Tuesday 24 September 2013

Heroes of Loot (PC/Mac/Linux/OUYA/iOS/Android)

Heroes of Loot is the latest OUYA title from Orange Pixel, developers of the superb Gunslugs. Whereas the latter is their take on the run 'n' gun arcade genre, Heroes of Loot is described as a Rogue-like with extra helpings of Gauntlet.

As the name suggests Heroes of Loot is a rather light-hearted take on the dungeon crawl genre. Up to two players can choose from four character classes to play as, based almost entirely on the classic Gauntlet set, with a Wizard, Warrior, Elf and Valkyrie to choose from.

As you'd expect from a Rogue-like game the aim is to venture through endless levels of dungeons racking up as big a score as possible before your inevitable death.

Points are gained from killing the myriad of monsters that fill the dungeon, collecting treasure and completing quests. The game features similar chunky pixel art to Gunslugs and the content is also randomised like its run 'n' gun cousin. This means no game plays the same twice and neatly combines Orange Pixel's fondness for randomised content and the typical Rogue-like aesthetic.

A simple levelling up system provides the RPG element, though there is no skill tree to speak of and level advancement simply automatically upgrades your firepower and health.

Gameplay clearly has its roots in mobile gaming and simply holding down the fire button auto-aims to the nearest monster. While the auto-aim system no doubt works well on a mobile touch screen, it sometimes feels slightly basic for a twin-stick joypad even though the game is clearly designed with an auto-aim free-for-all in mind.

As with Gunslugs the game punishes foolhardy play and, especially on later levels, a quick death is never too far away if the player decides to rush headlong into combat. Nonetheless charging into a crowd of monsters when you have a power-up like the Lighting Rune is one of the games great pleasures.

Each level of the dungeon is kept to a relatively small size with a 'quest' room and/or a store to provide some additional variety. A clever lighting system that only shows areas lit with torches or your immediate surroundings creates an element of exploration that you're surprised could exist in dungeon levels so relatively small. Combined with special features that pop up occasionally like the Well of Life and a Mysterious Statue they help the game avoid falling into a monotonous endless hack 'n' slash.

The quests you receive are basic affairs, kill x number of y monsters and receive z in return, but help put a bit of variety and short-term objective chasing into the mix.

Such is the basic level of Rogue-like gameplay the game arguably plays more like Gauntlet with some RPG influences than vice versa as Orange Pixel describe. In this way there is a danger it could fail to appeal to more hardcore Rogue-like fans, especially as the OUYA has a decent selection to choose from already, from 100 Rogues to bitDungeon.

Thankfully Heroes of Loot is extremely accessible and playable, with charming cut-scenes and characteristically excellent music adding to the overall flavour. Little surprises like discovering a treasure room or the occasional computerised voice-over pronouncing that the 'Wizard is about to die' are loving nods to its Gauntlet-based heritage.

Given the overall quality of the game, it's something of a surprise to find a couple of issues creep in after repeat plays. As you progress through the dungeon, it gradually increases in difficulty, introducing more and bigger monsters. This is fine, but there doesn't seem to be a way to reduce the 'Dungeon Difficulty' at the menu screen. This may be because it simply represents your furthest progress into the dungeon (every restart pits you back at the easiest difficulty regardless), but it is unclear and it also seems to mean there are no repeats of the entertaining cut-scenes as you replay the game, which is a shame when they're well done and the quick-death nature of the game means you'll play through it several times in one session.

A bigger issue is the complete lack of any high score system. Upon death your score and progress is presented to you, but completely free of the context of your previous efforts. This has the effect of lessening the sense of achievement, particularly if you're unsure whether you've beaten your previous personal best or not.

Likewise, there appears to be in-game achievements that you unlock throughout play, but with no way to actually see what they are in the menu screen or in-game. This seems to be an issue in more than one game on the Ouya and it's frustrating to see.

Finally, four player co-op would make sense given that there a four classes to choose from. Admittedly the scale of the dungeons fits two players better but it would be great if Orange Pixel could introduce a larger scale dungeon to explore for three or four players.

These are only minor gripes against a game of consistently high quality. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Gunslugs but that may reflect the crowded field it is competing in, especially on the Ouya. A post-release update has addressed a few bugs that were highlighted by the Ouya community, and while there have been additions to the game, such as six permanently collectable treasures (i.e. they don't reset after each playthrough) the bigger issues mentioned above remain untouched.

Nonetheless Heroes of Loot should appeal to anyone who likes an arcade style dungeon crawl game and coming in at $2.99 it is cheaper than 100 Rogues with the unique addition, for now (100 Rogues may add four-player support in the future), of local multiplayer.

Given how simple and popular the Gauntlet formula is, it's no surprise that many developers have tried and failed to recapture the magic of the arcade classic. What appeals about Heroes of Loot is that Orange Pixel have successfully stripped the genre down to its core elements and resisted the urge to overload it with modern-day features like copious statistics or any real notion of 'depth' or complexity. What remains is a pure, fast-paced action-based dungeon crawl experience. With a little more work, this could join Gunslugs in being one of the consoles stand-out titles.

Download the demo/purchase the PC/Mac version here (from the developers website).
Download the demo/purchase the iOS version here (from the iOS App Store).
Download the demo/purchase the Android version here (from Google Play).
Download the demo of the Ouya version here (from Total Ouya).
4 out of 5

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