Monday, August 20

Review: Next Up Hero [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While by the end of the year there will be quite a lot of representation of action RPGs on the Switch to this point there’s no clear title that stands above the rest. With a somewhat light and cute approach, mixed with procedurally-generated levels Next Up Hero has come to the scene looking to take its shot at glory. Unfortunately, its somewhat aimless nature, balancing and technical issues, and overall utter vanilla-ness stand in the way of it making a serious positive impression.

Stocked with a variety of both ranged and melee characters the basics Next Up offers aren’t bad. There’s some variety, with classes that are all about in-your-face action or accuracy as well as some that are a bit more forgiving, allowing you to do things like construct a turret to do some of your work for you. You’ll choose your character and then select a venture to challenge yourself with. There are generally already a great deal of existing ones you can check out but you can also opt to make some selections for size, difficulty, and environment and have one made randomly for you. As you progress you’ll also be able to more actively dictate the setup and level types to create your own personal venture.

The ventures themselves are a very mixed bag, with special level types that dictate the style of play, different monsters, and random rare monsters that can show up as well. On a general level your goal will be to move through each stage trying to eliminate all of the monsters but along the way you may see fallen heroes that you’ll be able to revive as ghosts to fight by your side to a limited degree. With enough of them you’ll also have the option to sacrifice them to summon Ancients that can temporarily help you out in a variety of ways. So kill monsters, collect prestige points and monster tokens, and try to survive as long as you can. Then inevitably die, slowly work on leveling up your character, and try again more powerful than ever, perhaps playing with someone else online to be even more effective. At least that’s the theory.

There are actually so many misgivings large and small that I have with the game it’s hard to keep track. Both local and especially online co-op play are often hit with slowdown and performance problems. The game has no concept of healing (at best some Ancients can temporarily shield you or give you a boost, not nothing permanent) so essentially the health you start your run with is all you have. Certain types of monsters, and especially bosses, even on Easy, turn what felt like a reasonably good run into a sudden death. Melee classes can be fun, but the fact that damage is far harder to avoid up-close makes them a horrible choice for the most part. There are some ways to enhance your character but the effect of enhancements are very small bumps at best and for the most part their limited set of attacks is all you’ll ever have, making gameplay get pretty repetitive, even if you find you enjoy it. In order to get those said incremental enhancements you’ll also need to do quite a lot of grinding, and yet even once you unlock them their effect doesn’t always feel like your time getting them was justified. Finally, the attempts to periodically tell some kind of external story to go with the action are pretty well pointless as the tiny bits of story feel so disconnected they may as well have been for another game.

At its base there are definitely things about Next Up Hero that make sense and work. Its art style and general flow of gameplay aren’t bad, and the variety of character attacks are interesting and worth trying out to see what suits you. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much everything from that point on that falls apart. Truly, this feels like a collection of game ideas thrown together in the same basket without the care to get any of it to be cohesive. Progression is slow, there are entire modes for levels that plain aren’t fun and make no sense (including one where you take damage for collecting prestige points, pretty well guaranteeing your melee fighter is screwed as they fall when an enemy dies), enemy damage is all over the place, and the story feels more like an excuse to have some out of synch character art to include in the package than anything else. I would like to enjoy it for what it does right, but the avalanche of issues it has make it seem like it wasn’t ready for release.

Score: 4

  • Great art style
  • Varied character classes to play as
  • The basic flow of gameplay can be fun

  • Too much grinding for incremental rewards
  • Performance issues with slowdown and though online co-op works it can be very laggy
  • A hodge podge of gameplay concepts that feel thrown together and lacking in cohesion
  • Even on Easy boss fights and even some fights against rare monsters are incredibly hard and unbalanced
  • No ability to heal over the entire course of your venture is a design decision that simply makes no sense, especially when coupled with the balancing issues
  • Game modes that seem to penalize the player with no discernable upside
  • Melee classes are completely impractical due to all the above