My first interest in Digital Continue‘s upcoming action game Next Up Hero sparked after seeing it during one of Nintendo’s ‘Nindies’ Directs last year. Instantly, the games cartoony art style and twin-stick shooter looking gameplay had me rubbing my hands together with delight. So, when a closed Beta finally come around it’s fair to say I was early awaiting to dive into the isometric action game head-first. Which is why it pains me so much to say that Next Up Hero is okay, and that really about it.
Before I go further I should say that all impressions in this preview are based on the closed Beta, so have a chance to be addressed or changed. Our final impressions will be shared in a full review when Next Up Hero gets a full release.
One of the biggest questions I had going into the closed Beta is ‘what is the game?’. I’d read all there was to read about the game and watch just about every trailer going, but yet I still didn’t really know what the game was or how it played. I hate to say this, but I still don’t really know what the game is, or, how to play it, and that’s after 11 hours in the closed Beta.
Let’s start with the gameplay. As you’d probably guess from the trailers, Next Up Hero is an isometric, hero based action game. Straight off the bat, you’re tasked with choosing a hero and heading into what the game calls Ventures, which are is basically a fancy word for dungeons. It’s these Ventures that act as the core element of the gameplay, as the whole game revolves around you farming them for different currencies. Although this gameplay loop sound shallow, and it is, it’s also very addictive, which is down to the game excellent progression system. Every hero comes packed with different stats and abilities, and these don’t change, no matter how much you play the game your stats won’t increase, unless you prestige, but more on that later. Where the progression comes in is an additional ability you can add to your adventurer, but to unlock these you’ll need to acquire monster tokens. As these abilities are tied to monsters that inspired their perks, for example, a rolling spiked creature offers the ability to potentially leave spiked traps in your wake, you must kill the monster linked to the ability to collect their token and progress in unlocking the ability.
I applaud the developer for taking this approach to the progression system, not only does in encourage replayability but also put an emphasis on player skill rather than time spent with the game. The lack of grinding for stats won’t sit well with all players, but I have a feeling the diehard community will not only appreciate the continuous challenge the game offers but relish the feat of maxing out the high-level monster tokens.
These tokens are just one of the in-game currencies available, you also have Grand Tokens and Prestige Point on offer. The Prestige Points are the most common currency and drop from defeated enemies in the form of yellow collectables. They are used to buy new heroes, pay your entry into some Ventures and when you level up enough they can be used to prestige a hero, giving them an additional passive ability and a slight boost to their stats. The Grand Tokens are used to buy entry into the Grand Ventures, a tougher set of Ventures for you to delve into. I can’t comment too much on these as they were locked in the Beta, but do look like a lot of fun.
With a title like Next Up Hero, you’d expect a lot of encouragement on swapping between heroes. On the plus side, every hero does feel unique, each offering their own set of attacks and abilities. However. at least half of the heroes feel completely useless, which is down to the game challenging gameplay and lack of healing abilities. I completely understand why developer Digital Continue has made the gameplay hard as it fits in well with the style of the game and the continuous currency hunt.
What I don’t understand is why they haven’t provided any way for you to heal yourself. The Ventures range from 10 levels deep up to a whopping 80 levels deep, each with a boss at the end. The key idea of the game and the title ‘Next Up Hero’ is that you take over where another adventurer failed, which works well on paper, but I struggled to find many Ventures where someone had got passed halfway. In fact, in my 11 hours with the game, I only finished one Ventures, which honestly felt more down to luck rather than skilled gameplay.
As I previously mentioned, the game is design around you picking up where another player has failed, which leads us into a kind of co-operative element to Next Up Hero. As you progress through the Ventures you’ll come across fallen Hero, by resurrecting these hero’s they are able to not only fight alongside you but also act as fuel to unleashing your Ancient ability, a powerful ability that can be a game changer. Although I like the idea of these fallen heroes fighting by your side, in reality, they offer very little help. On several occasion, I would have up to 6 of these ghostly heroes fighting with me, but all six of them attacking at once offered as much as one of my heroes attacks. Every time I came across another fallen hero I kept having the same thought, I wish there was a way to consume them for health, or even have a choice, and ally or health.
Now, back to those Ventures, which are apparently ‘player created’. One of my biggest issues with the game is the need for you to always be online, which I can only guess comes down to the fact that these Ventures are player inspired. I say player inspired as to create them you only put in a choice of option and then they’re randomly generated. It’s this real lack of player creation that leads me to ask the question, why is the game always online? Even more frustratingly, the game cannot be paused without danger of being killed and you have the potential to be booted from a Venture just because you ‘lost connection to the server’. An even bigger concern with this always online feature come in relation to the game release on the Switch, the console we love playing on the go, but unless you want to hotspot your phone then you won’t be playing Next Up Hero on the go. As I previously mentioned, this is the Beta so the need for the game to always be online may change.
My current time with Next Up Hero has felt very mixed. On one hand, I feel slightly demoralised that the chance of me finishing a Venture is nearly impossible, no matter how many ghosts are fighting beside me. On the other hand, I can’t help but say ‘just one more game’, which is no doubt down to the game excellent currency loop gameplay. The closed Beta finishes on the 11th January which is when the game will enter Early Access on Steam. I hope that as the game grows it becomes more refined in some of the gameplay decisions. I’m so close to loving Next Up Hero, but a couple of niggling attributes just keep getting in the way.