In the ever growing sea of indie roguelikes, it can be hard to distinguish between games that are worth your time versus games you should really just pass up. “Vertical Drop Heroes HD” has trouble staying afloat, but is certainly worth your time.
Published by Nerdook and released July 25th for PC, “Vertical Drop Heroes HD” offers a relatively unique take on the roguelike formula similar to that of “Rogue Legacy.” Areas are randomly generated, your character gains levels, stats and skills as in any RPG and once you die, you must start with a fresh character. However while traditional roguelikes tend to be top-down and turn-based, “Drop Heroes” is an action platformer. Levels are entirely vertical, hence the name, and start the player at the top with a portal to the next level at the bottom.
There is very little in the way of story. Basically, everyone wants to be the hero, but unfortunately, not everyone is. Hence why most of your runs will end in death. But with each death comes additional strength for the next potential hero, and so dieing is not the worst thing in the world. As you drop deeper and deeper, you’ll collect gold that can be spent on a number of different powers and upgrades for future heroes to have access to. This gives “Drop Heroes” a sense of progression that many roguelikes lack.
Action is generally fast-paced and never gets very complicated. Attacking is done with a single button, and mashing it in the midst of a group of enemies works almost as well as taking your time with them. There are also two skills given to your character randomly at the start of each game. These range from being able to shoot arrows to summoning friendly heroes to even breaking blocks in the level. All skills have limited charges, but there are enough pickups scattered about levels that I was never too worried about running out of uses. It’s a factor, but not a stressful one.
A slight twist is pacifism mode, which spawns a large number of orbs across the entire level. These orbs grant the player money and experience, but will all disappear the moment you kill an enemy. If you’re feeling patient enough, it’s possible to collect all the orbs, then use one of the commonly found teleporters to get back to the top of the stage in order to deal with all the monsters you’ve left behind. It’s an interesting mechanic, and offers up another way to play.
Random level generation will always have its problems, and “Drop Heroes” is no exception. Blocks are scattered about in mostly nonsensical patterns and items and upgrades are mixed in without much thought. Occasionally patterns would repeat themselves, but each level was more or less new. There was never a time I was unable to reach a certain area of a level due to the generation, but the fact that levels are not actually predetermined, and therefore are not thought out, is very apparent. In a traditional roguelike this may not have been a problem, but in a platformer, it really shows.
The visuals are also lacking in several aspects. Animations are shoddy, particularly when it came to characters moving across the screen. There is also an immense amount of clutter on screen at almost all times. Attacking monsters shows large health and damage numbers to appear on screen, in addition to a slew of other information. While these numbers are helpful, they would occasionally cover my character and the mob of enemies I was attacking entirely, which could lead to me taking unnecessary hits.
Both of these issues did little to take away from the overall fun of the game though. The controls are very responsive and take very little getting used to. Hacking and slashing through enemies while maneuvering my way down to the bottom of each level was always exciting and seemed to be just the right length. The music, consisting of semi-electronic beats, helps here. Nothing particularly memorable, but very catchy and upbeat which makes the fast pace of the game ever faster.
“Drop Heroes” also has good variety in its design, as any good roguelike should. Chests and crates are scattered everywhere to tantalize the player while cages hold trapped heroes that, when rescued, help you out by attacking enemies at random as well as offering up some unique buffs. Passing by flags sounds an alarm, causing a group of enemies to spawn on screen. Water changes your jump physics, and can be removed by destroying blocks beneath. Sand platforms disappear. Mushrooms are bouncy. Dart traps are painful. All these mechanics and more keep gameplay fresh through the whole playthrough, and never become overwhelming.
“Vertical Drop Heroes HD” is not the easiest game to love, but look past its exterior and you’ll find a lot of heart. Everything needed to make a good game is present; it just has a hard time getting that across. Not to mention the game is being sold for seven dollars; you’re likely to get at least an hour of gameplay per dollar spent, and that’s before its new game plus mode. I’d say that makes it well worth the money.