Say ‘retro inspired action Rogue like’ and you could be talking about any number of games on your gaming platform of choice. Guaranteed though, the ‘retro’ inspiration will be of a distinctly ’80s and early ’90s flavour. Where Heart ‘N’ Slash differs is in having a more recent frame of reference.

With its bold cel shaded outlines surrounding simplistic pixelated textures, Hack ‘N’ Slash very clearly evokes the PS1 era, all the way down to light fog masking draw distance. The cartoony aesthetic, in fact, recalls Megaman Legends, as does the story to an extent; long after a robot apocalypse, one friendly bot survives to strike a blow to humanity. It’s bold, bright and playful, and handles a retro approach well, with sentimentality but a modern touch; Sony’s first console wouldn’t handle the pace H&S demands.

Where things really differ for the good with modern technology is in handling. This controls of course, far superior to its retro inspirations, but H&S is definitely not without its quirks. Action comes thick and fast in the game, and the first thing to get your head round is just how fast. Your robot character, chosen from a roster of six fairly charges about the place with the fervor of a Sonic the Hedgehog fueled by caffeine or a rejuvenated sense of self worth. It’s jarring at first, but your incredibly high walking pace seems to have a method to it; this is a game that revels in its combat and wants you to get to its next fight as quickly as possible.

The fighting is a real pleasure. The key gimmick here is the modular nature of your heroic bot, allowing you to find new body parts that give certain buffs as well as weapons and shields, your hand of three randomly plucked from a deadly deck every play. From here they can be leveled up, switched out for new ones you find, or traded in altogether for health, presenting an interesting balance of making you less versatile in combat but able to live a little longer.

You want that combat versatility though. For a game that minimizes setup and presents a cheap and cheerful visage, fighting in H&S is a deep and involved affair. Each weapon you pick up has its own combos attached to it, so that even though combat is a standard weak/strong affair, with Souls like parties if you have a shield, there’s a lot to it. Starting with a random hand of weapons is key to letting you experiment; rather than simply stay with an all round sword you may find yourself having to use boxing gloves as your main offensive weapon, thus realizing a severe lack of reach is made up for by speed and insane damage. In addition, weapons come in either vanilla melee, fire, ice or electric flavours and enemies have their own elemental weaknesses. You’ll quickly find yourself toggling between all three weapons in one fight, balancing their usefulness for crowd control and damage dealing along with their elemental effects.

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H&S is a handsome game in parts, though you’ll see a lot of its bland opening areas.

The problem is when things get too busy. With a lot of enemies to focus on, or even one moving at high speed, the camera gets to be a real mess here. Yes, unlike those ancient 3D titles H&S is inspired by, you have free control of the camera. Yet your right thumb is so busy on the face buttons here to attack and evade that you just don’t have the time to hop into the right stick and adjust. There’s no lock on here, and the fights need to be better directed than they are, often leading to a camera stuck in the corner looking down on your head as you get savaged.

Getting mauled is a fact of your short life in H&S, as with all games of its genre. There’s a bit more of a narrative here than in most games of its ilk though, and initial character Heart and nemesis Slash will have a relationship that persists between plays when you reach plot specific points in the game. It’s a neat way of not completely wiping out your morals on repeated death in theory. In practice though, at least for the tastes of those yen for a yarn is greater than a thirst for a throttling, it hints at what could have been. It doesn’t really seem essential for their to be permadeath here. Layouts, while random, are not greatly different between runs (except for some bizarre dead end rooms that let you know how shuffled the deck is) and going through opening areas gets tired, even with the variety added by the varied weaponry.

On the whole though, Heart & Slash is a pleasant surprise. It evokes some of the strongest early 3D games in the truest sense of all; it’s a little bit wobbly and shabby, but the intent behind it is true, earnest, charming. It’s not a perfect effort, but persist and you’ll find a heart of gold.

KAIJU VERDICT
2/4 Pops: Decent There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.
PS4 version tested
Review code supplied by Aheartfulofgames

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Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)