Next Up Hero is a Steam Early Access game brought to you by the talented folks at Digital Continue. Slash, shoot, and revive your way to victory in this top-down action game. And with a launch price of $19.99, it’s clear why everyone’s talking about it.
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Death Always Wins
The first thing you’ll notice when you play Next Up Hero is the difficulty. It’s not so much about a game balance issue as it is about death being a natural part of the game. You’re going to die. Again and again. While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m by no means a highly skilled gamer, I feel that I can hold my own in this type of game. Most of the frustration that I’ve encountered is based around the lack of healing.
It’s not that a single enemy can kill you. It’s that the constant bombardment of enemies whittles your health down to the point that a single mistake can mean death. That probably sounds a bit grim, but it’s the truth and is what makes this game so rewarding. When a game simply hands out victories, you don’t get the same fuzzy feeling that you do when playing and winning Next Up Hero. The beauty of this game is that even though the difficulty is high, it helps you out a little bit every time that you die. It makes your struggle and failure worth more than the experience you gained along the way. This is a breath of fresh air compared to all the grinding in games nowadays.
How to Cheat Death
When you die, you’ll leave behind an Echo of your hero on the battlefield. The next hero in line will be able to resurrect your Echo as an AI battle companion. Take turns continuing each other’s games, fighting and dying with friends until you have an entire army of echoes by your side. Everyone dies. Heroes continue.
—Digital Continue, on Next Up Hero‘s “Echo” mechanic.
The obviously unique aspect to the game is the way the developers have flawlessly turned death into a game mechanic. In most games, death is a hindrance or delay to your progression, but with Next Up Hero your death is not in vain. When you die, you leave behind a ghost, known as an Echo, which the next person through the map is able to resurrect. This allows the next player to either call upon Echoes for assistance or sacrifice them to call forth an Ancient, a powerful single-use ability that can help level the playing field against the massive hordes of enemies.
Abilities and Artifacts
There are many abilities the player can unlock and use to help even the score. Abilities such as Clone Attack (which creates a clone of your current enemy to fight for you) and Inverse Damage (which increases your damage as your health decreases) are easy to obtain since they only require tokens from lower level enemies. As you continue playing, you’ll find that you want to unlock more powerful abilities. This in turn requires slaying more powerful enemies. As I’ve come to find out, the stronger the enemy, the better the ability you unlock.
There are many different abilities that allow you to drop traps, rapid fire or shoot multiple bullets, swing your sword faster, and increase your defense and movement speed. These abilities definitely help bring a bit more variance to the game. Sometimes a level is just too difficult. Next time you die, try switching up your ability and give it another go.
In addition to abilities, you can also collect Artifacts. These are consumables that have a variety of effects to help your character advance through the game. It’s important to note that, at this point, you must activate the Artifact before entering the level to use it. Once activated, the artifact is consumed and cannot be used again, even afer you die.
A Hero’s Fall
If you’ve been paying attention to my words up until now, you know that Next Up Hero has a lot going for it. This all falls short of pure excellence with one thing: Online-only. I can’t load up my game when the Internet is down and enjoy bashing some skulls (my character’s included). This is an inconvenience in and of itself. But wait: there’s more! This game has a tendency to get a bit repetitive. It’s not necessarily a bad type of repetition, though. Even though I find myself losing general interest after about two hours, I usually keep playing for another hour or so.
One last thing: To continue down your last path, you need to use your in-game currency to continue. While it’s okay to have some sort of penalty for failure, Digital Continue has intended failure to be a game mechanic. This ruins any sense of continuity. It’s also frustrating because I never feel like I’m accomplishing anything in the game. Moreover, it’s important to note that the cost to continue increases by 50 every time you fail. This forces you to move on to other adventures, and was likely implemented as a way to encourage players to help others on their adventures. Simply put, the penalty cost could use some fine tuning.
The Hero We Deserve Right Now
In the midst of largely disappointing launches for AAA titles, as well as the increasing reliance on micro transactions, Next Up Hero walks the straight and narrow. When it comes to the experience their game provides, Digital Continue doesn’t mince words or hide costs. There are no micro-transactions, and the low cost of $19.99 is definitely one thing going for it. While you’re required to be online at all times (as well as some other aspects that I’m not a big fan of), I have to say that I’ve enjoyed playing Next Up Hero. All in all, Next Up Hero really is a good game, and if you’re the type who buys Early Access games on Steam, I highly recommend it.
Overall Rating: 7/10 — Expect a Port review as the Linux version becomes available.