Heart&Slash | Title Image
Title Heart&Slash
Publisher Badland Games
Release Date June 28, 2016
Genre 3D Action-Adventure Roguelike
Platform PlayStation 4
Age Rating ESRB E for Everyone 10+
Official Website

Roguelike is a term bandied about a lot these days. Frankly it often just means either some element of randomness or difficulty in the game that you are trying to describe. But, particularly in the indie space, there are some games that are a lot more like Rogue than others. This one happens to be one of those games that is definitively similar to the old school Rogue, instead of what that term roguelike has come to mean. Successfully funded Kickstarter game Heart&Slash has now seen the light of day, but did it live up to the creator’s and backer’s vision?

Heart&Slash | Meet Heart
Meet Heart, the lovable robot surrounded by a slew of other robots wanting to kill her.

By playing through the Tutorial you can see that in the process of developing AI robots for every little task the humans orchestrated their own doom. The robot overlords took over and they either killed all the humans, or the remaining humans escaped from the Earth. It becomes apparent when you finish the game that even the main robot does not entirely know what happened to them all. In the meantime there has been an entire society of robots that has cropped up. You are Heart, a newly constructed robot that is tasked with defeating the robots that are a part of QuAsSy (Quality Assurance Systems). And, that’s about it, you don’t really know anything more about yourself or why you would be chosen above any other robot.

Heart&Slash | Couple
Your partner in crime.

Very early on in your playthrough you will meet Slash. Heart tries to reason with him, but he will not hear her out and you will have to fight. He is your first real challenge, so you should make sure that you are adequately upgraded before meeting him, especially if you don’t have any ranged attacks. One thing that I didn’t realize at first is that you don’t actually have to kill him. If you strike him just enough he will collapse and ask you to finish him. If you don’t wait for him to talk, then you will never see this, but if you wait while he wants you to finish him, you can let him go. This can drastically affect your playthrough. The first major boss you fight will depend on whether you killed or saved Slash and so does the rest of the story that plays out. That was a surprising addition to me as you are given no indication that it is available to you, other than the fact that Slash is on the promotional art.

Heart&Slash | Melee
Beware of my ancient weapons; your futuristic armor stands no chance.

One interesting aspect of the 3D pixel graphics is that beyond an aesthetic choice, it allows you to look significantly different depending on the equipment that you find and equip. You will always start out looking the same (until you unlock new characters), but armor upgrades will have a very drastic change on your appearance even beyond you weapon choice. For my completion run I ended up finding every part of the first boss armor, so I looked like him running around. That is not only a very powerful armor set, but it looks very bad ass. However, it is not easy to obtain. Initially you will only have access to about 10 weapons and armor. So when you come up on an item drop point, there will be limited choices. Like almost everything else in the game, which one drops at any pickup point is almost entirely random. There only seems to be one major exception, the very first room has 3 item drops to start you out, and I’ve never seen one of them not be a weapon. You can hold up to 3 weapons at a time, and you switch to using them by holding down the L2 or R2 button while you mash the light and heavy attack buttons. Each weapon has its own combo patterns and range, so it’s definitely best to try them out a bit before you jump into fighting any enemies. About 90% of the weapons I earned were melee, so get used to getting in close and dodging a lot.

Heart&Slash | Death Incoming
Would be nice if you would give her access to missile launchers too.

For every 10 robot kills you gain an upgrade part. You can upgrade a piece of armor, a weapon, or your robot herself. I would strongly suggest waiting and upgrading the robot first. The main reason for this isn’t just the nice additions of speed and jumping power, but more because it adds to your total health. You will need that health, since health drops from enemies and boxes are extremely rare. What will end up being your most common way to gain back health is to recycle loot drop parts. If you already have enough weapons or an armor slot is already filling that spot (or if you are desperately low on health), you can recycle a part and the amount of health you get back is relative to the strength of that part, including any upgrades you have bestowed upon it. It may not seem intuitive to scrap parts that you could potentially use, but avoiding death is the most important part of this game. Because… death is permanent. That’s right, people, when you die in this game you start over from the beginning. So caution is advised, as well as getting used to having very subpar weapons.

Heart&Slash | New Enemies
Don’t stick around too long, but if the enemy’s power outpaces yours then you are in trouble.

That brings into play the most interesting aspect of this game. And that is the permanence system for this game. Similar to Rogue Legacy, and several other modern roguelikes, there is some amount of persistent upgrade system. This one is much more old school method than that example. As you defeat certain boss enemies, and kill a certain number of more common enemies, you will slowly unlock new weapons and armor that will be available to loot. However, that only means you have the potential to loot them. You could still start your game and end up with a steel sword, wood shield, and duck armor. But if you get the right combination, you can destroy a ton of enemies before facing any true challenge. One reason you will struggle in the beginning is that there are certain colors to the enemies, and that determines their elemental strengths and weaknesses. If you start out with an electric sword and face off against a white enemy, you are going to definitely struggle. What finally allowed me to breeze through the game was when the Vorpal Blades were unlocked. They slice through any armor, no matter the enemy type. So once I managed to start off with a Vorpal Dagger (in addition to its fast attacks, it can also backstab for a ton of damage), I was able to breeze through the normal ending.

Heart&Slash | Big Boy
I’m bigger than you, get in my belly!

That randomness is both this game’s greatest strength and its largest weakness. You can have some very easy runs, or you can have some nigh impossible ones. The longer you play, and the farther you get, the more likely you will have an easier run, however. Once you start knocking around those Police Units, you will have access to some pretty amazing weapons and armor. And that can add to the replay value. The stages are randomly generated, of course, but it’s really the weapons and armor that keep this one fresh. There was a lot of painstaking effort put into this title, and it definitely shows in the overall quality. What also adds to the quality is its fitting and arcade like sound design, and it’s very pleasant soundtrack that reminded me of an old Nintendo game. However, there are a few hitches with graphical glitches and also menu issues. I also got stuck on several parts of the screen, but never enough that it crashed my game or made me fall through the world. I was able to jump or dash out of them, so it’s not a huge criticism.

However, this game can be very brutal, and while it only took me about an hour to beat the game on a single run, that was after playing through at least 20 times. And it’s most difficult at the beginning, which may put some people off. But given its wonderful look and its very nice soundtrack, to add the interesting (and large) array of weapons to that mix is a great formula. Honestly I would have expected a game like this to be $19.99, but the $24.99 price tag is not too bad either. If you are a fan of the roguelike genre, this is definitely one that I can recommend. However, I would caution you that this one is a lot more Binding of Isaac than it is Dark Souls.

Review Score

Review Copy Provided By Publisher

William Haderlie
Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.