Not quite so heroic.
Next Up Hero as an aesthetically vivid, isometric twin-stick shooter-esque dungeon crawler that features a wide variety of archetypal characters to play as. You’re tasked with fighting your way through near-endless waves of enemies and, upon completion, you’ll be granted experience that is crucial in progressing through to the next story-based mission. Each mission varies greatly in difficulty and objective, but never enough to keep the game feeling fresh and, more importantly, enjoyable.
The story is somewhat light and only exists to provide some narrative link between each instanced level, however superficial and light that may be. In brief, two characters find an unknown, mysterious location and set to rid this land of darkness by using initially unexplained powers and abilities. Whilst this does sound cliche, the innovations are instead saved for the gameplay, whereby you recruit “Echoes” to aid you in your colourful battles. These echoes are fallen warriors of instanced online battles past, and you can revive these to be controlled by the AI to assist you going forward. Further depth can be applied when you chose to sacrifice your little helpers in favour of an “Ancient”, a more powerful being that can help is more substantial ways, whether it be by applying buffs or by dealing massive damage to enemies around you.
Graphically, this game stands out from its peers in numerous levels. Isometric twin-stick shooters aren’t often known for their wide colour palette, and Next Up Hero practically vomits the rainbow upon your retinas. This manages to alleviate some of the repetition-induced boredom that creeps in shortly after starting, albeit not by much. The beautiful cartoon aesthetic is present in all aspects of your journey and certainly makes for a bright adventure in the inspired worlds you find yourself in.
Sound design perfectly complements the visuals, too. Clean, simplistic beats accompany each heroes move-sets beautifully. From slashes with your sword to the setup of an automated turret, each carefully engineered sound feels right at home. Cutesy, synth themes promote the overall feeling of the game, being one of a lighthearted nature, and promote a more-relaxed play-style that this game appears to emulate.
Next Up Hero, then, is a game that is constantly at odds with itself. Both graphically and sound design wise, it is an absolute joy. With copious innovative ideas that seep through the games very being, I should have felt joy from start to end as I poked and prodded these systems to my heart’s content. Instead, what I found was the ever-creeping sense of boredom, and feeling of it missing the gameplay hook to keep me engaged; Whether that be a higher level of polish or more gameplay variety from level to level, there’s something missing that other titles in the popular genre manage to encapsulate. It’s a game that needs to be experienced, granted, but not necessarily for the game itself. More so to experience first hand the developer’s lofty ambitions and clear talent they have when it comes to thinking outside the box, and presenting new ideas to old genres, albeit at the cost of mastering the basic principles that we come to expect.