When a loading screen tip in a game states: “don’t be frustrated, take a break”, it’s pretty safe to assume whatever lies ahead is not going to be a walk in the park. This assumption holds true for the intensely challenging Heart&Slash, and finally getting to see those credits roll requires both determination as well as skill. A game so inherently difficult walks a fine line between being fun and frustrating, but developer aheartfulofgames clearly put a lot of thought into the systems that make up Heart&Slash, resulting in an overall experience that is a joy to play, despite some minor hiccups.
The premise of Heart&Slash is simple: 100 years after a “robolution” that wiped out humanity, an amiable yet naïve robot named Heart emerges and remains free from the control of QuAsSy, the machine overlord. The primary goal is to escape the production facility where Heart was created and stop QuAsSy. However, there’s just one catch – each time you die, you must start over from the very beginning. At first, this concept was a struggle to overcome. With the exception of a brief tutorial that shows you the basics of the fighting mechanics, the game tells you very little about how to actually play successfully. This meant my first few hours of gameplay were filled with feelings of crushing defeat and bitter hopelessness as I couldn’t imagine fighting all the way to the end of the game on a single life. Thankfully, though, every death was also a learning experience. With each life, I gained new strategies for defeating pesky enemies, experimented with different weapon combinations, and slowly began understanding how all of the game’s mechanics worked together, so that I could utilize them to their full potential. The more time I spent with Heart&Slash, the better I became, which in turn made it more enjoyable to play.
On the surface, Heart&Slash appears to suffer from a concerning lack of content. There are only about four main areas to explore and the final boss can be reached in under an hour if you know what you are doing. For people such as myself who love incredibly expansive open-world games filled with countless hours of activities and side content, this can be an immediate disincentive. However, once you become immersed in the game, its true depth of content is revealed, most of which lies in the gameplay.
Heart&Slash is labeled as a “3D Brawler/Roguelike” game, and that’s pretty much what you get. Heart can jump, dodge and has weak and strong attacks that can be used together to perform various combos. Things get more interesting though when it comes to gear and items. At the beginning of each run, Heart is given three randomized items. These can be weapons, shields or even body upgrades, but only three can be equipped at any given time. Additionally, any new items found can either replace the ones you have or be recycled to heal you. This is where most of the interesting content comes into play. There are a myriad of items in the game, each with its own unique characteristics and look. Speaking solely in terms of weapons, there are swords, hammers, guns, boxing gloves, bats, and many other weapon types that can be found or unlocked, all of which have different benefits and disadvantages. On top of this, since Heart is able to equip three weapons at a time and can switch between them simply by holding down R2 or L2, giving you nearly infinite combinations to try out on enemies. This kept combat feeling fresh and exciting and could even distract you from the fact that every time you die it’s back to square one. And don’t be fooled by the disarmingly cute facade Heart&Slash emanates; you will be dying quite a lot before being skilled enough to make that perfect run to beat the game. Enemies come in many shapes and sizes and some can be extremely resilient to your attacks, forcing you to measure whether it’s worth taking them out for parts in order to upgrade your gear at the risk of losing health.
Skill is a necessity to beat Heart&Slash, and the game spends no time holding your hand. Both Heart and the camera move very fast and controlling them together perfectly requires finesse. Unfortunately, the camera itself was often a noticeable problem in an otherwise polished game. This became a real issue when jumping, as the camera would shift to an overhead position to give the action more of a dynamic feel. In theory, this idea is fine, but when half the enemies you encounter are able to fly, it makes gauging your position in the air relative to them rather difficult.
The focus of Heart&Slash may be on gameplay, but its playful visual style made every moment spent in its world a pleasure to behold. The game adopts a blocky, geometric style similar to Minecraft (which seems fitting for a game about robots) and it works well as a foundation for the industrial factories and grid-like city streets you get to explore. Often environments like this can feel bland and banal, but the developers avoid this by adding unexpected splashes of color everywhere. The game also ran at a smooth 60fps with only an occasional slight dip.
Heart&Slash is a game inspired by many other games. It’s described as roguelike by the developers, some called it a “Devil May Cry with robots” and the soundtrack is a strong callback to the Megaman series, yet it still feels grounded in its own unique identity. Though the camera is often problematic and those looking for a story-driven experience will likely be disappointed, Heart&Slash still presents a detailed and delightful world as well as a surprisingly deep gameplay experience. For a game without a single living thing in its world, it has a lot of heart.
I am a writer and journalist based in San Francisco. When I'm not getting lost in expansive open-world RPGs, immersive first-person shooters or any other type of game that grabs my interest, I usually spend my time taking photos and playing music. Two of my all-time favorite games are Persona 4 Golden and Metal Gear Solid 3.