Heart & Slash sounds like the title of a buddy cop film. Sadly that’s not the case. It’s the story of a robot revolution or ‘Robotlution’ that wiped out humanity. The hero Heart is assembled by the last remaining humans to take out QuAsSy, who is the unseen robot overlord. Heart encounters a bot named Slash who he befriends (or destroys your choice), and Heart sets out to save the human race.
Aheartfulofgames, a largely unknown studio funded Heart & Slash through Kickstarter, and originally pitched the game as a dungeon crawler meets Capcom’s Devil May Cry. This sounds about right. Although I never played much DMC so, I compared it to God of War. The game features hack n slash (pun intended? – Ed) combat using two buttons – light and heavy attacks. Three weapons can be equipped at once, as well as four pieces of armour. If you hold either trigger, you’ll immediately switch to the second or third weapon slot. This allows for some advanced combo manoeuvres, plus there are double-jump and dodge-roll techniques to utilise.
Heart & Slash is a rogue-like. This means procedurally generated levels, permanent death and random weapon drops. It can be tough! The randomness of the weapon drops can be frustrating. One time you might start with three awesome weapons, the next time you draw two body mods and one lousy weapon. Progressing beyond the first level is not easy without a decent weapon, and you may never get one. Plus the procedurally generated levels are structured like mazes, so it’s easy to get lost.
Like many rogue-likes, there’s an EXP system and plenty of risk vs. reward based on your decisions. Each enemy robot destroyed grants you bolts that can be used to upgrade health, weapons and body mods. You can easily skip enemy encounters, but also sacrifice opportunities to unlock bolts for weapon upgrades. If you engage the enemies, you risk losing health in the process. There is a neat system that allows you to sacrifice weapons for health, although the random structure means that they may never get replaced.
The art style and soundtrack could easily see Heart & Slash pass for a long lost PS2 or Dreamcast game if there was such a thing. The bright, pixelated, blocky graphics and upbeat soundtrack would be at home in any game from Japan released in the early 2000s. Surprisingly Aheartfulofgames are based in Madrid.
The one issue that holds the game back is its atrocious camera. The camera also feels like it was pulled from a game released in the early 2000s. The camera is constantly clipping through walls which all too often results in unseen enemy attacks. The platforming sections are near impossible due to the camera moving at inappropriate times. Aheartfulofgames have stated that a patch is on the way. Good! But the version I played was pre-patched, so I can’t speak for any improvements.
Heart & Slash is a game that screams out to be 100% completed. An Unlock screen from the main menu teases you with all of the items to collect and challenges to finish. There are 75 weapons and 60 pieces of armour, a long line of challenges and an enemy codex to fill. There’s even an alternate ending that can’t be completed without multiple playthroughs. All reasons to come back again and again.
Rogue-likes are all the rage amongst the indie community. There’s been a flood of rogue-like dungeon crawlers and shooters, so it makes sense for a hack n slash rogue-like to follow, and I welcome it. Heart & Slash is a great game that only falls short of excellence by its poor camera. It also feels like the first step into something bigger and broader, deserving of a sequel. I would love for it to be full length and scripted, to do away with the rogue-like elements to focus on the story and combat.
Heart & Slash is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Michael Vane is a freelance journalist who’s about to begin work on a screenplay – it’s a buddy cop film about two robots with clashing personalities who are forced to work together to stop…@DrVane !!