So let me start off my thoughts on Heart&Slash by saying I love roguelike games; I love the versatility that the genre is built upon. They're generally made of levels of basements or floors which are randomly generated at the beginning of each play. The goal is to reach the end by collecting more items and upgrades which make you more powerful, so you can take on harder enemies. The items and upgrades are randomly selected too, so no playthrough will ever have the same ones making how you tackle each run a new challenge every time.
It's a niche market which is rapidly growing, having found its roots as far back as the 1980's. Roguelike genre games haven't often found themselves at the forefront of indie games libraries, with the exception of games like The Binding of Isaac or Don't Starve most recently.
I <3 this
AI really do
Heart&Slash immediately makes me think that this is what Paranautical Activity could have been. Where Paranautical Activity was slow and darkly lit, Heart&Slash is fast-paced and brightly colored, which in today's minds warped by cartoons automatically makes it fun and engaging. By default, Heart's legs will work faster than you're ever going to be ready for; I spent a large portion of my time running into walls as I tried to overcompensate for his speed by steering badly.
But who cares? The thumping electronic music is so bouncy and fun, just running from one side of the map to the other because you can't work out which floor you're on isn't too much of an annoyance with these beats to bop to.
Since the entire floor is pre-loaded before you start the level, you could run through the entire floor just stopping at the plot rooms or upgrade rooms. There is a downside to this, though. When you enter a room you have a certain amount of 'free space' you can enter into before the robot security is triggered, where they come out of panels on the floors and walls. They will follow you (if they can fit through the door; some of them are quite large) and if they catch up to you, you've got a horde of flying robots trying to bomb you with lasers, robot men with cattle prods trying to electrocute you, and bellyflopping power-houses trying to squash you into a circuit board.
As a friendly tip points out during a loading screen, the goal is to reach the end, not explore every room. You can if you wanted to, but the more you explore, unless methodically done, the more of a hassle it is to find your way back to where you were supposed to be going. The way the different floors are layered on the minimap makes planning your route hard as you can only see the waypoint marker on the background. The layers of the floors blend in and the scope of controls you have to manipulate the map are only basic, so there has been some running around trying to work out exactly where I am and where I'm heading. You have to use a little bit of guesswork to try to anticipate which rooms may lead in that direction, and just go with it until there is no further way to proceed.
I cleared each room I went into because I got to collect the experience dropped by the robots as I killed them. One or two bolts are dropped from normal enemies, and collecting ten of these makes a box of mechanical parts which can be used to upgrade Heart (and later, any character you unlock) and your items.
Upgrading the items was a sneaky one I overlooked for a good long while. I could make fair progress, collecting enough mechanical parts to upgrade Heart so he had better stats, but when I started upgrading my weapons and items too (which can have different upgrade requirements) I became extremely powerful.
After a while, enemies started to die so much faster as I sliced at them with huge Ice Slicers, or deftly thumped at them with a maximum upgraded Morningstar. Heavy attacks on the Y button can launch the robots into the air, where you can join them by jumping and continue to hack their consoles off. Some weapons can also be thrown to the ground, which explode on contact, making multiple hits easy and really fun when they blow up with a boom.
Upgrading the weapons and items makes Heart&Slash even more fun. Able to dispatch enemies quicker than before, it doesn't just keep the pace going, it ramps it up tenfold. Even though I'm still skidding into walls and the camera is focussing on me while I'm stuck in a corner and not on the rest of the room, playing becomes an exhilarating experience. The fights are fast paced, dodging incoming attacks by rolling out of the way. If you're smart and use your space well and time it right, you can even get the robots to attack and eventually eliminate each other. Not quite as satisfying as using a pair of boxing gloves to punch robots into submission, but still as enjoyable.
What makes this even better, is that if you die with any unused boxes of mechanical parts on you, you'll be able to carry them over into the next game. Even if it's just one, you could use it to make a decent upgrade on a weapon straight away, giving you the huge advantage against QuAsSy from the start.
The floors are huge, with lots of items to pick up along the way and robots to kill. You'll find stations throughout with messages from the doctor who created you, in a kind of "It's dangerous to go alone, take this" Zelda-callback way, and the crates in those rooms are generally good for healing items. If you don't need to use them immediately, don't waste them. You can always recycle items and weapons you don't need to get health back. The more you upgrade an item, the more value it has for healing when it is recycled.
Weapons also have combos, so hitting X (light attack) and Y (heavy attack) in various combinations can unleash some pretty furious results.
You can carry three weapons/shields/combination of both at any time, the left trigger activates the use of the left item while it's held down, and the buttons to attack are still the same. The same goes for the right trigger. It's easy to learn, but in no way simple to master.
The waypoints marked on the minimap as an exclamation mark are rooms that will progress the story. Each floor eventually has a boss waiting for you, which Heart has to beat in order to progress to the next area and another step closer to QuAsSy.
Note: I feel it's worth mentioning here at the time of writing that there is a game-breaking bug when using the "volt hammer". The developers are aware of this and have informed me personally that they are already working on the patch for the next update. This is only a game breaking bug if you have the "volt hammer" equipped. The best way to avoid the bug is to avoid picking up the hammer until the game is patched, or to recycle it before moving on, which is a shame. This information will be removed once the game is patched.
I very much hope Heart&Slash doesn't fall under the radar. I am already experiencing withdrawal from this vibrant and exciting game, and it's definitely worthy of your time. Making the upgrade right choices, and a little bit of luck, really gets you a long way in Heart&Slash, so I feel like it can be an easier experience for many people who aren't too sure about giving roguelike games a try. I'm not saying it's easy, I'm just saying, it's not as hard as other games of it's type, and that isn't even a bad thing.
- Easy to pick up and play
- Vibrant 3D robot world
- Energetic and fun soundtrack
- Replayability through the roof
- Lots of diverse builds to create and become stronger
- Minor bugs are still being worked out
- Perfecting the sensitive controls takes time (but is very worth it)
- The camera doesn't seem to know what to do
The ease of being able to pick up and play Heart&Slash should be a huge deciding factor if you're thinking about purchasing it. It is brilliant for filling in time between mainstream title releases, if not a game worth picking up just for the hell of it.
This review was performed on an Xbox One using a code provided by the developer.
Lauren Relph is a games writer, focusing on Xbox. She doesn't like piña coladas but loves getting caught in the rain. Follow her on Twitter!