I frequently discuss about indie tropes and design features, and I’ve noticed that indie studios definitely make a lot of 2D games and platformers. I understand that it’s not easy to design a 3D game, but 2D gaming can get a bit repetitive, and you tend to miss that third dimension. That’s why I was excited when I saw Heart&Slash, a 3D hack-and-slash combat game. The game itself, however, managed to excite me less and frustrate me more. However, that frustration comes amidst moments of clever design and terrific fun.
So right off the bat I dove into Heart&Slash’s tutorial mode. Of course, while the game departs from the tradition of 2D indie games, it feels totally comfortable loading its tutorial with cheesy humor instead of focusing on giving us the basics. More importantly, the tutorial doesn’t actually tell you what the main game is like, as it focuses on explaining the combat to you. In any event, you get a sense of the game’s combat system. It’s a pretty basic 3D hack-and-slash setup, with light attacks and strong attacks as well as a dodge button. The creative part, however, is the weapon system. Essentially you can carry 3 weapons at a time. You then hold the right bumper (R1 for you Playstation folk) or the left bumper (L1 if you haven’t guessed) and you’re able to use the next weapon. It makes combos spectacular, as you can string together hits and then switch weapons mid-combo (I’m 90% sure a bunch of other games have done this, but it’s still a nice idea). The game also offers a ton of different weapons, each with their own movesets and animations, and it really gives you a handful of playing styles.
That’s the fun part. The frustrating part is heart and slash’s actual combat engine. Right off the bat, the movement feels like it’s been turned to super speed. You move around way too quickly, and controlling the robot feels unwieldy. After that, you realize that Heart&Slash has committed what I regard to be a cardinal sin in hack and slash games – it doesn’t have a lock on feature. I get that not every hack and slash game is going to let you lock onto enemies, but it’s an important feature and it helps you actually hit the enemies instead of flailing around like an idiot. I lost count of the number of times I was swinging wildly and not hitting anything. Another issue with Heart&Slash’s combat is that it doesn’t manage to make the attacks feel like they’re really connecting. Hitting enemies in the game didn’t really feel satisfying. At some points it felt downright frustrating, as armored enemies will knock you right back whenever you hit them. Still, the game manages to be pretty fun and frantic when you’re surrounded by enemies and you’re hopping around madly trying to slice them all up.
The game gets off to kind of a confusing start, as you encounter the ‘robocalypse’, where robots have taken over and you need to fight them. The developers decided that you would encounter terminals that would give you some guidance, but the terminals would be malfunctioning and slurring their words. This feels like a strange choice, but don’t worry; you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. After my first death to the miniboss, I got a whole new choice of weapons and realized something – Heart&Slash is a roguelite. Clearly, they weren’t ready to totally depart from indie tropes yet. In any event, I got back into the game, this time armed with a whole new set of weapons. This is an interesting challenge for players, as it forces them to change up their playstyle and it actually makes the game less repetitive. However, the game totally will feel repetitive, because you will die a lot, and that’s just in the first level. You’ll also have to contend with the game’s irritating soundtrack, which I ended up muting.
The major issue with the game I found was the difficulty curve. Encounters with robots aren’t easy, but you can manage, and after hacking and slashing your way through some rooms you can upgrade your health bar or some weapons. The problem is that the boss and the miniboss are waaay harder than the minions. The miniboss is a supercharged robot that runs around slashing into your health bar, and two of the bosses I’ve seen so far have been giants that you take on in a room the size of a broom closet. You don’t get health pickups throughout the game, so you pretty much slog through 5 or 6 rooms only to be destroyed. I actually realized later in the game that a lot of the rooms don’t actually force you to stay and fight, so I started just dashing through them trying to get to the miniboss. The thing is, you don’t even really need to kill that many of the minions, as you need to take out two dozen or so just to get a tiny health bar upgrade. Ultimately, boss fights will rely on precise dodging and attacking from you (good luck with all that precision without a lock-on feature), so you’re not really going to need those extra hearts that much.
I play a ton of difficult games, and I always feel salty reviewing a game poorly because of its difficulty, but I feel Heart&Slash doesn’t do a good job in setting up a proper difficulty curve, nor does it reward you sufficiently for cutting down hoards of robots to get to the bosses. At the time of writing, I still haven’t cleared the first boss. One of the messages in the loading screens informs you ‘Don’t get frustrated – take a break’. That’s good advice, Heart&Slash. I think I’ll do that.
Heart&Slash was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the game provided by aheartfulofgames. Game was tested on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. Heart&Slash is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 via digital and retail releases. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Variety of weapons and combat styles
• Fast-paced and dynamic combat
• Ability to string together big combos
• Annoying soundtrack
• Combat controls can be clumsy
• Very uneven difficulty curve