Do I dare call this my Game of the Year? With so few candidates in the running, it is the most viable of contenders and might be yours, too.
Title: One Way Heroics
Genre: Side-scrolling RPG, Rougelike
Developer: Smoking Wolf
System: PC (via Steam or Playism)
Looking back on the year thus far, 2014 has truly been the year for the roguelike genre on the indie scene. With titles like: A Wizards Lizard, Crypt of the NecroDancer, Quest of Dungeons, and Shattered Planet cropping up, games that I enjoyed, ideas on the genre do seem to inching toward a desirable direction. Of course, titles like One Way Heroics, a Japanese indie variant on the formula, it does go to show that adding some of the most unexpected ideas can often lead to favored results. In this case, a side-scrolling rougelike being able to offer hours to days of addictive fun.
The scenario is quite simple: You are hero that has been scouted by the king to defeat the “Demon Lord” and stop him spreading a blanket of “Darkness” upon the entire world. Of course, the “Darkness” isn’t a clever euphemism for anything and literally, a black mist that will kill anything that happens to be caught in its path. Your mission is to travel across the side-scrolling landscape, surviving against all odds to one day do battle with the “Demon Lord” himself. At the start of the game, you are given the choice to pick a “class” (only 2 are available, but more unlocked as you play) and “Perks” or stat points. While your initial class starts with a unique and predefined trait and skills, synergizing them with the perks is an important factor to achieve victory. For example: if you pick “Swordsmaster” as a class, he automatically comes with a higher combo rate (meaning increased agility) and the useful Berserk skill that will raise Attack stat by 2x. Outfit it with a “Strength” perk (or two), “Agility”, and maybe something like “Vitality” – you already lean, mean killing machine on your hands (even more lethal if you find good equipment). The combinations are virtually endless and only limited by what you gain access to – which will grow over time and multiple runs. After that, you given the game mode options – most that are ambiguous, but essentially, you can either do randomly generated maps or ones that updated daily into your game. They often come in three flavors: An easy mode and an sightly harder mode. The only difference lies in the appearance of the Demon Lord, the latter version making him show up earlier as you either try to kill him or run away to fight him when you much stronger. Grueling mode is more a punishing version where not only the Demon Lord is significantly stronger, but also the monsters.
In terms of mechanics, the game functions akin most other rougelike titles: For every move you make, so does everything else on the map. The only difference is that instead of the limitless freedom to explore the map as you please, the side-scrolling screen with darkness chasing from behind will force you make more practical decisions. Is the treasure in that house really worth a couple of sword swings to bust down? That dungeon looks like a great place to get a few levels, but will I be able to beat all those zombies and leave on time? Is it worth saving those immobile townspeople from monster even though the darkness will kill them anyway? Those are few questionable dilemmas that the game cast and makes for more exhilarating playthroughs. Of course, with the random world generation, other hazards such as mountains, rivers, and even lava require your attention and adroit maneuvers to navigate. They can be traversed and quickly with special skills, but will expend stamina, an important resource that allows you use skills and generates slowly overtime. Energy is another component to your survival and contributes to how much health you regenerate as you walk. Food items and potions will be your best friend in this regard. Whether you win or lose, at the end, the game will present with results based on different statics and depending on how well you did, Hero Points. The points are used to unlock different classes, perks, and vault space that will be of aid to you on your next journey and change how you experience the game.
Of course, unlike most games that are ready to throw you to the wolves, One Way Heroics teaches you everything you need to know from the start via your Fairy Companion, Iris. If you ever want to know specifics, she is the one to talk to and she will be only a “Z” click away in your inventory. She also is quick to give you strategies, if you happen to die during your adventure. However, Iris (like almost everything in-game) also shows off the game’s quirky and affable side: with plenty of breaking the fourth wall, references (there is a recruitable npc named Panty Shot), and self-aware jokes to go around. It’s all very clever and charming. One of my favorites comes from the fights against the bandits that may utter the line: “Time to get our stab on”. If bandits wanting to kill you while offering bad puns isn’t charming, I don’t know what is. That being said, with most of the game knowledge being an intuitive feature, handling those pesky bandits or even the Demon Lord won’t pose much of a threat to you in time, but I do commend on making the game fun while you do learn the inns and outs. Despite the game helping you to ease into things, there is also plenty of discovers to be made yourself like multiple endings and even a method to the defeat darkness among others.
While One Way Heroics does craft fine rougelike experience with a twist, its personal craftsmanship in design could use work. For one, font size is too small to see. Blowing the screen resolution to full helps, but the wispy text and the rate of its disappearance is too quick to see what combat information it tries to clue you in on. The technical themselves are biggest draw, often changing the resolution between the four modes, only one (windowed normal) works without distorting the visuals or making them appear jagged. Granted that the artwork and design leads much to be desired in the first place, it isn’t that bad, yet the technical work doesn’t do it any favors. Don’t expect the option panel to be of much assistance either – expect for dealing with the bgm or sound effects. The musical score is also very nice, despite it being limited and repetitious.
With all the titles that I have named and to come this year, One Way Heroics does set the bar very high in both terms of replay value and the aspect of randomization. After all, for a genre that longevity is determined by content, it has the variety it needs to keep things fresh. And with some much to discover about playing the game, boring is a word that will be far from your vocabulary. Take it from someone who has already logged about 50+ hours. Hopefully, with Smoking Wolf going through the development phases to create an additional update to the game that will only extent the enjoyment, but for now, One Way Heroics is certainly worth every bit of money you will spend and then some – especially if you’re a fan of the genre.
Pros: Intuitive gameplay, packed with humor, plenty of unlockable content, limitless hours of playtime, maps updated daily, able to share maps with other players (recommend).
Cons: A few technical bugs and design issues, multiplayer options limited
Notes: This game is on Steam, but if you want a deal purchase on playism instead. Why? The game is pay what you want ($1.99 minimum) and with your purchase you will get a Steam key in addition to the DRM-free installer.
Be sure also check out the One Way Heroics Wiki. There you can find a lot of information including custom game maps generated by other players.