Heart&Slash has the potential to fill a void in your gaming library, offering an experience that’s visually charming and nostalgic yet one that plays similarly to that of Dark Souls of Devil May Cry. It’s an interesting mix of aesthetics and gameplay, and one that works surprisingly well, that is once you’ve come to terms with the difficulty.

Indeed Heart&Slash is a hard game, the combat is fast-paced and brutal, the enemies numerous and hard hitting, and the bosses massive and intimidating. Furthermore, the rogue-like element of procedurally generated levels and enemy encounters means sometimes fortune isn’t on your side.

It’s Heart&Slash’s greatest strength and greatest weakness; the dichotomy of surprise. On the one hand, dying and having to replay a level is far less frustrating when that level is entirely different the next time around. However, mastering a level is made all the more difficult because you’re not sure what to expect. It’s a trade-off that doesn’t always work, especially early on in the game where you have no or very little upgrades and your mastery of the mechanics is still in its infancy, but later on it’s less of a problem and overall the randomness of it all makes the experience all the sweeter.

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However, in order to taste that sweetness you need adapt to Heart & Slash’s pace and challenge. Blisteringly fast movement and combat that requires forethought and skill to best conquer your robot enemies isn’t necessarily what you’d expect after the amusing and slow-paced introduction. The first 15 minutes involves you jumping into the mechanical boots of a robot, with a tutorial on movement and combat in a safe test lab accompanied by your maker and his assistant setting up the world through banter. Next thing you know, you’ve been inactive for 100 years and missed the robot apocalypse. Humankind is dead and the robots that now rule this world are locked in to a long obsolete standardisation protocol, under the supervision of the all-seeing robot leader Quality Assurance System (QuAsSy). You think differently, you want to think for yourself and be unique, and so begins your quest to fight the establishment.

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And fight you most certainly do, utilising your equipped blades or all manner of weapons you can pick up on your adventure. However, don’t let this 3D brawler’s bright and colourful palette and cute robot design fool you, combat is strategic. Your enemies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all with their own unique attacks, strengths and weaknesses. You can’t simply pound away at them and expect to be victorious, instead you must read their tells and dodge their attacks, looking for openings to strike before quickly moving away. Moreover, the combat is so fast paced that you’re barely given the chance to think before you react. It requires some practice but eventually you’ll adapt to Heart&Slash’s combat system and speed.

Beyond practice however, upgrades are what really start to make a difference. Nuts and bolts you collect can be spent on upgrades to yourself and your weapons, granting you more health, stronger attacks, better abilities and even modifying the kind of attacks from your arsenal to include elemental damage and projectile functions. Indeed, the more enemies you study – committing their attack patterns to memory – and the more upgrades you acquire, the easier Heart & Slash becomes, however, thanks once again to the procedurally generated encounters, it’s always interesting, surprising and rewarding to progress that little bit further.

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However, no amount of upgrades and practice can help you in your fight against the camera. The often narrow hallways and confined rooms cause the camera to zoom in and out at the most inopportune moments, and it’s so incredibly sensitive that lining it up manually is a chore. It frequently causes platforming and combat inaccuracies, which inevitably lead to death.

Heart&Slash is a very challenging but equally rewarding brawler that stands out from the crowd thanks to its colourful and charming aesthetic yet highly tactical combat. The camera is a huge pain but otherwise tight controls help keep you moving and fighting at the blistering fast pace required.

Thanks to Xbox and Badland Games and aheartfulofgames for supporting TiX