While Kickstarter is mostly known for sequels to games that weren’t commercially successful enough for publishers’ demands or studios who can’t get funding, there is the occasional indie studio which utilises its power to fund new ideas from new developers. The latest of these is aheartfulofgames’ Heart&Slash.
Upon diving into the alpha build of the game, we were greeted by robots lamenting their friend who “keeps getting himself killed” before the lights came on and showed us the game’s delightful art style; a combination of voxels – though of a higher fidelity than the usual – and a retro, cartoony sci-fi theme. It brings to mind a time of Lego and Mega Man, the influence of which shows in the game’s art. It’s a mix that is highlighted well with the use of stark, vibrant colours on a darker backdrop.
We were then given control of Heart, the game’s protagonist, who is a robot with a TV displaying nothing but a heart for a head. After navigating the opening corridor of the game, we were presented with three items: a bin lid, a rocket hammer, and some new legs.
Rather than beat us round the head with tutorials for each item, the game left us alone to experiment and discover everything for ourselves. When enemies attacked – a group of rather unimpressive robots – we found out a little too late that the bin lid acted as a shield rather than a weapon, while the hammer did a ton of damage with each slow but satisfying swing. The legs weren’t a weapon at all; they were legs.
Combat is similar(ish) to character action games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. You strike enemies with the press of one button while evading attacks with another. A simple system that failed to impress us at first, though we later discovered that weapons were upgradeable – presenting the familiar challenge of balancing your upgrades to maximize efficiency – though it still felt unsatisfying due to the lack of sound or meaningful combo system.
Level design is suitably varied, throwing in some verticality and hazards such as electric floors. It’s a good starting point, and it will be interesting to see what aheartfulofgames can come up with during more advanced stages of development. Hopefully they can draw some inspiration from similar games and give them a three-dimensional treatment.
While we were slowly able to wipe out the first wave of robotic enemies, the second proved too much and booted us all the way back to the title screen. It wasn’t until re-entering the game that we realised what we were really playing: Heart&Slash is a roguelike.
For those unfamiliar with roguelikes, the concept is this: You are given one life to complete the game in, the majority of which is randomly generated from the game’s assets. The genre’s name is derived from Rogue, a notoriously difficult game that has influenced many popular games like FTL. Videos of these games also garner a large audience on YouTube and Twitch due to their random and procedural nature lending itself to spontaneous entertainment.
Entering the same room to find different weapons – including a poleaxe and boxing gloves – drove home the point; this was a 3D action version of what games like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy had delivered before. A new take on the addictive formula that now seems so obviously the next step that it’s bizarre it was the first we’d seen; aheartfulofgames could be sitting on a goldmine here, delivering the Super Mario 64 of roguelikes.
The next room confirmed this for us: we were greeted by a smaller number of larger enemies that obliterated us pretty quickly, summoning a host of warm memories of nights spent hitting similar brick walls to batter ourselves against just to reach that next level.
If Heart&Slash can deliver that in a more action-oriented manner while tightening up its combat and enemies – mainly in making them a little more interesting – we are most definitely on board with this game that seems poised to make waves in the genre.