Kickstarter goal: USD$20,000
Ending: March 19, 2014 (22 days to go)
Amount pledged: USD$15,476
Number of backers: 324
(Statistics as of 24 February 2014, 08:11 PST)
Note: Screenshots in this article are from a slightly earlier build of the game and are missing the mini-map on the bottom left corner. I have played the Press version, the early Alpha from TIGForums and the current Alpha on Kickstarter for the content of this post.
Last time, we took a brief look at aheartfulofgames’ current crowd-funding campaign for Heart&Slash on this blog’s first ever post for Live on Kickstarter, and looked at the interesting premise the game had for its story and its mechanics. Today, aheartfulofgames has released a Alpha build of the game for public preview and testing, which I managed to get my hands on a couple of days early thanks to the team’s public relations representative. Although a number of core assets and features are still missing, the Heart&Slash Alpha nonetheless still manages to show the great promise I expected from the game.
The Windows 64-bit build of the Alpha release comes in a ZIP file named “Win64” which contains a game data folder, a readme PDF file and the executable for the game. The readme contains a short paragraph introducing the game and some of its current limitations, and provides information on the controls, tips on various equipment and a disclaimer for Mac and Linux users. Since the game doesn’t really have much of a tutorial right now, the readme is the first thing everyone should look at before starting up the game.
Once you start the game (after reading the disclaimer and spending time oogling at the bright and heartful menu screen), you’ll be treated to a short cutscene showing Heart’s escape. You’re given full control immediately after this and with nowhere else to go but forward, you’ll find yourself in a room that holds three items – could be weapons or body parts – for you to use, completely randomized for each playthrough. You can upgrade your weapons, body parts or Heart itself with the points given to you in the beginning. When you’ve sufficiently geared yourself up and are ready to fight for your freedom, you can go into one of the two (sometimes you’re only given one) randomized rooms available to start your battle to progress to the next. The room is locked once you enter or if it isn’t, the mobs that spawn will follow you as you try to run away. There is no escape. It is do or die. If you do succeed, you’ll get to see what the next room contains (or if there is a next room at all – you might find yourself at a dead end) and perhaps you’ll get even more equipment. But if you die, you can’t help but try and try again.
The controls are easy to master and have indeed been made to be approachable to both pros and newbies alike since the combos are pretty easy to figure out. You can definitely get away with button-mashing through a couple of fights without any problems. However, without strategy and precision, you’re not going to get any further than that because you’ll be losing far too much health to be able to survive the next room. Newbies will be finding themselves dying frequently in the early stages of their playthroughs and while the developers promise that the difficulty will be toned down in future releases, I for one welcome the challenge. The thrill of being able to conquer a foe that you previously weren’t able to gives players a strong sense of accomplishment, and dying isn’t that bad either because you’re excited to see what the next playthrough has in store for you.
The game challenges you to make the best out of what you have in a way that is enjoyable. While you may get tired of dying over and over again after a while, Heart&Slash is such a great pick-up-and-play type of game that you’ll want to keep coming back to see if you can progress further than you did before. If aheartfulofgames is able to stick to this core, we’ll undoubtedly have a hit on our hands.
What I’d like to see most in the game is a target-locking system because at the moment, players may find it difficult to control the camera to see where the mobs are while avoiding attacks. It’s particularly more challenging when there are two or more enemies you have to face and one is slightly off-screen. Another point about the camera is that it’s also sometimes difficult to see the distance you’re jumping and I found myself falling a lot in areas that required some platforming.
In terms of weaponry, the guns weren’t all the useful to me which is a shame because I love using long-ranged weapons. I saw no point taking so long to aim with one button and reload with another, when I could just easily go in close and use a combo from one of the melee weapons. Moreover, Heart is unable to walk or run while aiming so enemies can easily come close and attack while you’re trying not to miss your shot.
It must be pointed out, however, that the team has consistently been making great leaps of improvements (in areas including difficulty balancing, camera control, weapon animations, etc.) throughout the development of the different versions of the Alpha these past several days, and it is clear that the team worked really hard to get Heart&Slash as polished as possible in time for its public release. Despite having a lot missing from the game, it’s still really fun as it is and is surely something I’ll be playing until the official release. If this is only a taste of what’s to come, then I’m really excited to see what aheartfulofgames will be able to manage by the end of this year.
The alpha is currently available for PC, Mac and Linux on Kickstarter and on IndieDB if you’re interested in trying it yourself. A small disclaimer though: both the Mac and Linux builds were not tested as much as the PC one due to time constraints, and are therefore, not as polished. More information on the Alpha here on Heart&Slash‘s update page.