The original Rogue came out in 1980. Similar games have come and gone since then, but the term “Rogue-like” has only really come into public knowledge in the last few years. In fact, I believe it would be safe to say that lately we’ve seen incredible growth in a genre that previously was considered extremely niche. From mobile games to much larger budgets, these perma-death, highly-replayable titles seem here to stay. Vertical Drop Heroes HD actually came out some time ago as a simple Flash game, but this new release is a complete overhaul.
Originally pushed to Steam and PC in 2014, Vertical Drop Heroes HD is a title that borrows heavily from recent successes such as Rogue Legacy and Spelunky. As in those games, you can expect to die many times before completing the game proper – and death is permanent… Sort of.
A Tale of Heroes(?)
The story here is paper-thin. In fact, the whole thing is presented in a single screen after you begin a new game. There’s a prophecy and a dark force to be overcome, lots of people think they’re the hero of heroes (but they’re not), and eventually the one of legend will return to save the land and fulfill the prophecy (in about six hours from now). To be fair, this type of game is rarely about an involved, character-driven narrative. It might even be fair to say that the target audience prefers it that way. Much of the time, a good roguelike becomes a gathering place for speed-runners, and stories and cutscenes only get in the way when playing a game repeatedly.
Throughout the course of the game, you’ll encounter NPC side characters perched about the landscape. These lads and ladies never move about and serve no purpose but to provide you with a simple quest to receive a simple (though sometimes valuable) reward. Who are the king and the princess? Does the captain of the guards have a remarkable background story filled with courage and honor? We’ll never know! But you can rest assured they’ll bless you with coins or XP for completing a small, mostly-painless task.
After the brief story is unveiled, you’re greeted by a character-selection screen. Every time you die, you’ll have the option of three different heroes – each with unique weapons, talents, and abilities. You’ll even have a direct impact on your choices, as each level contains merchants selling new talents and new abilities. Collecting five of either in a set will unlock new weapons, as well. As you might expect, some of the variations are much more valuable than others, and you’ll be at the mercy of the RNG machine as to which you’ll get to pick from. Thankfully, the developer does give you an option to re-roll your characters for 5 gold. At very least, this gives you a fallback in case your cast of characters really is too pitiful to consider.
The game itself actually begins in a sort of hub area. Here you are free to use acquired gold to unlock permanent character upgrades – more health, more damage, and increased gold from the unusual “pacifist orbs”. Should you choose to spend the coin, you’ll find that every hero thereafter will stand a greater chance of surviving until and past the final boss. These upgrades are infinite, too – so don’t bother trying to reach max level here. It’s a system that’s similar to Rogue Legacy, and it works well enough. On the other hand, I found it somewhat frustrating to realize that what was separating me from beating the final level right from the start wasn’t time or skill: it was the grind.
It’s a theme you’ll see repeated too many times before the ending. Levels which were originally challenging eventually become a breeze as your character levels higher and higher, and some of the satisfaction is lost as a result. For the first few hours, I found this compelling enough. Some four hours in, however, I began to grow tired of the random-but-same levels and bosses repeating ad nauseam.
I’ve said in the past that I’m glad games are moving beyond just having the best tech around and focusing more on the quality of the experience. In the case of Vertical Drop Heroes HD, however, a little more polish wouldn’t be a bad idea. Graphics have a simple design aesthetic that reminded me of a combination of Scribblenauts and Rogue Legacy. The quality, unfortunately, is not entirely consistent. While I don’t mind the character designs – and I appreciate the vibrant color palette across different worlds – I found that too many world assets seemed very low-fidelity. Even the menu itself screams of a one-man Flash game… Which is appropriate given that this is the exact origin of the game. I can appreciate the difficulty of one man trying to wear so many hats, but I think a release like this should merit hiring one or two creative specialists to handle the art and design.
The same complaints hold true of the audio, though perhaps even more so. Music seemed mostly fitting for the atmosphere, but it was distractingly low-quality. Some levels, such as the Mushroom Caves, sound so poor that I imagined the track was ripped straight from a 92kbps .mp3 file on a $49 media player from 2004 that had been run over twice by a large SUV. To the developer: if higher-resolution versions of these songs exist, please take the time to patch them in and soon. The best news about both the sound track and sound effects is that they can be turned off. This might be a good opportunity to use the background music feature on your Xbox.
Is There More In Store?
When evaluating the content on offer, I think it’s important to consider the price point. Someone somewhere will point out that the game technically offers limitless replayability as a result of the randomized levels. Good for them, I say. Having said that, the game is launching at a reasonable $6.99. People frequently spend more than that on fast-food lunch every day, and this is likely easier on your digestive system. Myself, I beat the game in approximately seven hours. As is perhaps expected, this revealed a New Game Plus mode and further challenges to tackle. If you still have interest in more Vertical Drop Heroes, then there’s nothing to stop you. Given the price, I feel comfortable with the amount of play on offer.
Vertical Drop Heroes HD in a Nutshell…
If you’re feeling starved for a new, roguelike experience, then Vertical Drop Heroes isn’t a bad choice at all. The gameplay is repetitive, the visuals are somewhat disappointing, and the audio is quite unfortunate, but it can be fun for a time. Though I’ve failed to mention it until now, there’s also a co-operative mode which my family and friends found entertaining enough in short bursts. I have a lot of respect for a single-person developer that can publish a completed game, but I wish this one would have seen a little more refinement. Given the semi-abandoned state of the PC release, I’d recommend you only buy based on the current condition; future updates and DLC seem fairly unlikely.
What do you think? What did we miss? Would you be willing to save two puppies from a horde of monsters if it meant 200XP? Let us know in the comments below!
- Wide Variety of Abilities
- Randomly Generated Levels
- Reasonable Asking Price
- Combat is Uninspired
- Progression Becomes a Grind
- Poor Audio Quality