Many indie games found on the Xbox One have come from humble beginnings such as an app or browser game anyone could find on one of the various flash game sites. Games that come from these sources don’t always make the jump to console gracefully however. Unfortunately, I feel that may be the case with Vertical Drop Heroes HD. While I normally adore RPG style games with rogue-like elements, I just could not find anything to hold onto while playing this game. The art, while not being poor or badly drawn, did not hold my interest long as it looked a lot like many games that I’ve seen before on sites like ArmorGames and NewGrounds. The music and sound are not bad but not great either, it’s all very ‘meh’. I want to like everything about the game since games like this were such a large part of my life just a few years ago, but the only thing that is remotely interesting is the actual level design. Maybe this should take center stage since the gameplay and aesthetic are so middle of the road. Where Vertical Drop Heroes HD shines is in its levels.
Starting at the top of a narrow, blocky area, players will be asked to traverse downward through the game’s various levels. Dealing with baddies, traps, treasures and several other things, players may find getting to the bottom of any stage can be quite the challenge if even one drop is made incorrectly. If the player can get past all the challenges that the enemies and their alarms/traps present, they will be greeted with a surprise. This surprise is a rather tough, large and mean boss. These bosses block the players access to the next level and will have to be taken care of before moving on. Although the levels aren’t all that long, they are packed with things to examine, use and even take with you.
While dropping from platform to platform, players will find things that they missed or can’t jump to because they jumped the wrong way. Luckily, a lot of these items and shrines can be gotten (or at least tried for again) with the help of the Teleportation Shrines that send the player all the way back to the top to traverse the level again. Using this, I was often able to collect crates with coins inside, chests with treasures inside, and even heroes to help me defeat the many monsters on the way back down. I was also given the chance to try out some more of the shrines I had to pass on my first way through since I didn’t have the coins necessary to pay for their blessings. This issue sort of disappeared the more I played, but it was still nice the first few drops. When I wasn’t paying the shrines for various blessings, I was spending my gold in the Temple of Knowledge.
The Temple is the hub of the game. This is where players will find all the merchants and helpful NPCs that will explain your special abilities to you. Arguably the most important merchants are the Armorer and the Alchemist. I’m not sure if those names are correct, but one makes your future heros do more damage and the other brews potions that make your future heros have more starting health. If killing bad guys isn’t your thing, maybe you’ll find the Temple’s pacifist Panda to your liking. For a fee, the Panda will make the pacifist orbs that appear in levels more lucrative to collect, making pacifism a more sought after playstyle. These orbs disappear once the player directly kills an enemy, so be sure to turn off auto-attack! Besides all the merchants and NPCs, there is also a large red stone that has something to do with New Game +. I wasn’t good enough at the game to beat it fully in the time I put into it, but I assume that players will use this stone to start New Game + when they are ready to try that.
Even though I was bad at the game, I have to put some of the blame on the game’s core gameplay. While dropping and chopping may sound easy enough (and that is), it’s the finer details that gave me such a hard time. For instance, there is no ‘hit confirmed’ feeling, sound or animation (besides the health bar depleting and a damage number). While this may not both most, it is something I have grown accustomed to and had a hard time adjusting to when I was forced to play without. When enemies simply walk through my swings, I feel like I’m doing something wrong even though it’s just how the game handles the situation. If I wanted to be sure I defeated an enemy, I would simply use one of my special abilities and watch the baddies melt. Since players choose a new randomly generated character (except one?) every time they die, they will run into a bunch of the games special abilities as they play through the game. These abilities can range from a mega jump to raising the dead and have a limited amount of uses depending on their intensity. The one really great thing about actually playing the game is the inclusion of split screen co-op. Being able to play through levels with my fiancé did make the game much more fun as I wasn’t alone or missing as much loot.
The roguelike elements in Vertical Drop Heroes HD are fairly weak since you keep all your gold between heros and the characters aren’t drastically different (at least not from what I saw). The level design does make up for a lot in this game since I can’t say I’ve seen another game handle their levels the way this game does. Dropping from the top to the bottom is interesting enough to keep me interested for several levels. While dropping through these levels, the items and interactables you find are really what make the levels worth exploring. WIthout them, players could (and probably would) simply drop down as fast as they could. However, this may work out for those trying to collect the pacifist orbs as they get through the game. Being able to play peacefully is another intriguing choice that kept me challenged everytime I entered a new level. With or without the orbs, the fact that Vertical Drop Heroes HD supports split screen is worth a mention. If I could find some reason to keep playing or some sort of mysterious secret to uncover, I could see myself going back and playing this a lot more. With that said, I just never got drawn into the game and found it rather easy to put down and forget about.
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