‘Vertical Drop Heroes HD’ Review

Platforms PC, Mac

 Developer Nerdook Productions Publisher Digerati Distribution

Genre Rogue-like Action Platformer   Platform Played PC

If you asked me what Vertical Drop Heroes HD was, I would immediately tell you it was a mix between the rogue-likes Spelunky and Rogue Legacy. The former, in that the player maneuvers their way down to the exit at the bottom of the level. Its similarities to Rogue Legacy come from the ability of your characters to level-up. The one problem is, while trying to take the best of both games, Vertical Drop Heroes HD ends up doing neither justice. The result is a “been there, done that” experience which left me with little desire to die over and over again.

I am just going to throw it right in the open, I did not enjoy the gameplay of Vertical Drop Heroes HD. While the action is smooth and controllable, the slow pace of the playable character does not fit the up-tempo musical score, creating a jarring experience. I wanted to play the game at the faster pace reminiscent of an action game, but the character’s movement speed which is comparable to that of Spelunky‘s protagonist prevented that.

Further, being a game in which taking advantage of enemy attack patterns is paramount, I failed to completely understand how the various adversaries attacked. One enemy appeared to simply jump up and down, but if you got close it would hit you. Similarly, one monster would cycle between being an invincible  transparent form and a vulnerable physical form, but the consistency was strange. This did not provide a satisfying experience; especially when half of the levels can be overcome simply by spamming the attack key faster than the enemy attacks.

Moreover, considering the game is marketed as a game with rogue-like elements, I was expecting a more challenging experience. However, what I received was an easy first half of the game, followed by a sudden massive increase in difficulty that resulted in almost instant death. It is a frustrating spike. Games like Spelunky and Dark Souls are great games because they are difficult from the get-go. Vertical Drop Heroes HD fails to do this. The flow would work much better if the game was either easier the whole way through – thus requiring a complete change in its make-up – or if it was punishing for the entire journey.

Vertical Drop Heroes HD borrows Rogue Legacy‘s idea of being able to level up your character. Where it differs is that every new character starts at level one and must be leveled up again. Leveling up only increases your damage and health, and also restores your health to full. Whereas Rogue Legacy‘s RPG elements create a feeling of progression, Vertical Drop Heroes HD has no such feeling. Instead, each death felt like a punch to the gut as it meant starting from scratch.

On a lighter note, Vertical Drop Heroes HD‘s art style is gorgeous. Each level has a different colour palette and theme which keeps the game fresh, provided you are not dying in the early levels often. There is an option to skip forward levels by purchasing the portal in each stage, but you have more of a chance if you collect as much gold and keys on each level as possible. The visuals are very reminiscent of a cartoon. The colours are vibrant, leading to amazing looking explosions and elemental abilities as you progress vertically down.

The sound design does not help the lacklustre gameplay. Rather than changing in each level, like the visual tone, the same score plays on repeat for a few levels before a switch. I often found myself playing without the sound because of this repetition. Also, on a more minuscule side, there are no slider options in the menu; I wanted to turn the game volume down to chat to others on Skype or listen to an alternate music source, but the only option was to have sound on or off. It sounds pesky, but I prefer more options to create the experience I want.

For those looking for replayability, Vertical Drop Heroes HD has plenty to go around. When your character dies, you get to choose between one of three new heroes, all with random abilities and weapons with different pros and cons. Additionally, each level is randomly generated so every run should be varied.  However, unlike Spelunky, you can see the whole width of the level layout and a few squares vertically. This means you mostly always know what is in store for you, taking away some of the suspense. If you do so manage to finish the game, there is a new game plus mode with tougher enemies. There are also new abilities to unlock throughout your adventure, but I always appeared to be given the same few abilities.

Vertical Drop Heroes HD feels like a game that tried to take the best parts from some of the best games in the rogue-like genre, but in the process failed to understand what made those ideas great in the first place. The verticality, unpredictability and feeling that anything can kill you present in Spelunky turns into a predictable fall with an uneven difficulty. Meanwhile, the RPG elements which created a sense of progression in Rogue Legacy only lead to devastation and disheartenment in Vertical Drop Heroes HD as each character starts at level one, with the only real reason to level up being to not get slaughtered in the next stage.

If Vertical Drop Heroes HD involved more fun gameplay mechanics, coupled with the same colourful, cartoon art style, it could be a worthwhile experience. Unfortunately, the core reason I play games – the gameplay – only results in an often repetitive “been there, done that” journey in which death is not fun – contrary to the notion of the genre.

The Good

  • Replayability for those who enjoy the game
  • Cartoon art style

The Bad

  • Confusing pacing
  • Uneven difficulty
  • lacklustre gameplay mechanics
  • Unsuccessful replication of the best Rogue-like mechanics

The Score 5.9