The plot of Heart&Slash begins with an apocalyptic event it calls the Robolution. It’s pretty much how it sounds. Robots rose up and took humanity down a peg. 100 years afterwards, all humans are seemingly extinct, and everything is a robot nightmare. Which, oddly enough, sounds almost identical to last Tuesday. Or it would, if you replaced “robots” with “an oddly fertile strain of deadly bacteria.”
You see, there’s a reason I’m not allowed in secret government facilities housing biological research. It’s mainly because nobody is typically allowed to visit such places. So make that two reasons. The second is that I can be described as “grabby,” “stealy,” “a potential danger to others,” “having no heart,” and “a guy who completely ignores the mere concept of personal space.” It all started when I took a liking to sleeping in the dumpster three blocks from the office. I wasn’t homeless or anything. In fact, my landlord is an absolute delight to be around. The problem is that I like my bed to be as cold as possible. So when my ice machine broke, I had no choice but to find another. My first thought was to take one from the office. But seeing how I had already broken all of those a few weeks ago, I resorted to dumpster diving. I had no luck finding an ice machine, but I found something better. One dumpster, specifically positioned three blocks away from work, was just always cold all the time. It was wet too, which was a definite bonus. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, and I still don’t.
On a surely and hopefully entirely unrelated note, my frost dumpster of a bed was positioned directly behind a disguised government run chemical lab. I learned this by reading the labels off of several vials and jars I acquired from the lab when no one was looking. Long story short, I ended up in my editor’s office with several vials at the ready and told him I was mixing them all together unless he gave me a robot. He didn’t miss a beat. Without even meeting my gaze, he agreed and handed me a copy of Heart&Slash and a coupon for 5% off a Roomba. I took my spoils back to my icy and recently extremely itchy bed (another plus) to celebrate my victory.
Heart & Slash
In the past, I’ve broken up my review into three parts: What I Expected, What I Wanted, and What I Got. And while I have an unnatural love for that style, I feel I need to shake things up for this review. The reason behind this is that there are a few talking points that are what I like to call “mythical problems.” I call them that because you can’t really believe them until you see them for yourself. And, for that, I’ve brought in a gameplay video. Mine, to be exact! Take a look below, and watch as much as you need to. Watch the whole thing if you have an hour to spare. But mostly, watch enough to pay attention to the camera and the speed of the character. ((Warning: A bit of strong language happens at exactly 44:35 if you want to skip ahead.))
Did you catch them? They’re the two most prominent features in the game. First is the camera. It is extremely tight on the character. That makes it hard to feel comfortable about what you’re looking at. This is especially true for a PC game. I don’t know about you, but I sit about 18 inches from my monitor at all times. I don’t have to be so close to my robot buddy (named Heart) that I can smell what he ate for lunch. Pull that camera back. Not only does it make both scanning a room and judging depth more difficult, it’s just claustrophobic as hell. And don’t scroll on down to the comments to complain about how I could have pulled the FOV back in the options. I checked. That option doesn’t exist. And I’m not about to Google around for, “tweak ini heart slash fov.” If you have to tweak the ini of a game just to feel comfortable, then something’s gone wrong.
The second point is less of an issue and more of an observation. Did you see that little guy haul ass? Did you see how he sprints his little lets across that lab floor? He makes Sonic question his life choices. About halfway through, I pick up a leg slot item that made me move even faster! And that’s not even the kicker. Get this. There’s a sprint button. I wasn’t even moving as fast as the game allows. Now, like I said, that’s not necessarily an issue. It’s obvious that the speed involved helps make the game what it is. Does it take a lot of time to get used to? You betcha! But is it a feature of the game that entirely matches the tone of the action? Yep, that too! After a couple playthroughs, I got more accustomed to the speed. The only problem now is that any game I play in the future is going to seem outright sluggish in comparison.
So now the real question. After considering those things, is the game fun? Yes, it is. How fun is it? Well, it took me just over an hour to make the video above. And I know I died at the end of it, but honestly, even beating a playthrough of the game doesn’t take much longer than that. It’s a short game. So I could have given an honest and well rounded review of the game just from that experience above. Knowing that, let’s look at how much time I’ve logged in the game over the several days I’ve had it.
9 hours. That’s not including sleep, work, and an impromptu visit with my in-laws. Those 8 extra hours were entirely on my quiet time. Hell, I sometimes picked it instead of Overwatch, and I love my Overwatch. And the best part is that I’m not done with it. I still want more. Even after this review vanishes into the aether, I’ll still be robotting it up in the Robolution. But why?
Heart&Slash is one of the most fun and addicting games I have played in a while. It is as charming as it is challenging. It is as heartwarming as it is unforgiving. Heart&Slash is best described as an indie, roguelike, hack n’ slash game. To revert back to my typical style for a moment, what I expected was a hack n’ slash version of FTL. What I wanted was a hack n’ slash version of FTL. What I got was a hack n’ slash version of FTL. They have a lot of the same feel and essence that makes them fantastic games. Both have a steady and unforgiving difficulty curve. Both have you picking up the scrap of your enemies for upgrades. Both have randomly generated maps and available equipment. Their similarities are what make a fantastic roguelike game. It will always be different and fresh every time you play, and they can both make you lick the bottom of their boots.
Disclaimer: I both love and hate the story of Heart&Slash. And the reasons for both are the exact same thing. The story is entirely vague. It focuses on three entities: the protagonist, Heart; the brooding ally, Slash; and the antagonist, QuAsSy. QuAsSy is what killed your creator and is sending all of the robots to dismantle you piece by piece. Slash is the only other robot who isn’t part of QuAsSy’s little gang of no-do-gooders. And you, Heart, have not a single clue what’s happening. I’m not making that up. Part of the entire plot is that Heart is just as clueless as the player. If Heart has a catchphrase, it’s “I have no idea what’s going on.”
I love that because it helps keep things relatable. Heart is in the same boat we are and is trying to make sense of the world. However, there better be a point behind it all. Otherwise, this is just a cliche trope used out of laziness. Another appealing aspect of the story, though, is that it transcends playthroughs. Instead of FTL, story arcs started in one game are allowed to carry over into the next. Even dying mid-game doesn’t reset your progress in the overall story. This adds a refreshing twist on the roguelike formula and gives players an extra reason to play the game over and over again. At least, it does that for me. But the story isn’t the only reason.
Combat is a Blast
The combat is like the speed, very fast. This is especially true if you find a fast-hitting weapon. The speed, power, and attacks change depending on which weapon you use. A pair of Handblades are fast with a limited range. The Rocket Hammer, however, swings much slower, but can carve a decent path through your enemies. And all melee weapons come with both a light and heavy attack that also change depending on the weapon. This way, it’s easy to discover a favorite weapon that always gets you excited when you come across it. Finding the exact weapon to complement your playstyle makes all the difference in the game.
The biggest enemy in the game is that camera. And his best friend, blinding speed, doesn’t make matters any better. The camera is so tight, it’s far too easy to lose track of enemies or get disoriented. This is especially true with flying enemies. Attacking while in the air is usually a one-and-done thing. You get one shot to connect before you tumble back to the ground. The tight camera with its lack of depth turns air combat into trial and error hell. This gets even worse when you encounter larger groups later in the game. As shown in the video above, I have often taken far too much time just trying to get a hit on a flying robot. And while that doesn’t ruin the game, it definitely breaks some of the flow. However, the video also shows that, despite that fact, I was still having a lot of fun with the combat. For every issue or complaint in the Let’s Play, there are at least two moments where I praise it.
Aside from the melee arsenal, there is also a collection of ranged weapons in the game. From what I’ve found, they range from shotguns to grenades to laser cannons. Compared to melee weapons, they are a bit trickier to use. Most have you aim by holding down the attack button and rotating your character until its facing its target. That only really works on the x-axis, so flying enemies are practically immune to those. Some, like the laser cannon, shift into first-person to specifically aim. This helps center in on any enemy in the field, but completely goes against the fast combat premise that the game is based on. I found it difficult to find suitable situations where I could stop, aim, and fire before being pounded into oblivion. However, even the game seems to feel that ranged weapons are an afterthought. When picking one up, you don’t have the option to put it in your primary slot. You have to place it in one of your two secondary slots. Which reminds me:
The UI Is a Bit Awkward
You have three weapon slots and four equipment slots. The game automatically selects the center weapon. In order to use the other two, you have to hold down their corresponding button. I first played this game with the keyboard and mouse. In that case, I was asked to hold down either Z or C to use those weapons. That’s on top of WASD to move and SPACE to jump. In other words, I immediately pulled out my Steam controller. There, I still had to hold down buttons to use the other weapons, but they were mapped to the shoulder buttons, so it was much easier to use.
There is an option in the game for Alt. Weapon Swap. That way, you don’t have to hold down the button in order to use the other weapons. Unfortunately, I have found no way to reselect the middle weapon. It lets you swap between the left and right slot, but the middle becomes entirely unusable until you deselect that option. And what about if you only have one alternate weapon? Well, in that case, you’re stuck on that one weapon. There’s no way to swap to anything else until you either remove that alternate option or you get a new weapon. Either that, or if it’s a ranged weapon, it just completely ignores that “Alt. Weapon Swap” feature altogether. The good news is that the weapons in your inventory are generally easy to understand. They come with full descriptions about their use and elemental type. It’s just unfortunately that the whole elemental type system is treated like a total secret in the game.
From what I’ve noticed, there are 5 elements in the game: fire, ice, electricity, acid, and physical. Generally, physical appears to be simply a lack of an element, but it still has a place in the game of resistances. A robot heavily resistant to the other elements may not have a resistance to basic, physical damage. However, figuring out how resistances work is a mind-boggling and frustrating experience. There is no clear explanation of which elements are best against which enemies other than trial and error. If the creature you’re attacking does have a reaction to your current element, it will pop up either the word “resist” or “weak” on the screen. Unfortunately, it is not often you find yourself rocking multiple elemental weapons to swap out when one isn’t cutting it, so you’re pretty much stuck using the ineffective weapon anyway. Because of that, you might not even care enough to even Google the problem.
A lot of these issues are easy to overlook. Yes, they are annoying little nags, but they don’t do much to interrupt the fun of the game. In fact, once the game really gets rolling, you kind of let these problems drift away from your mind.
The Gameplay is Addicting
It’s a roguelike. I has everything you know and love (or hate) about the genre. It is difficult, punishes defeat, and changes with each new playthrough to stop you from learning the game. Each game starts you out as Heart in the laboratory you were made, but the layout and enemies of the facility change drastically every time. This is the same with the sewers and city landscapes afterwards. Also, of course, the weapons and gear the game offers also change. The only real guarantee is that you will be offered 3 pieces of equipment at the start, and one is guaranteed to be a melee weapon. Other weapons or pieces of gear are not promised in the slightest.
The enemies also make no promises. There are multiple types with multiple elements, and there is no telling what you’ll be up against. One room may contain a swarm of small flame bots while the next pits you up against a troop of acidic bruisers. Sometimes, flying enemies swarm the skies. Other times, they swarm the skies even harder. There are even multiple bosses the game tosses at you randomly. You can’t prepare for a boss far in advance, because you have no way of knowing who it’s going to be. Just like any roguelike, this helps make sure players stay on their toes. You can’t memorize the game in an attempt to impress your friends. You either get genuinely better at the game or play something else. It’s that challenge that makes you want to pick the game back up, even after it completely dominated you.
Another addiction aid in the game is the gear. With each playthrough, chances are good you’ll come across something you haven’t seen before. It’s always fun to test out and use new weapons. I’ve specifically found myself in situations where I’ve spurned by previously favorite weapon just for an opportunity to try out something new. This works with the other gear as well. Some pieces of gear offer elemental resistances, but others are more creative than that. These include the head slot item that shows off enemy health and the chest piece that can actually shoot enemies in front of you. And the best part is that I haven’t even seen half of the stuff yet. The more you play, the more gear you unlock. That way, you’re guaranteed to find new things even a dozen playthroughs in. And that’s not even considering the upgrades for your items.
Items are the heart and soul of Heart in Heart&Slash. Every item you pick up is recyclable and upgradeable. If you come across an item you don’t want, you can recycle it for health. Otherwise, keep it around and upgrade it after you kill enough enemies. Each weapon has it’s own unique upgrades. Some are straightforward: higher damage, faster swings, etc. Others are more unique: backstabbing damage, charge attacks, etc. Other gear works the same way. Basically, the possibilities are nearly endless. And you don’t have to worry about investing so many upgrades on a single item. If you find one you like better, you can recycle your upgraded item for a bigger heal.
You can upgrade any item you collect as well as your body unit. The base Heart unit has the same potential upgrades each game. These range from increased jumping height and speed to getting more hearts for recycling items. There is an extra boon for spending upgrades on the body unit as well. Each upgrade increases Heart’s base health. Other upgrades do not. The only other way to accomplish this in the game is to recycle an item while you are already at full health. You can skip the body upgrades altogether, but you’ll probably regret the decision 45 minutes in.
Heart&Slash is an extremely fun game. It’s got a cute, little, indie style. It has an endearing story. It has addictive gameplay, and Heart is a great character. It’s everything it should be. It’s true that I have a few gripes about it. That tight camera work is just inexcusable. But it is no doubt that the positives of Heart&Slash far outweigh the negatives of it. From the gear and upgrades to the lightning fast combat, Heart&Slash keeps calling me back for me. And I am happy to answer that call.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Badlands Games ; Developer: AHEARTFULOFGAMES; Players: 1; Released: August 9, 2016 ; ESRB: E10+ ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Heart&Slash given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.