Next Up Hero is a light hearted dungeon crawler that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s refreshing. The game is now available in Xbox Game Pass, which is Microsoft’s Netflix-esque subscription service that enables subscribers to enjoy a shed load of games at no additional cost outside of the sub-fee. Worry not if you don’t subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, or indeed, if you don’t plan on subscribing, because Next Up Hero can purchased alone for the sum total of $19.99 or region equivalent. The question, however, is it worth that much?
I enjoy the occasional dungeon crawling experience. Though, many of them tend to rely on a darker more serious tone. Next Up Hero, on the other hand, trades that for something more fluid and carefree. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a game that still offers quite a serving of content and a great degree of challenge, but you can rest assured knowing that this game is unlike its peer’s traditional offerings. The tagline for the game pretty much sums up what you can expect to endure; Fight. Die. Win. Though, there’s a fairly interesting mechanic.
You see, death is inevitable here. If you’re anything like me, you’ll die more times than you could care to count. The kicker is that death is not the end. Sure, the game brags “perma-permadeath” but that’s not to say that once you die, your character serves no purpose. On the contrary, as a matter of fact. When you bite the proverbial dust in Next Up Hero, your hero will leave behind what’s known as an “Echo”, which by and large, is a ghost. These Echoes can be raised by other players to which they’ll then fight alongside you as the AI.
These AI followers and the system that they live by (or die for, to be precise) is a unique function that I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy. Let’s face it, games just don’t many interesting things with death. Most of the time you’ll die and will then have to respawn at your latest checkpoint, full stop and no exceptions. Here, however, this neat addition serves the game’s foundation incredibly well. I’m not sure this is going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me at least, I thought highly of its formula. There’s eleven heroes in total, with more on the way.
Each hero brings their own abilities, pros and cons into the fields of play. They’re also quite diverse too, including the likes of a knight, an assassin, an engineer and more. There’s a prestige variation of each hero that players can unlock through the use of gold, which will ultimately buff that hero with a new skin as well as third special ability. Now, let me get one thing straight from the get-go. Next Up Hero is hard and when I say hard, I mean controller crunching, TV smashing, hair pulling, arm biting, freakin’ hard. Seriously, it’s a tough one.
That, however, sits perfectly inline with the game’s concept. Next Up Hero has been purposely designed to be this difficult. Why? Because it backs up the need for community engagement, that’s why. The more you die, the more you’re helping someone else and vice versa. Tie that up to the failures of an entire community, and you’ll start to see the ideology that drives Next Up Hero forward. More Echoes means more chances for success, after all, but even then, the game still remains quite challenging. Next Up Hero goes one further.
When a player collects enough Echoes, they’re able to summon powerful abilities. These abilities range from temporary buffs to your base attack and defense, or alternatively, you can summon a titan-like ally to dish out maximum damage output. This alone bolsters the death system and makes it not only relevant and important, but widely interesting. Killing enemies has its benefits too, being that you’re free to nab and equip their abilities for that added kick. Throughout play you’ll pick up tokens and gold, both of which serve a purpose.
Gold is the most common of the two to drop. This can be spent on upgrading your characters to unlock new abilities. Characters also have prestige levels that will, once met, dish up even more opportunities through the use of additional ability slots, attack items and defense items. Tokens, on the other hand, can be spent on unlocking and leveling up new skills. It’s all very simply stuff but there’s a great deal of depth nonetheless. On top of that, each run, despite how punishing it can be, will always reward you and the community.
Gameplay typically consists of moving from venture to venture whilst taking on all forms of enemies. The enemy variation is well struck, each housing their own movement and attack patterns. The controls are fluid and precise which is always an important factor and as a result, I cant say that I endured anything that I didn’t deserve. I also have to commend the visuals and audio cues too, which collectively relays a nice portion of whimsical diversity. The bottom line in all of this is that Next Up Hero is deeper than it looks and a heap of fun.
My only gripe sits with that of its dungeon creator. Players are required to spend their own in-game currency on dungeon creation. Now, I understand that this prevents hard-spamming, which may well open up some opportunities to circumvent the process, but it was a bit gutting to not have complete freedom in this regard. It’s easy to forgive, mind, but I think I would have preferred an open choice. Especially given the fact that a player can only have one dungeon venture active at any time, and these expire after just 72 hours.
Ventures are cross-platform and for the best loot, you would do well to try these out. The interesting twist is that the tougher the dungeon, the better the reward. On top of that, if you create a dungeon that isn’t beaten by the community, you’ll get the loot for yourselves. On the other side of the coin, if someone defeats your creation, they take the prize. This alone makes for some interesting moments and I look forward to seeing what the community creates. I suspect we’ll be seeing some very devious creations moving forward.
There’s also some nifty tools when it comes to streaming the game too, in which the streamer’s audience will be able to assist or troll the streamer in a range of different ways. Those of you that want to take the challenging formula to the next level will relish the challenge that the game’s Champion Trial brings. Here, players can earn some of that fabled end-game loot through a series of ultra difficult hand-crafted tasks to prove their worth. Back to the initial question at the top, is this worth the asking price? Easily, yes, yes it is.
Between its fairly deep serving of content, its multi-tiered progression system and its innovative community death mechanic, Next Up Hero is certainly one of the better dungeon crawlers to release in recent memory. Its steep difficulty may not be for everyone, but if you relish a heavily challenging experience with heaps of replay value, this game should most certainly be on your radar.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.