This review was written using a digital copy available on the PlayStation Store for the PlayStation 4.
There seems to be a lot of retro-styled games in gaming today and there’s a lot to choose from: you have your old-school platformers, your throwback shooters, your stylish roguelikes, among many others. Today, it seems as though nostalgia-based gaming could house its own genre in just about an online game store and it’s becoming more and more prevalent as days go by: Heart & Slash fits neatly within that place and it does well by it, thankfully.
Publisher: BadLand Indie
Released: June 24, 2016 (Xbox One), June 28, 2016 (PS4), TBA (PC, Early Access)
MSRP: $19.99 (Consoles), $24.99 (PC)
What you see on the surface is a clear homage to early PlayStation style games that focuses on action and playability: thankfully, that’s exactly what you get, too, to some regard. You’re dropped smack dab in the middle of a war between robots well after robots apparently conquered humanity and your job is to set things straight. This battle isn’t won easily, though, as enemies, item drops, areas, and even the placement of certain obstacles are all procedurally generated, meaning that your quest against the robot overlords will be different in nearly every way nearly every time you play, true to its roguelike foundations.
One of the best things about this game is the fact that it’s incredibly accessible: I’ve played a wide variety of roguelikes in my time as a gamer, especially within the last few years or so and I have to hand it to aheartfulofgames: they really have a finger directly on the pulse of what makes a good roguelike and they definitely know how to make a retro-themed game without forcing the nostalgia value. There’s way too many games out there that try to force down your throat how charming, random, and in touch with gamers it is and this game is simply content in being awesome and knowing itself full well. I really like that.
Along with that, it hasn’t forgotten what makes modern games good, as well: while it is a roguelike, at heart, it is, without a doubt, an action game in its core and the developers have done well to do exactly what other compelling modern action games do in keeping the control scheme easy to grasp and deep enough to keep you trying new things in different situations. Very much in the vein of games like Bayonetta, there is a two-button attack combo system present that seems basic on the surface but can go deep enough to really challenge you later on but also sets you up to feel really accomplished to pull some neat stuff off and get through otherwise troublesome battles.
A lot of the sore points I feel about the game are sore points I have with roguelikes in general and I feel it’s kind of unfair that I even point them out because it feels like I’m nitpicking anyway: a lot of how far you’ll get in the game, especially early on, is entirely dependent on random number generation. It can go from extremely favorable to “why in the nine hells did I even pick up my controller?” There’s no curve at the beginning of the game and it can really turn some gamers off, especially if they’re not really understanding of what roguelikes are like, to begin with. This game advertises more as a cutesy retro-based action title so it’s pretty easy to overlook some of these things if you’re not familiar with the genre. While I am familiar with the genre, usually you’re given a core set of abilities or equipment that you can steadily build upon from the first time you play and you find that there’s not much that carries over from the last playthrough and every death is permanent so… there’s not much encouragement for lengthy playthroughs.
Another thing that I struggle with is that while swinging your weapon around or enemies firing weapons feel as though they have heft but aside from that, everything moves as if they weigh nothing at all and they’re located within some kind of antigravity chamber: while this might be fun for a lot of people, I hated it. The camera can spin around way too quickly and everything just moves before you can really get your bearings and the camera gets blocked easily by whatever gets in the way as though it’s a physical unit in the space so that limits your sight even more. Twitchy-style gamers will thrive in this atmosphere but otherwise it’s actually pretty damn annoying for someone like myself.
This game seems too willing to brush off the fact that it’s a roguelike while that’s pretty much half of what it’s made of and I fear that those components may feel like a crutch, after a while. I played this game for many sessions and I felt quite tired of the game after playing through five or six lives because nothing really carries over until you start getting further on into the game per life and, even then, it doesn’t do much to influence your next playthrough. That’s really unfortunate, because I really dig the look and general feeling of the game but to have absolutely no reason to play often in one sitting really doesn’t sit well with me. Any replay value comes strictly from that completionist “find all the stuff, do all the things” mindset that does not come commonly and it certainly doesn’t apply to me.
With that in mind, the price tag for the game certainly does not feel appropriate for a game that takes a casual approach even to its more hardcore players. It’s almost as if the developers are making a statement about taking breaks from games once in a while, or something, and while that’s commendable, it also doesn’t sit well with me, at least, with this type of game. There’s just no weight to anything you’ve done up to any point once you’ve died and that really adds to the tension level at all times.