by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Games that fall under the Roguelike genre have seen a resurgence in recent years, with great titles such as The Binding of Isaac and FTL helping to reinvigorate interest. And while more and more titles are being released each year, it becomes harder and harder for a Roguelike to stand out from the rapidly crowding genre. So what does it take to stand out? In the case of Vertical Drop Heroes, it involves falling down. Over and over again.
You see, instead of traversing through dark caves or navigating through hostile clusters of stars, Vertical Drop Heroes has you falling through different environments in search of a holy temple that contains a secret to life itself. Unfortunately this was revealed in a prophecy, and because everyone likes to think a prophecy is about themselves, hundreds upon hundreds of would-be heroes are in search of the temple. Vertical Drop Heroes is about those failed, would-be heroes.
Pick a hero
After hanging a lampshade on the concept of Roguelikes, the game dives straight into the genre's tropes. Your goal is to fight your way through ten different levels, each with their own environments and enemies, in order to reach the aforementioned holy temple. When you die (not - if -, you are guaranteed to die), you pick a new hero and try to surpass what the last poor sod’s accomplishments were.
At the start of every life, you pick from one of three random heroes, each of whom have their own strengths and weakness. For example, one of your heroes could have a higher chance for critical hits, but suffer a 25 percent health loss to compensate. In addition, each hero is born with two randomized traits that offer up bonuses that can be both good and bad. The Intellect trait allows a hero to gain experience at a quicker pace, while the Bloodlust trait reduces health each second but has the benefit of healing yourself every time you deal damage. While the heroes all control the same, the abilities and traits that they are born with ensure that no two heroes will be exactly alike.
Progression in the game is measured in several ways. For starters, there are three things that you have to collect and deal with in each stage: experience, keys and gold. Experience is used for leveling up and growing more powerful, and can be gained by killing and completing mini quests. Keys are used for opening chests to gain treasure, and for unlocking the cages of other trapped heroes to help you on your journey. And finally there’s gold, the most important resource in the game, for it is what allows you to advance from character to character.
Gold can be used in the hub world - where each character starts out - to increase the damage or power of future heroes permanently by spending it at the appropriate shop. Gold can also be used in the stages where you can purchase traits and abilities for future heroes from merchants who just happen to be in the area. And lastly, it can be used to unlock special one-time only abilities that can grant your current hero small benefits. Gold is never lost when you die, so each and every run does contribute, even in the most minor ways, to the end goal. Let me repeat: even if you are absolute rubbish at this game, you will eventually succeed. Maybe.
The meat of it
Playing Vertical Drop Heroes is an extremely easy affair, which I am grateful for. Aside from the movement keys, there are only three other keys to worry about: a normal attack key and two special attack keys. The attack key is not strictly necessary, as there is the option to have your hero auto attack when an enemy comes within range. The streamlined and fast-paced nature of the game is actually to its benefit, because you can pick up and play it for 10 or 15 minutes without worry. In fact I feel that the game is meant to be played that way, as long drawn out sessions do get a bit repetitive.
I’m quite thankful that Vertical Drop Heroes contains several different things to prevent the game from getting too repetitive in the long run. In the hub world, there are several different statues that light up as you unlock more abilities and progress further in the game. When they are fully lit up, a new weapon or ability becomes unlocked and placed into the random pool of future heroes. And when you do beat the game, a New Game Plus mode is unlocked, where you can try to go as far as you possibly can without dying. And finally, if you just want to beat the game from scratch again, there is a character you can talk to that will delete all of your save data.
These small changes are appreciated, yet like most Roguelikes, Vertical Drop Heroes does become boring after some time. Perhaps it was falling through the same environments again in again, but the act of falling became tiring after a certain point. And while there are different weapons, most don’t share any noticeable differences between the other. I could tell no difference between striking an enemy with an axe and striking them with a bow. While the heroes are varied, most of the weapons and attacks aren’t.
If you want to suffer with a friend, there is a multiplayer mode for those inclined. Local and online co-op are both options, though the online mode seems a bit off in how it works. It could have been my use of a press version, but the only way I could connect to another player was when I put in their IP Address. So if you want to play online, its best that you have a buddy with another copy of the game on hand.
Vertical Drop Heroes places a new spin on a tried and true genre that has spanned decades. The spin may be simplistic, but it is appreciated nonetheless. The repetitiveness may not be for everyone, but for those who don’t mind falling down again and again, you could do worse than this bright, slightly charming game.
Simple controls, nice twist on old concept, good progression mechanics
Repetitive gameplay, not meant for long play sessions