"The darkness is coming." As premises for RPGs go, this is by far one of the most cliched -- but it's pretty rare that it's handled quite as literally as it is in One Way Heroics.
In One Way Heroics, the darkness really is coming, you see, and if you don't stay one step ahead, it will devour you along with the rest of whichever world you currently happen to be dimension- and body-hopping to at the time.
This perhaps requires a little explanation. One Way Heroics shares many common traits with that mainstay genre of modern indie games, the roguelike. But instead of procedurally generated dungeons, here you're presented with a whole randomly generated world to explore. You don't quite have time to get too attached to anything, though, because with every step you take, the darkness encroaches a little bit more. And if the darkness catches up with you, that's game over. At least until you create a new character and try again, either in the same world you just failed in or a brand new setting.
In essence, it's the turn-based RPG equivalent of those levels in Mario where the screen scrolls without you, or of old-school shooters in which the level continues to advance at a constant pace regardless of how many enemies you've defeated. This sort of forced scrolling mechanic isn't anything particularly unusual in those genres, of course, but in an RPG? That's a new one on me -- and on developer Smoking Wolf, who decided that since it was something that had never been done before, it was something he wanted to try and make for himself.
And it works, too. The constantly advancing scrolling means that you rarely have time to explore too much, and you'll have to think carefully about whether you can afford to stop into that shop that's a little out of your way -- you might be able to get in and buy something, but will you be able to get back out again without having to tunnel out of the back wall frantically? Your problems are further compounded by a regularly appearing Demon Lord -- he from whom the darkness emanates, presumably -- who shows up, taunts you, chases you for a bit and then vanishes again. You can try and smack him down if you want to, but it's unlikely you'll have much luck the first couple of times he appears. Instead, it's best to run -- and these sequences where you're being hounded by a tiny, ugly, pixel-art sprite make for surprisingly thrilling moments.
To win the game and defeat the Demon Lord, what you'll need to do is keep moving ever onwards, acquiring new items and equipment as you go, defeating enemies and perhaps recruiting allies. More often than not, though, you'll meet a sticky end well before the final showdown, which is where the metagame comes in.
Each completed run earns you Hero Points, which can be expended on a variety of things -- expanding your Dimensional Vault, which allows you to save items for a future run; unlocking new character classes; or unlocking new Perks to apply to your character at the start of a new run. The character classes can also be unlocked by completing specific achievements in a single run, so you're perhaps best off saving your Hero Points for something that can't be acquired in any other way, but ultimately the choice is yours -- there's no limit to how many you can have on hand or earn in a single run, so persistence will eventually pay off regardless of how well you do at the main game.
The actual adventuring side of things is fairly simplistic. It's turn-based like a traditional roguelike, so the scrolling doesn't advance and enemies don't move unless you do. This gives you time to consider what you're going to do and how you're going to deal with a given situation. It also allows the action to be somewhat more strategic than a straightforward hack-and-slash. Some character classes have special abilities that require a turn's meditation before use, for example, so skilled players will get into position and meditate in such a manner that the enemy enters spell range just as the spell finishes charging. It's not always that easy, though; some enemies make use of ranged attacks or are a lot stronger than they look, so amid all the other things you have to consider at any given moment, you'll have to prioritize your targets carefully. Things can get surprisingly hectic.
One Way Heroics is a simple but well-executed idea on the whole, albeit one that doesn't feel altogether fair when you first start playing -- and one whose ugly visuals may put some players off. However, like any good roguelike -- a genre for which pretty graphics have never been particularly important -- the more you play, the better you'll get, and the more possibilities you'll unlock thanks to the wide variety of character classes and perks. It really is a case of "you get out what you put in."
With fairly quick play sessions, the feeling you're always achieving something regardless of how quickly you meet your unfortunate demise and a selection of new randomly generated challenges to take on every day -- including a special online-centric mode in which you can compare your performance against other players -- One Way Heroics ultimately proves itself to be a surprisingly addictive experience. It may lack the depth and polish of other, similar games, but the distinctiveness of its core mechanic coupled with the good humor it treats you with makes it a fine addition to the lineup of other games that want nothing more than to see you suffer repeated, embarrassing failure and suffering, all in the name of fun.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Ugly pixel art and bland world design thanks to random generation that doesn't seem to even attempt to make things look remotely "organic" -- but you're never in one place long enough to notice too much.
- Music and Sound: The game has a pleasing variety of catchy background tunes that change as you progress further into each run. Sound effects are functional but satisfying.
- Interface: The entire thing is built to be played with the cursor keys and two action buttons. It's pretty intuitive, especially if you've played a console RPG before, but the on-screen displays can look a little cluttered when there's a lot going on.
- Lasting Appeal: Like any roguelike, the lasting appeal is largely what you make of it. There's potentially limitless replay value here, and the core mechanics make for an addictive enough experience to keep you coming back for more.
While ugly and unforgiving, One Way Heroics is nonetheless an enjoyable, addictive and innovative take on the crowded roguelike genre.