"...I've affirmed here that even a simple roguelike can capture my attention..."
Roguelikes, by their nature, play on our psychology. The random interval rewards of each run function like a slot machine getting it on with your computer. Then, add on a healthy layer of impending demise as surprises and secrets can rear their ugly head at any point. One Way Heroics is such a game, and it has made me call into question whether a roguelike even needs to try to curry our favor?
In fact, one doesn't even need to really craft a tale to make a quality roguelike. Here, a mysterious darkness is destroying the world in a perfect vertical line coming from the left side of the screen. The villagers and townspeople are well aware of this, but choose to remain stationary. Clearly, the game doesn't take itself too seriously. Some theorize that the Demon Lord is behind this catastrophe, but what is the actual story behind this darkness? Come to think of it, what's up with that Demon Lord guy?
One Way Heroics offers little in addition to the aforementioned details aside from different endings depending on the difficulty and method of completion. Unfortunately, exposition and running text monopolize many of the endings. However, don't let this deter you from venturing into the randomized landscapes of XSUWLJZ, OWEMAPWU, or the dreadful LAPEUONF dimension. One Way Heroics is so much more than plot, story, or "character growth." Puh-lease.
The cornerstone of what separates One Way Heroics from pretty much any other game out there is the combination of side-scrolling doom a la Super Mario Bros. 3 and turn-based combat. Unlike most roguelikes wherein the player can freely roam around dungeons until he's ready to move on, One Way Heroics forces players to economize their actions, appraise what's worth spending time on, and continue moving forward. Don't bother trying to explore everywhere, because it won't happen.
Is it truly that bad, though? Are you always on the run with the darkness hot on your tail? More often than not, players will hug the right side of the screen looking for goodies to grab or baddies to bludgeon (or blister or stab). On occasion, hostile buildings, whose patterns are easily recognizable after a couple hours of playing, appear and house mostly level-appropriate enemies and walls. This is where the darkness applies pressure. However, with experience, players will learn how to navigate obstacles deftly and efficiently. While most of the game's surprises can occur within ten hours of playing, I still haven't discovered many of the intricacies needed to master the mechanics or unlock all of its secrets.
Like a standard RPG, maintaining one's inventory and frequenting shops is necessary. Players will find themselves constantly eating herbs to keep their energy up while trying to figure out what they can afford to drop so that they can keep the fancy new potion they found. Overall, three main bars need babysitting: life, stamina, and energy. Life's purpose is fairly obvious, and it replenishes at set intervals, assuming one has energy left. Stamina allows one to swim or use special abilities. Energy constantly diminishes, but it adds stamina and life every few turns. Recovery items are frequently used to keep one's bars up, especially energy. Keeping enough herbs on hand while allowing room for special effect items to aid in combat is essential, as one's carrying capacity is frequently maxed out. However, these are only a couple of the important pieces of information available on one's screen.
Initially, players are inundated with a big, boring font, letters all over the screen, and little in the way of tutorial. While the hero's fairy companion offers some guidance, much of the information on the screen is difficult to digest at first, but is necessary to mastering the game. Those with patience will persevere, and this understanding will come with time. Although frustrating at first, one can still enjoy the game without knowing what everything means or does. That said, providing so much information without a firmer guiding hand isn't terribly impressive design, not to mention sense-accosting way in which it's presented.
If one survives the torrent of letters and statistics, the heart and charm of One Way Heroics can be appreciated. Players can visit their friends' worlds, personalize their death information with quirky quotes, and expend points on perks for future playthroughs. Upon losing, players can retrieve a great deal of advice or reminders of sound strategy. Other classes can be unlocked using points earned or through certain tactics, such as killing an enemy with magic. Challenging friends to beat your score using the same world if you should choose to save it can be gratifying and add a dimension not initially obvious. In fact, if not for One Way Heroics' rough presentation, more people could enjoy everything it has to offer.
While not hard on the eyes, One Way Heroics lacks in aesthetics. This may immediately turn people away, as the sprites aren't incredibly well designed and the drawings are basic at best. However, everything serves its purpose and is clear. The font, I have to reiterate, is a huge stumbling block and takes some getting used to; although I find it odd that I keep harping on lettering, One Way Heroics is a clear example of why every little detail needs to be done correctly, or it can turn people off in an instant. Only after a couple hours of playing did I fully comprehend everything in the starting menus and gameplay screen. This, in part, may be due to my own impatience, but if everything were presented more intuitively, this wouldn't have been a problem. In the end, the burden is on the designer.
In terms of sound, One Way Heroics offers staple music and clashing of swords. In terms of control, One Way Heroics takes some getting used to. The game seems to emphasize using a fourth button to help players move diagonally and navigate the world more easily, though I found using the number pad far easier. Those unaccustomed to roguelikes on the PC may not realize this option is available to them, but it's necessary, as even one slip in movement can mean death given the right circumstances. Other than this, the game enjoys simple controls: players have a confirm, cancel, and secondary key.
One Way Heroics is a hidden gem. The gimmick truly works here and adds a dimension not otherwise available in roguelikes or any other game, really. What's more, I've affirmed here that even a simple roguelike can capture my attention by virtue of the quasi-gambling design. While the game can get a little samey after about ten hours, with enough imagination and creativity players can craft new strategies not initially apparent. I had intended on writing this review earlier, but I kept saying to myself, "I can write the review that I should be writing, or I can get another run in." I thought there was only one way.