The robot revolution took place, and mankind was completely eliminated.
All that remains are machines, blindly following their designed purpose. Quality Assurance System, or QuAsSy for short, sees and controls all. A cute little robot, Heart, is rebuilt and remains free of QuAsSy’s control. Instinctively, Heart equips itself with nearby weapons and sets out on a journey to find true freedom. This is the premise of Heart&Slash by Aheartfulofgames, a challenging 3D roguelike brawler. As Heart, you navigate through maze-like dungeons and slay enemy robots with the goal of finding true freedom.
Similar to other roguelikes such as The Binding of Isaac and Rogue Legacy, procedurally generated levels combine with real-time action. Players navigate between rooms, defeating enemies and finding new equipment to prepare them for future trials. Death is permanent, requiring you to start from the very beginning when defeated. The random nature of weapon and armour pick-ups does a great job of forcing the player to adapt to a new situation each time a new dungeon crawl begins.
Weapons and armour range from typical weapons like basic swords and axes to dumbbells and rubber ducks. Yes, rubber duck body armour. You unlock most new equipment by fulfilling specific conditions (defeating a specific enemy a set number of times, defeating a boss, and so on). The fact that most weapons play at least somewhat differently adds a great deal of replay value. Equipment that you pick up during a run is randomised, and the thought of receiving a previously unseen weapon is tantalizing. There are a total of 75 weapons and 60 pieces of armour in the game, and unlocking all of them will surely keep you busy for quite some time.
You upgrade weapons and armour (and Heart itself) by spending parts acquired from defeating enemies. Choose to avoid fighting enemies altogether and you give up the opportunity to improve your equipment. One interesting design choice is allowing the player to keep all unused upgrade parts after dying. It is possible to stockpile parts for a few trips through the dungeon to load up on parts and prepare for a serious robot hunt.
Make no mistake in thinking that Heart&Slash is an easy game. Letting your guard down in a seemingly less-threatening encounter will have you rapidly losing hearts. Adding insult to injury is the fact that heart refills are extremely scarce. Defeating the odd enemy can yield hearts, but the majority of your health regeneration is done by recycling your equipment. In addition to upgrading equipment, you may also choose to recycle it, thus destroying it, to replenish some of your hearts. Upgraded equipment yields more hearts regained than a weapon lacking any upgrades; a tough situation forces you to decide which of your weapons are necessary for survival.
Tight controls lend themselves to some absolutely fantastic combat. Upon entering a new room, enemies will spawn and begin throwing themselves at Heart. Using your arsenal of weapons by way of light and heavy attacks, as well as jumping and dodge rolls, you eliminate said enemies. Think of the combo-driven Devil May Cry and Bayonetta series and you’ll find something similar here. You can switch from your primary weapon to one of two secondary weapons via the shoulder buttons. The ability to do this mid-combo adds an extra layer of depth to chaining attacks. At the end of each area, a boss resides. Boss fights are thrilling and demand the player to use every tool in their arsenal to succeed. Maintaining health and properly upgraded weapons until the boss fight is challenging all on its own.
When jumping, the camera pans upward to add a sense of verticality to combat. This is at some points enjoyable and other times very frustrating. The problem is that, in some situations, a mid-air weapon strike requires you to be at a comparable height to the enemy, and the overhead camera can sometimes make comparing heights difficult. This leads into what is Heart&Slash’s biggest issue: the frustrating camera. The camera’s over-sensitivity is immediately jarring and makes finite adjusting difficult. The lack of a sensitivity slider in the options menu offers no way to fix this problem. When too close to a wall or corner, the camera will often zoom to the top of Heart’s head. This leaves the player completely blind to everything happening around them. This often left me frantically jumping and moving the camera to get out of the corner before enemies obliterated me.
(Note: Heart&Slash developers Aheartfulofgames have made comments addressing camera issues, stating that they are working on a patch to implement a sensitivity slider. At the time of submitting this review, however, the patch is not yet implemented. As such, this news does not affect this review score in any way.)
Heart&Slash features a retro, blocky art style, which compliments its arcadey nature. The different environments range from a technology-infused factory to sewer systems and each location oozes personality. Its soundtrack is upbeat and charming, albeit a little repetitive. A few more tracks might have relieved the music of its repetitive nature. Nevertheless, the tonal shift from an upbeat carefree tune to intense boss battle music always got me amped up, even after 12+ hours of playing.
It is worth noting that I encountered a few technical issues while playing Heart&Slash. Jumping to a platform without adequate height will sometimes result in snagging on the edge of the platform in an awkward hanging animation. I noticed mild texture popping in some flooring in the early stages of the game, but these were barely noticeable. On a couple of occasions in the City stage, I jumped to a surface in a platforming section only to fall through and plummet downward. Granted, these instances were by no means common and they didn’t worsen my experience.
Heart&Slash successfully transitions roguelike gameplay into the third-dimension with its fluid, fast-paced (and challenging) combat. Fiercely battling through hordes of enemies is thoroughly satisfying, thanks to the diverse supply of weapons unlocked at a consistent rate. Its retro-reminiscent graphics and soundtrack are both very stylish, though some more musical diversity would certainly be welcome. Aside from some glaring camera issues and the odd technical blemish, Heart&Slash presents exactly what the title suggests: a lot of slashing, and a lot of heart.