Heart & Slash (Xbox One Review)
From Johnny 5 to Wall-E robots have always had a certain charm about them. Even when Will Smith was at the pinnacle of the robot revolution he managed to find humanity in a sentient robot completely devoid of what you would expect of humans themselves – aside from the pasty white face and willingness to hide from the world that is. So when Heart & Slash present its titular character, Heart, as an amalgamation of Saga’s Prince Robot IV and the companion cube I was ready to settle down with another heart-warming tale of triumph, I just didn’t expect this triumph to be so overwhelming and challenging.
If you hadn’t heard of Heart & Slash, or the developers aheartfulofgames, before you would be forgiven. The Madrid based team funded Heart & Slash through Kickstarter and for the most part the team of developers are relatively unknown. Although that works to their strength. For their first venture in to game Heart & Slash is a perfect realised dream and we are fortunate enough to see it come to fruition.
In terms of story, Heart & Slash unfortunately fails to deliver. A mix of generic tropes and oddly quiet scenes delivering the dialogue leave the impression that Heart & Slash is fairly void of any notable moments when discussing its narrative. Basically the sentiment is that all robots are bad, the world is overrun by these bad robots, and you are the good robot that needs to fight that bad robots with a massive collection of weapons.
In spite of a rather dull story the environments Heart & Slash takes you to are gorgeous. Starting in an underground lab you fight your way forward through 3 distinct environments, each with a wonderful colour palette and some really nice use of colour. Fighting around the environments can be a great deal of fun, especially when your version of Heart is reflected in the items you’ve found along the way and change his appearance throughout the campaign. And it’s all tied together in a charming soundtrack that never really gets old, which is very much needed in a game that will have you replaying levels time after time.
The main draw of Heart & Slash is definitely its approach to the brawler genre, with a combat system that feels reminiscent of games like Devil May Cry blended with elements from Rogue-like games (permadeath, randomly generated levels, and high difficulty). Challenged with fighting off swathes of enemies you will find your footing with the array of weapons Heart & Slash has to offer, allocating them to one of three slots available, and using your weapon’s unique attributes to counter certain enemy types and earning much needed nuts and bolts to upgrade everything from your health to special abilities of your weapons. Although a simple collection of weapons wouldn’t keep you occupied, even when the challenge of Heart & Slash itself is rewarding, aheartfulofgames have added a system that challenges players to kill enemies in a specific way amongst other challenges – slowly unlocking more armour and different equipment that filters in to the following playthrough. It’s this sense of a well thought out and engaging system that compliments the hard as nails combat with a notion that every single playthrough is not wasted, something other similar games lack that will keep you coming back for more.
In spite of having fairly solid gameplay and a soundtrack Heart & Slash’s camera truly lets down the experience. It’s almost as if the camera itself is a rampant AI that needs to be shut down. A need to constantly adjust and readjust the camera proves detrimental in combat, occasionally forcing itself in to a position that completely obscures what’s happening on screen. And it wouldn’t be that bad if readjusting the camera wasn’t so loose. As a pitiful apology you are offered a simple toggle of the right analogue stick to centre the camera on whatever Heart is focussing on, but without an actual lock on function that can also be increasingly frustrating. To add to the detriment of the camera Heart & slash opts to avoid the lock on mechanic expected of such games, which isn’t entirely awful but definitely adds to the frustration of a poorly functioning camera – especially when taking on flying foes and going in the wrong direction or having to input direction based attacks.
Aheartfulofgames have created something special with Heart & Slash, it’s unrefined and could do with tweaking, but all of that can be forgiven if you are a fan of the genre. Over time you will find yourself striving to improve past progress and try out as much as possible. It is however let down by the small offerings it has when it comes to story and how much there actually is to play, in spite of hundreds of enemy types and weapons as they turn out to be slight twists on a few common staples. If you want something a little different to take a swing at, then by all means dive head first in to Heart & Slash, but if you are like me and expect a little more variety and length in their stories and levels it might not be the game for you.