7.5
Our overall verdict "bronze"

Do robots dream of rogue-likes?

We all like robots, and whether it’s that lovable little junk-hoarder Wall-E, former Planet Quartu resident Clank or even Skynet’s poster boy the T-800 we’ve each got our own favourite. Hoping to become a new entry in everybody’s ‘Ultimate Robots list’ is HRT-1, Heart to his friends.

HRT-1 is the star of the show in aheartfulofgames rogue-like 3D brawler Heart&Slash, a cross between Devil May Cry and the Binding of Isaac. It begins with Dr Sympathic (probably the 2nd best Dr name ever just pipped by my old doctor, Dr Oo!) activating a robot, which turns out to be the game’s titular character, Heart. After running a few diagnostic tests to make sure Heart is functioning properly we are introduced to Slash, a combat robot. After this the trouble starts as all the other robots have rebelled and started a robot revolution – sorry, Robolution – with the all-seeing robot leader Quality Assurance System (QuAsSy) now running the show. This opening sequence works well as a brief tutorial and is a perfect way of introducing you to both the main character and the controls for the game.

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Waking up a hundred years later, with the Robolution still going strong, Heart finds itself apparently alone in a factory. Nearby is a console and from it you’ll receive a message from Dr Sympathic. You are different to the other robots because you feel, and due to this they will hunt you down. Now is the time to be a fighter not a lover, so grab a weapon or three and fight your way to freedom.

To make your escape you move Heart around with the left stick, control the camera with the right, and jump with cross and evade with the circle button. By pressing the square or triangle buttons you can unleash your fury on the other robots with light or heavy attacks. This combat system works very well and different button combos have different attacks. You can even switch between weapons by holding the trigger buttons, which is great for linking attacks together.

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Time to talk rogue-like

No one enjoys a game if they are repeatedly dying without any sense of progression, which is often what it feels like in rogue-like games. These games have permadeaths, randomly generated levels, random pick-ups and probably a bit more added randomness thrown in for good luck. On top of that they are usually brutally difficult. That is why they are often overlooked or abandoned by many people, which is understandable but at the same time a great shame. I myself have been guilty of this with the likes of Rogue Legacy and the Binding of Isaac. I’ve only recently revisited these games and have started to embrace the genre now I understand it a bit more. The basic thing to remember is to forget (?) about trying to complete the game with every attempt – it’s never going to happen, ever!

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This is definitely the case with Heart&Slash. It’s not an easy game even if its appearance suggests otherwise. I became disheartened as I failed miserably when I first started playing. This is because I was trying to plough through the game, upgrading as soon as I’d collected enough bolts from fallen enemies. Then I saw a tip on the loading screen stating you could carry bolts over to other runs, so I thought ‘Right then, you b*stards, I’m having you!’ I changed the way I played. Over the next few sessions I concentrated on farming the bolts. After a number of runs I’d built up a large amount and bumped into Slash who wanted me to defeat a boss (tip – Slash’s narrative moves the plot on so don’t destroy him when you first meet up again or you’ll be stuck in a loop). I was finally ready to go on a super session but even then I still waited a few more runs until I had weapons I was happy with; a thunder hammer, ice blade, baseball bat and Italian boots (perfect for causing damage when jumping on enemies. Cough, cough, Mario anyone!). I used the bolts to heavily upgrade the weapons and body parts; I was like Thor on a mission – reigning down lightning on robots that got in my way. I didn’t defeat the boss but I now knew how the boss moved for when I faced it the next time. I was back to square one again but I’d made progression.

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Heart&Slash has gone for a retro approach for the visuals. It has the look of a PS2 game that has been given a polish for a PS4 release and opts for a bright pixelated art style that wouldn’t be out of place in a low budget Pixar film. Also the camera doesn’t behave as well as it should and might put some gamers’ off. It’s like the games of old where we had to constantly use the right stick to get the camera to follow us.

The trophy list in Heart&Slash is a combination of killing multiple amounts of the various enemies, unlocking lots of different weapons and completing the game. While not a hard list, the time it will take you to obtain the platinum will heavily depend on how random the weapons etc drop.

Conclusion

Heart&Slash is a highly enjoyable, insanely hard 3D brawler with rogue-like elements and a “die and try again” attitude. Yes the graphics and camera control gives the game a nostalgic PS2-era look and feel but that’s okay in my book. The vast amount of quirky weapons and comedic body parts coupled with the humorous interactions between Heart and Slash makes sure this game is really fun to play. It doesn’t feel as daunting as some of the other rogue-like games we’ve seen recently. So maybe we should consider it a rogue-like-lite instead of a rogue-like game.

NelMaNo Rating – 7.5/10

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NelMaNo is a family man and a long time gamer. He’s a typical Yorkshire man who won’t judge a game until he has given it a fair crack of the whip(pet). Follow him on twitter @NelMaNo