When a prophecy speaks of a great hero, but it doesn’t give any specific details, everyone thinks they are that hero. Since only the one hero is prophesied there will, inevitably, be a very long line of corpses who just got the wrong end of the stick. Vertical Drop Heroes HD is a cautionary tale.
It’s also a rogue-lite RPG with permadeath, randomly generated levels and characters, and persistent upgrades. As the name implies, you will be dropping down destructible vertical levels while fighting off a variety of monsters as you make your way to the exit and the next level. Alternatively, you can make your way to the exit without killing anything, collecting floating gold-and-XP dispensers called peace orbs along the way, at least until you reach the boss guarding the exit.
The enemies themselves are the usual suspects, from goblins and bats, to bow-wielding rogues and magic-casting wizards. They just walk/float side to side for the most part, those with ranged attacks shooting periodically. More enemies will appear if you trigger an alarm by walking over flags that are littered through the levels, so if you are not careful you can surround yourself in enemies quite quickly.
Fortunately you can also surround yourself with allies by releasing them from cages found throughout the level with a key. There are a few different types of allies, such as the wizard who will give you a shield and teleport around shooting magic missiles, or the knight who will wander around destroying bits of the level for some reason, often making it difficult for you to reach something you want. They also have a habit of triggering every alarm they come across, increasing the amount of enemies drastically at times. They are still very helpful though, particularly if you can get a few of them at the same time so you can just sit back and watch the ridiculousness unfold.
You will also come across the occasional human with a small quest, like finding a diamond ring, releasing three heroes, or just kill a certain amount of a particular type of enemy. Complete the quest and return and you’ll get a reward in the form of experience, gold, or an increase in damage/health. They’re basically shallow quests that often aren’t worth the time it takes to get back to the NPC, particularly because scaling the level isn’t usually possible, so it tends to involve using a teleporter to go right to the top of the level and working your way down it again, but this time without enemies.
Each time your latest hero meets an untimely end you choose a new one, using the gold you have gathered to upgrade future characters. That gold can also be used to buy abilities and traits from merchants found in levels whose business model consists of selling a single item to passing heroes in a dungeon full of monsters. Every hero has two abilities, each of which has limited uses but is replenished with pickups.
Abilities are attacks, some as simple as throwing daggers, whereas others unleash chaos for a second or two at a time. The sandworms ability, for example, has three large worms appear from the side of the screen, eating everything in their way – including chests, floors and enemies. The lightning ability will chain between a few enemies and electrify any water it passes through, damaging anything inside it (including you).
These interactions between the levels and skills show that there are good ideas behind Drop Heroes, but the game falls short in realising them. Movement feels floaty and imprecise, particularly when trying to carefully land between, for example, two sets of spikes and catching one despite it not looking like you did at all, or trying to jump up between two blocks and catching each side a few times before pulling it off. There was also a few moments where I just got stuck in a section of a level and could not get out, forcing me to quit the game.
That isn’t the only bug I encountered either, at one point I couldn’t pick up a gem for no discernible reason, the character just walked straight through it. I also had an ability change to another one between levels, but the worst bug I encountered had three stages: I somehow got caught inside some spikes, killing me with multiple hits in under a second; then the game crashed when choosing my next hero; then when I started the game back up my save file was corrupted, so I lost all my progress. Delightful.
Ultimately, Vertical Drop Heroes HD is fun for a few hours, but gets repetitive quickly. The asking price is low so it might be worth a look if it really tickles your fancy, but Rogue Legacy is only £4 more expensive and accomplishes similar ideas more effectively and with more depth.
Version tested: PS4