The news of Diablo III coming to the Nintendo Switch has made most of us excited beyond belief. But, if you need a fun, albeit repetitive, dungeon crawling experience right now look no further than developer Digital Continue’s Next Up Hero. There are some neat gameplay and system based mechanics in play, however, a few major blemishes take what is a largely enjoyable experience and bring it down a peg.
Next Up Hero is a top-down action focused lite-RPG that has a high difficulty curve. When beginning, you are essentially thrown into specific areas that have goals that you must accomplish. Objectives range from defeating all enemies in a certain time, just defeating all enemies, or earn a specific amount of money. You play through procedurally generated stages and they come in all types of sizes, offering a fresh take each time you start a new level. If you aren’t happy with the levels presented, you can also create and share your own levels online with others.
There are many different characters to choose from and more characters can be unlocked with the in-game money and tokens you earn. One character for example, has the ability to fire off a remote mine car and place a turret that attacks enemies in the vicinity, and another character has fast firing dual pistols with quicker movements when using them. There are also melee focused characters that change some of the combat mechanics from the range-based characters, although in the later stages I found trying to defeat enemies up close usually wouldn’t end well. Many of the characters have their strengths and weakness, and there’s probably a character for everyone. I preferred the ranged fighters due to there high damage output while being able to stay further away from danger.
One of the selling points of Next Up Hero is the ‘Echo’ system, where you can find the ghost of your dead character, or other dead characters from other players who have played the same level, and revive them. These Echo allies will then be able to assist you throughout the level by attacking or providing support for your character. If you’re having a hard time in a certain level, these Echo’s can help you progress.
This was a neat concept because in some instances the amount of Echo’s you deploy related to the skill you have in Next Up Hero. You don’t really have to use the Echo’s and if you want to go through a level without any type of assistance you can. When playing, I never felt had difficulty finding Echo’s to use and they also weren’t being shoved down my throat, so I could go at my own pace or summon as needed. It was nice to have the option to use an Echo though, if I was having difficulty getting through a specific level and this cut down on the frustration.
While you defeat countless enemies on a run, you will gain gold, experience, and tokens that can help you level up and upgrade your characters. Progressing in Next Up Hero is done by after defeating a certain amount of enemies and then collecting their tokens will allow you to equip passive buffs that you get from each different type of enemy. You can use gold to buy new characters or get new skins and upgradeable skills which allows for improved abilities as well.
While the gameplay can become repetitive and be overly simple, I did have fun calling in Echo’s and with the gameplay overall. I always felt like I was gaining something and rarely had a run where it seemed like wasted time. However, the later levels were extremely punishing and eventually I did hit a wall where I had to step away. You will die a lot and like any good roguelite, death is necessary in order to get the most out of the experience.
Graphically, Next Up Hero has a crisp art-style that is easy on the eyes with bright colors and gives it a pleasant cartoony-like vibe to the visuals. The hand-drawn aesthetic reminded me of great games like Bastion and character/enemy models were fluid and unique. The music was also engaging and fit well with the visuals and action on-screen.
This sounds great and all, but there are some glaring issues with Next Up Hero that I’d be remiss not to mention. While it is fun to play online co-op, it did run poorly with framerate issues and this is really an online-only experience. Every level is shared and stored on a server, so if you’re experiencing connectivity issues or are playing away from a Wi-Fi connection, there isn’t much enjoyment to be had. Finally, there are some pretty major technical issues with the aforementioned framerate issues and slowdown that occurs when many characters are on-screen at once. Also, a few crashes occurred and hampered any progress I had made with collecting gold and tokens, which was understandably frustrating.
Overall, Next Up Hero has a decent amount of solid action-oriented combat to experience and the premise of using previously killed characters to turn them into helpful AI was neat. If it wasn’t for the framerate issues and technical problems, Next Up Hero could have been a great addition to the eShop. Unfortunately, even with the colorful cartoony visuals and fun gameplay, it’s hard to fully recommend compared to other similar titles.