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Game Info:

Next Up Hero
Developed By: Digital Continue
Published By: Aspyr
Released: Jun 28, 2018
Available On: macOS, PlayStation 4, Windows, Switch, Xbox One
Genre: Action, RPG
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+: Fantasy Violence
Number of Players: Up to two players online
Price: $19.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you Aspyr/Digital Continue for sending us this game to review.

Heroes summoned through the power of song. In the world of Next Up Hero, your voice has more of an impact than you’d realize. The premise is intriguing as I’ve played few games that dabbled with the concept.

Next Up Hero is a dungeon crawler action RPG where you have a choice of 11 ranged-based or melee-based characters to tackle dungeons called Ventures. Each Venture has four difficulties to choose from with four locations ranging from a tundra to a lava land. Levels inside the Ventures contain special gimmicks tied to them such as “defeat a certain amount of enemies” or “watch out for falling rocks.” At the end of every Venture is a boss, and once defeated, you can choose to end the Venture and collect your rewards or push onward to collect more rewards.

The gameplay of Next Up Hero is presented in a top-down view, similar to games like Bastion and Transistor. The controls are fairly simple, with the standard WASD movement, mouse to aim around, left mouse button for primary attack, right mouse button to use the secondary ability, space bar to dodge, and the R key for the third unlockable ability. A unique feature to this game is the ability to summon fallen heroes, or in this case, AI controlled players to assist you called Echoes. Every time a real player perishes in combat, their Echo is left in that exact spot for a passing player to summon using the Q key. These Echoes can assist you in combat, or be “consumed” with the E key to summon an Ancient to aid you. Ancients can either attack enemies or grant you boosted stats to even the playing field in particularly tricky moments. The PC version has native controller support for both the Xbox controller and PlayStation controller and it controls more like a twin-stick shooter. The dodge is mapped to the right stick which is a bit awkward and can take some time getting used to it. Keep in mind that controls cannot be remapped so left-handed players may struggle with the controls.

Next Up Hero
Highlights:

Strong Points: Cute hand-drawn art; Echo system is a rather interesting concept.
Weak Points: Everything requires some type of grind to obtain; server-based, even when playing solo; very simplistic design, from the gameplay, to the level layout; bosses are huge damage sponges and there are only a few in the game.
Moral Warnings: The Echoes resemble ghosts or spirits.

The entire concept of Echoes is compelling for a game such as this, and even when you’re alone, you’re never truly “alone.” Even your untimely demise can help a player reach further in their objective. There even is a co-op option to play the game with a friend, and streamer integration from Mixer or Twitch for the viewers to help or harm your journey. There further is the option to play “player-created Ventures” which are more or less player-enabled modifiers and custom Ventures to challenge the player, with an incentive for both the creator and the participants. If the player makes a Venture, and no one is able to complete it within a certain amount of time, the creator is rewarded with rare and powerful equipment, and vice versa for the player.

Characters are all hand drawn, and I have a really soft spot for hand-drawn art. The hero design reminds me of the Mighty Beanz toys, but with a bit more detail, such as actual limbs and a head. The style is rather cute and did invoke nostalgic feelings from me. Music is also rather good, although fairly low in volume, even when the music settings are set to max in the options. When you first start getting into the game with your character of choice and tackle these dungeons and summon many fallen heroes, the combination of it all is quite fun to partake in.

At least, for first hour or two that is. Woefully, the problems of Next Up Hero really start to show after this point. I understand the game is a RPG, but I’ve played free to play games and MMOs that didn’t feel as needlessly grindy as Next Up Hero. Everything in this game is a grind, from earning characters, to leveling them up, to gaining abilities, equipment, and even participating in the endgame content itself is a grind, as that requires a special currency that can only be obtained sometimes through chests or from leveling up. Not only do you have to grind to even equip the equipment, you also need to grind for passive abilities on top of that, in which you need to grind for to even equip said abilities.

Enemies sometimes drop tokens that are used to level up your passive abilities, and there are also rare variants of these enemies that also drop tokens to unlock rare versions of these abilities. These rare enemies only pop up occasionally, but can be manipulated to appear in a slightly higher frequency by spending currency to spawn more of them in the Venture. Some of these rare abilities can take up to 80 tokens to fully level up, but you’re lucky to see maybe three of the same type of rare enemy in a single Venture. And this only consists of one of the many cases of grinding in the game.

Next Up Hero
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 60%
Gameplay - 9/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 92%
Violence - 7.5/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

It doesn’t help that even though each level has a gimmick tied to it, most gimmicks feel the same because with most of them, you still have to kill a certain amount of enemies to unlock the gate that will lead you to the next level. Only a few objectives don’t require a certain number of enemies such as the “bounty hunt” or “community checkpoint” which is an optional objective in that if you beat the miniboss in the area, the community will be able to start the Venture at that point. Levels are also way too spacious and rather bland design-wise. They really should have downsized the levels. There is also one rather annoying gimmick called “don’t get greedy” in that if you collect money, it harms you. Money is integral to the game, and having something that punishes you for something as necessary as currency is very poor game design. It also slows the game down and heavily punishes melee-based players as there is a vacuum effect when collecting money.

Getting to the bosses, they are also very annoying and boring. They end up being huge damage sponges with most of them only having brief moments of vulnerability. Even if you push the boss further down, the boss doesn't gain any special attributes or attacks when encountered once again. They’re just the same damage sponge with nothing new to show for it. All in all, you’ll see what Next Up Hero has to offer in only a few hours of playtime, and it makes the game feel very repetitive, as the depth of the game is as shallow as a puddle of water.

I didn’t find much morally concerning with the game. There is a story contained within Next Up Hero about something with these Spoken Voice Houses who use the power of song to summon heroes and how these Houses combat the Ceaseless Dirge, and two people from the opposing Houses named Ovalia and Quinn find themselves stranded in the world that the Ceaseless Dirge comes from. Frankly, I remember very little about the story, but nothing stuck out for me, including the story itself. The entire concept of the Echoes does resemble spirits or ghosts, which add a supernatural aspect.

I would only recommend Next Up Hero if you have a friend to play with, an active streaming community, or just really like grinding, as it is too simplistic for a RPG, too much grind for a paid game, and too repetitive for a solo experience. From my experience, the PC community isn’t all that active either as I was barely able to take advantage of the Echo mechanics to summon Ancients. One may have more luck playing on the consoles as there is potential for a more active base for Echoes. Next Up Hero is not a terrible game, as I do enjoy the art style, the music/sound effects are good (when I could hear them), and the game is rather stable for an always-online game as I only experienced two server-related issues that simply kicked me back to the main menu, but I personally feel there are much better alternatives to spend your $20 on as it failed to appeal to me on any other level.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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