Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Vertical Drop Heroes HD (PS4)

Nerdook Productions, the one man indie development studio brings to us yet another addictive, and outright challenging game. This time the game in question is made available on the PS4 console. That game being an HD console port of, "Vertical Drop Heroes". With the charm of games like 'Castle Crashers', and 2D RPG platformers of the retro arcade type this game leans heavily on the age old destined hero trope while making light of the fact that said heroes are not always what they think they are. Death comes often in the adventures taken on by these heroes who come to believe the Tome of Knowledge's myths about a chosen one, damsels in distress, fabled treasure, and formidable foes. While many heroes, and heroines venture out to make a name for themselves not too many ever reach their ultimate goal though. In fact sometimes you'll find it takes descendants of the wannabe savior to finally reach that point of glory, and fame. A final chapter in a never-ending story that starts innocently enough at the Tome of Knowledge, and takes them on a dangerous descent into various environments laden with environmental hazards, enemy lackeys, and gargantuan bosses. Utilizing two assist abilities, a basic weapon attack, and the aid of other captive heroes the chosen protagonist must survive long enough to reach the end of their perilous journey in order to reap the rewards thereafter. Should they fail another hero will no doubt take their place as that fabled protagonist of a tale passed on generation after generation.

'Vertical Drop Heroes HD', as it were is a simple yet complex indie RPG platformer with rogue-like elements. It features an ever changing 2D platforming level design that incorporates many different enemy, and environmental encounters meant to make the chosen hero's/heroine's adventure all the more challenging. Among those threats are your basic enemy minions, slightly buffed sub-bosses, major bosses of the giant sort, and environmental hazards like lava and the usual spikes. That, and the limited health of the hero/heroine keeps the descent into the fantasy world from being an easy, straightforward win. At the beginning of your playthrough you will first select one of three pre-made characters that vary both in physical representation, name, ability, and stats. These heroes, and heroines can be re-rolled later in the game giving you different choices, but at a cost of 5 gold per roll.

As far as the differences go each hero's/heroine's ability set changes the way you approach enemies in the environments. The character I chose, for example had daggers, and clones at his disposal. With a filled ability meter I could throw daggers from the right, and left simultaneously using the "CIRCLE" button, and release attacking clones of myself that each have 1HP using the "TRIANGLE" button. Each character offered up for choice has a specific ability set tied to the "CIRCLE", and "TRIANGLE" buttons that use ability meters to gauge their availability. Characters also each have a base melee/ranged weapon that can be set to automatic at the main menu 'OPTIONS' listing enabling instant non-meter inclusive attacks when in direct contact/range with enemies. The stats that go along with these already created characters focus mainly on damage output making them each more, or less viable as a choice depending on what you are seeking. Supposing you die on your adventure as the hero/heroine that is initially chosen they can be chosen again afterwards with everything intact including your upgrades, gold, and keys. This is something to keep in mind if you ever find yourself tempted by the looks of another hero/heroine. Just know that the follow-up character will bare the same name only in the lineage sense. Meaning that Roman numerals will follow their name in a numerical order.

Past the hero/heroine select menu you will be taken to the 'Tome of Knowledge'. An in-game platforming based hub that houses six stationed individuals, a portal to the starting level, a 'New Game+' crystal, and plenty of unlockables in the form of trait stones. The six individuals of whom I speak include a 'Blacksmith', an 'Apothecary', a 'Pacifist Monk', a 'Time Monk', and two adventurers that will give you insight on your hero's/heroine's two abilities. Three of these individuals offer upgrades for gold. The 'Blacksmith' which is one of these money hungry service providers will increase your damage output for a price. The 'Apothecary' on the other hand will increase health obtained from potions as well as HP itself. The final upgrade service can be selected from the 'Pacifist Monk' for the current asking price. This upgrade ties-in with one of the more unique in-game elements. That element being the ability to collect 'Peace Orbs' for increased XP and gold earnings as long as you don't directly kill an enemy. The way you approach a level playthrough does depend heavily on what type of play style you prefer. You can choose to go all Rambo taking out every enemy, or you can play the role of a peaceful pacifist only collecting the collectibles on your descent to the boss that lurks at the bottom of the stage. Of course collecting Peace Orbs does make upgrading your character easier, but the way you choose to play is ultimately up to you. Lastly the 'Time Monk' who is also an eternal Tome of Knowledge resident serves as a time marker for your time played. While time itself does not hold sway on your heroes descent it is accounted for via an upward counting timer located at the lower left-hand side of the screen.

Levels in 'Vertical Drop Heroes HD' are themed accordingly offering up different types of enemies, and different types hazards along with a visually unique design. They start from the top, and descend to a bottom area where a boss creature, and a locked portal to the next area resides. Much like the title of the game suggests each playthrough will take your chosen hero/heroine on an ever-winding journey downward. A journey that is never the same twice. Between the starting top layer, and the end layer of each level lies in wait enemies, and various other threats. These threats come into play in different ways that happen both naturally, and through a triggering via stones/markers. By touching, or passing through skull flags, for example you'll trigger a spawning of enemies. Along the way you'll also encounter different types of stones/markers that each hold a unique significance in regards to gameplay. Among these are gem inclusive stones, power-up stones, and trait stones. Stones which can be activated for a price, or freely so sometimes giving you a trick, and a treat. By that I mean by agreeing, and activating certain stone types via a pressing of "DOWN" on the Dpad or Left Thumbstick you will not only gain yourself a reward, but will also spawn a certain amount of enemies as well. The other stone types such as the power-up ones offer character stat buffs as well as special limited skills such as flight. As far as the character based markers go they will unlock traits in the 'Tome of Knowledge' for future characters' usage.

Stones, and markers aren't the only things you'll run into in your 'Vertical Drop Heroes HD" playthrough though. Along the descent you'll also meet up with caged heroes/heroines, and stationary persons of interest. Freeing the captives with a previously collected key will gain you aid from them making the fight below more easy to deal with. There are also characters in place such as the persons of interest I just mentioned that act as quest providers. Such characters like the princess, the king, and bounty hunter will require you to fulfill a task of heroism, and return to them to reap the rewards. This in itself requires the use of single use teleporters after you've done the deed. The teleporter blocks will each take you back to the top of the level once, so that you can descend again to the task givers location or to any other spot that might hold something you are interested in. Ultimately your goal in each level though is to simply defeat the boss at the end, and advance through the unlocked portal afterwards. Everything else including the looting of coins/treasure chests, the collecting of gems, the gathering of peace orbs, and the obtaining of keys for unlocking purposes are second place matters that are entirely optional.

Supposing you ever do beat the game's last boss you can return to the 'Tome of Knowledge' to activate the red crystal, and start a 'New Game+" playthrough. A feature that extends upon the already hefty in-game replay value.

Now for the verdict ...

Even though I'm nowhere near completing the game, and have struggled in the first two areas I find 'Vertical Drop Heroes HD" to be a worthwhile, and seemingly long lasting experience. It is charming visually, and carries with it an impressive soundtrack. The randomly generated nature of it along with the 'New Game+" option alone makes this game a smart buy for the asking price. That price being $6.99 (US) for non-PS Plus subscribers, or a discounted $5.59 for PS Plus subscribers. Keep in mind this game is available for both the PS4, and PS Vita. It is cross-buy meaning that if you buy it for one of the mentioned consoles you can download it for free on the other. Another feature that adds to the game's worth. The inferno approves!

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