In today’s gaming world when you think about what’s prevalent you might choose FPS’ (as ever), the rise of Indie, the open world genre or big and brash triple-A successes. What I might choose are two things - one, roguelikes and two, remakes. In the case of Vertical Drop Heroes HD we can tick off both of those last two. Originally released as a Flash-based game in browsers across the world it’s now available in glorious HD on PS4, PS Vita (it’s a cross-buy title on PSN thankfully) and Xbox One, a few years after said release was distributed on PC via Steam. It’s also a procedural and roguelike game, similar in ways to the marvellous Spelunky in that the aim is to go adventuring and to go downwards.
On the small screen or your big screen TV Vertical Drop Heroes HD looks very lush. Full of colour and all in 2D you have a vertical stage themed appropriately for that level out of the ten you’ll need to play through to complete the game. The art style is one that brings to life the characters - whether good or bad - in a cartoony and cutesy way. It works well with the overall feel of the game. The stages are procedurally generated but they all contain various platforms, obstacles, NPCs, enemies and loot. Your aim is to get from top to bottom, beat the level boss and move on. If you can do that across ten levels without dying - and defeat the final boss - you’re home.
As you start out on your adventure searching for the secret to eternal existence as told in the prophecy of great heroes (so the introduction to the game tells us anyway; you’ll need to beat it to see if this holds true at the end…), you choose one of three characters. Each will have different skills and traits. For instance you may be a sword-bearing warrior or an archer at heart. You might be able to activate a super-jump or you might want to create diversionary clones of yourself. After choosing your preferred avatar you enter a hub area where you can purchase items from various merchants as needed. Any items you do buy are retained across characters during that playthrough, so depending on your resources and needs there is an element of strategy to the game. You can even obtain the ability to skip a few levels if you get the opportunity and have the gold.
When you feel ready you can enter the first level. The stage will be the same each time you tackle it but the design of the level and characters spread throughout will vary. Regardless the aim is to get from top to bottom safely. The level moves with you, so there’s no forced scrolling or anything like that to contend with. As you make your way downwards you will gather coins, keys and so on as well as (hopefully) defeat baddies. You can manually control your attacks or choose auto-attack which can help if you’re dropping into an area with some foes and want to focus on the landing rather than the axe-wielding. You will encounter locked cages and chests. Loot will be found in the latter and often NPCs in the former. They will help you upon release, and might even invite you to aid them via some simple side-questing. Your keys are limited though so you can either just exhaust them randomly or make the choices to aid your particular way of playing. But remember that if you go too far down you might not be able to get back up, so the decision needs to be made swiftly.
Progressing in the game is pretty simple. The challenge comes in doing it for the ten levels with one life, albeit slightly upgraded on your nth run. Moving down the platforms is easy. Defeating enemies is not a challenge, especially if you have auto-attack set to on. Gathering coins and keys is simplistic work, so getting help is consequently a non-challenge too. Stringing all this together, managing your health choosing your use of resources wisely...and all when you’re headed towards the final showdown after quite some effort to get there? That’s what's hard. It’s not like you can just learn how to succeed by rote, either. Each boss is different. Temporary and permanent upgrades bring different benefits to the character you’ve chosen. Oftentimes the character is varied compared to your previous go anyway. And of course even though the level setting is the same, everything within it is unique to that particular run.
Vertical Drop heroes HD is a game which lends itself perfectly to the PS Vita as it’s designed to play in small chunks. Even if you make it to the end you’ll have been playing no more than an hour or so. Each level can be done in very little time. As you will die a lot along the way, it means five minutes here and there might be all you’re up for, or perhaps all you need. It works on the PS4 regardless, but isn’t a game you’d expect to sit in front of for long sessions. The level of addiction you get from the game will be dependent on your patience, your penchant for roguelike gaming and your skill level. It’s not something which can unequivocally be recommended as it’s not the right game for all, nor is it something which must be played.
With Vertical Drop heroes HD we have a lovely-looking, smoothly playing vertical platformer. With combat. The game is different each time yet always the same from start to end; first or last playthrough. It’s not a new concept, as evidenced by its original release and other games do it, or similar, much better (cf. Spelunky). However, given it’s a cross-buy title, its value is significant if you happen to be the proud owner of Sony’s now-defunct handheld as well as, or in place of, the grunting PS4. If you’ve read this far and are intrigued, the game will work for you. If you’ve come away thinking ‘meh’, then that will indeed be your reaction if in front of Vertical Drop Heroes HD.