Review – Next Up Hero
There are so many studios developing games now that it’s hard to keep track and a lot of them get released without us ever hearing a word. It’s often a result of marketing budgets and limited resources, and sometime it’s just a bad game. But once in a blue moon, a game that you’ve never heard falls into your lap and you find it’s so good that you simply can’t put it down. This is a case of the former.
Next Up Hero is an isometric, roguelike, dungeon(less) crawler by developer Digital Continue. While the game tries to tell you a story and tries to set up a plot, it’s far from interesting, and the nature of the arcade-ish roguelike genre also makes the inclusion of this element even more redundant. The plot is presented to you in occasional cutscenes with still characters and word bubbles. This is not necessarily a bad thing (we all grew up with comic books after all), but the uninteresting plot made me thank the Lord for the inclusion of a skip button.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. The game is very bright and colorful. The characters, enemies, and bosses are well animated, and there was so much action on the screen at times the graphics had their own seizure-inducing charm. It’s certainly a good looking game and I was very excited to review it based off the look alone.
You’re given a roster of various heroes to choose from and they all have an array of different attacks and specialized upgrades. Since there doesn’t seem to be any disparity in the strength of any particular hero, your choice will come down to your own personal preference. If you’re the type that likes to have your friends repeatedly kick you in the crotch, choose any hero that specialized in melee attacks. As previously mentioned before there is quite a bit of action on screen at times and attempting to get within arms length to attack 1 enemy while several are simultaneously attempting to melee and fire projectiles at you from multiple directions is a great way to go out guns blazing, or in this case, swords swinging.
With that being said, in the tradition of roguelikes, you will die. Don’t allow those pretty graphics and innocent sprites to lull you into a false sense of security. This game certainly does deserve praise for its level of challenge. The game has a twin stick shooter feel where you can move in different directions without limiting the direction of your attack. You will also be able to summon up to eight AI ghosts of other players called Echos that’ve died on the same battlefield to fight at your side. It also gives you the option to sacrifice some of these Echoes to summon an Ancient. Depending on the Ancients you choose in the upgrade menu between each level, they can give you certain boosts or just come in and bash your opponents into the ground for you.
The stages are procedurally generated and user created, and while I’ve seen that work for these types of games before, it just doesn’t work very well here, at all. They do have a variety of different themes as well as a few stage modifiers, but ultimately they have a similar feel and layout. At the end of the day, each separate level feels like a cosmetic variation of the previous one, at most. Since navigation simply involves finding and killing your enemies, there’s no need or desire for exploration. All the looting you’ll collect will be based off the goodies that your enemies drop to help you upgrade your hero.
There is a huge problem with Next Up Hero’s level creation philosophy, however: unlike the vast majority of level editors in the history of gaming, you will only be able to use the loot you’ve earned through arduous and repetitive in-game grinding. This would have been the one instance in which I’d be alright with the inclusion of a microtransaction patch.
Ok, I was just kidding about the last sentence.
Anyway, I really wanted to like this game but this game just didn’t want to be liked. The graphics are attractive and bright, the action and difficulty are satisfying and rewarding ,but it seems to fall apart in variety, depth, and narrative. At twenty bucks, I can’t recommend this game. Thankfully enough, the game is available on Xbox Game Pass if you’re still up for it. If it were a free mobile game, I’d say it’s a great way to kill a few minutes while standing in line at a Starbucks, but Next Up Hero, you do not deserve living room TV love.
Beautiful, well animated sprites and enemies.
A great and fun challenge with a unique twist but then gets grindy and boring
The sound design is far from being terrible, but you’re definitely not going to see this game getting award nominations for it.
Fun Factor: 3.5
The gameplay loop isn’t enough to sustain hours upon hours of interest and the story lacks context and relevance.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Next Up Hero is available now on Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Next Up Hero was provided by the publisher.