Within video gaming, losing all of your health or depleting your collection of hearts, resulting in an untimely death is never a good thing. For starters, it can send us back to the start of the game, level or encounter, plus it severely hampers our ability to move forward until we can find a way to overcome the odds. However, in Next Up Hero, the opposite can be said to be true, as your untimely demise can help other players, just as their ghostly remains can help you too in your quest.
Developed by Aspyr Media and published through Digital Continue, this dungeon crawler presents you with a series of procedurally generated levels and a roster of heroes; each one possessing a variety of weaponry and abilities. Your task is to put an end to the Ceaseless Dirge, a mysterious entity that has summoned an array of monsters to your land and bring back the songs of peace that fuel the very fragment of life itself. However, should you fall at the feet of the monstrous invaders, then your spirit remains in a ghostly form which can be resurrected by other players should they stumble upon your fallen corpse.
It’s a clever premise and one that works surprisingly well. As you enter and explore a level, you yourself come across these ghostly forms that represent where other players have fallen within their own game. By using the X button, you can revive their spirits, or echoes as they are referred to, and form a party to fight alongside you, as you try to reach further into the dungeon and rid it from more evil than they managed to achieve. However, for this mechanic to work, the game needs to operate on an online-only basis. Play this away from a WiFi connection and it simply doesn’t present the same level of gaming mechanics, making it a less enjoyable experience.
These echoes can be used in a variety of ways. Not only do they fight alongside you, or provide a good distraction for any enemies, they can also be used to summon the ancients; heroes of the past that can award you with new powers or buffs, such as a health boost or bonus to your melee attacks, although you need to sum up the risks of going it alone with extra power or keeping your band of echoes and fighting within a number. Each level contains only a limited number of echoes, so the need to use them sparingly also becomes important, especially on the more difficult levels and with the fact that they can also perish if they take on too much damage.
One of the things that really stand out with this title, is the level of choice that is presented to you. First up are hero rosters, with a variety of characters such as Mixtape who dual-wields a set of pistols to the invisibility of Vale who slashes and stabs with her handy blades. Next is a staggering array of levels that can be attempted; you can even create your own dungeons, as well as take on any number of other player created levels. As well as dungeon crawling, you can also lose yourself within a number of menus, which really need to be explored in order to get the best out of the game, to learn of the many mechanics that this game runs under.
As well as creating your own levels, or ventures, you can also join other players in theirs; producing on online co-op experience that you can drop-in and out of. You can even look in on other players as they play their own respective games and heal them should they be running low on health. There really is no end to the amount of content available here for you to take our heroes on their next quest. Although each level plays the same, kill a certain amount of enemies to unlock the exit portal, they all contain a variety of elements to keep you on your toes. Boss fights, environmental hazards and even loot pick-ups that damage you rather than reward. It really is important to take note of what each level holds before you embark on your quest.
Although the game does contain a story of sorts, the battle against the Ceaseless Dirge, it does feel as if it was an element that was simply bolted on to the game to give it a purpose. Told through a series of still cut-scenes, this part of the game remains largely uninteresting and a meaningless inclusion. However, this also leads to feeling that the game doesn’t really have any purpose, apart from exploring, fighting and levelling up; but for what cause or end-game finale remains largely a mystery. It’s almost as if the game has so much to offer in terms of content and variety, that it simply gets lost within its own mechanics.
Saying that though, this in turn also makes it a perfect casual experience, dropping in and out of dungeons, helping other players and levelling up your characters. This is achieved by collecting loot drops that fall from the defeated creatures that infect your land. Prestige points, power drops, as well as enemy and champion tokens all go towards XP progressions, unlocking and upgrading heroes, purchasing skins and adding extra weaponry and abilities. You’re going to need to collect as much as these as possible too, as Next Up Hero is no walk in the park, but then, it’s not meant to be either. It’s purposely been designed to present a tough challenge, which makes levelling up characters and making them stronger even more rewarding.
Controls-wise, everything here feels pretty tight with the implementation of twin-stick style of fighting mechanic. The shoulder buttons perform a series of attacks and specials, with the left thumb-stick controlling your character and the right stick aiming your shots or melee attacks; leaving the face buttons for things such as ancient selections and echo revivals. However, a few technical issues do crop up that can hamper the playability of this title; something that will hopefully patched at a later date. I encountered a lot of screen slow-downs and stutters when the action was particularly crowded and worst of all, a series of force closures which lost me everything that I accrued within the previously played level.
Overall, Next Up Hero is a title that looks great on paper, but in reality doesn’t really play as well as you may have hoped. It’s a shame really, as I really do feel that the developers are on the verge of creating something very special with the mechanics in which the game works. However, it just feels directionless at the moment, although as a casual game, it works really well. Its need for an online connection also hampers its offerings here, something that needs to be considered if you are planning to play in the Switch’s handheld, or mobile capacity. A few technical issues too, can bring some frustrations, but hopefully these will be fixed. Despite its issues though, there is a fun game here, as its core gameplay mechanics do offer a wealth of content, choice and playability that can easily last a lifetime; but only if you’re willing to put in the time and effort that is required to do so.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Next Up Hero Review
Gameplay - 6/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 6/10
Replay Value - 6/10
User Review( votes)
Although heroic in its execution with so much content and choice, it simply becomes a game that ends up getting lost within its own mechanics.