I remember back in college when Flash-based games were the big thing to kill time in between classes. Many of those turned into now well-known genres, like tower defense, while others became entire games in their own right. Nerdook Productions Vertical Drop Heroes HD falls into the latter category as it jumps from the browser to the desktop.
The original Vertical Drop Heroes had a fairly simple construct: make your way through a series of random levels - collecting gold and stomping on enemy heads along the way - until you eventually reach the final level and rescue the kidnapped princess. You were a generic hero that could assume the guise of other hero archetypes (mage, archer, berserker, knight) by rescuing them from cages. The catch to it all is that rather than scrolling from left to right across the screen, you were falling from the top down to the bottom. It is a fun little distraction and allows for two players to play.
The upgraded Vertical Drop Heroes HD uses some of the same ideas, but comes with a lot more features. Rather than a generic hero, you select your protagonist at the start of the game. Each protagonist has randomized “traits,” combining a different weapon , which determines your damage output as well as having some modifiers to health, speed, and damage received, along with different active and passive abilities. The active abilities, such as being able to do a “mega” jump or putting up a protective barrier, come with so many charges that can be replenished with blue vial “mana” pick-ups. The passive abilities, like doing more damage or reflecting some damage from foes back on them, are always in effect and don’t require recharging. Initially, you’re limited to just a few weapons and active abilities.
As you progress through the game, you’ll encounter merchants that will sell you new active and passive abilities, which become available in future playthroughs. Unlocking these abilities will also make new weapons for future characters to use, so the possibilities for what your hero has starting off increases the more you play. There’s a definite feeling of Rogue Legacy to this part of the process.
Once your hero is selected, you set off through the game’s 10 procedurally stages to reach the end game, the Holy Sanctuary and the secrets within. Should you fail in your quest, you’ll be able to start over right away by selecting a new protagonist from a roster of three, each with some random selection of weapons and abilities. Should you succeed, you’ll unlock New Game mode and be able to take off on adventure again, with a couple additional surprises.
Progression through the 10 levels follows the same vertical format as the original VDH, with the added twist of enemies that now have a measure of health and their own particular attack patterns/types, as well as an end level boss. These new enemies also provide experience and gold. The gold is used to purchase the previously mentioned active and passive abilities from merchants that show up randomly, as well as health and damage upgrades from the starting hub that apply to all future heroes. The experience levels up your character, leading to increased health and damage, for just that play session. Gold can also be used to activate shrines with special effects, like tossing out fireballs in all directions, and special markers that allow you to start at one of the later levels rather than go through all the early stages in subsequent playthroughs.
Turning to the co-op front, one other person can join you in your adventure on the same computer or through a LAN setup. The action remains the same whether your buddy joins you or not, but having a friend along will certainly increase your chances of making it through. Not only is there additional damage to be dealt (and absorbed, but if one person dies, the other just has to make it to the next level to revive them.
If playing with a friend locally on the same computer, then both players can utilize the same keyboard, or you can hook up a couple of gamepads to give you some space. The screen also splits vertically so each player has their own view and can move independently of the other. This can get a bit confusing at times and some of the information (like what your passive traits do, exactly) gets condensed down. If playing over LAN, each player gets their own screen and can see everything fully.
Everything is shared in co-op play, so players will be spending funds from the same shared pool of gold and each gets the same experience for killing monsters. Any unspent gold from the (un)successful playthrough along with any unlocked weapons and abilities will all carry over to the next playthrough for both players. This is particularly beneficial for the LAN play setup as each person can continue playing solo on their respective computers and keep all progress earned while playing with a friend. LAN play also feels like the best way to play the game, though it’s a shame it’s limited to just two players. I could definitely see some fun/crazy things with more players and maybe a friendly fire option.
If you’ll pardon the pun, Vertical Drop Heroes HD isn’t one of those games with a lot of “depth.” There’s no twisting or emotionally wrought plot, the characters aren’t relatable or challenge our preconceived ideas/concepts, and the gameplay isn’t anything revolutionary or new. However, that stuff isn’t always needed for a game. What Vertical Drop Heroes HD is is a great example of a “pick up and play” game. Looking for a fun way to kill some time until you leave for classes or work? Pick up and play. Got some friends over for some LAN gaming and looking for something to do in between matches? Pick up and play.
You might even end up losing the better part of an afternoon to it thinking, “just one more run, then I’ll go do something else.”
Editor's Note: Vertical Drop Heroes HD is available on GOG.com, and they have a Steam Greenlight page. The Co-Optimus review of Vertical Drop Heroes HD is based on the PC version of the game. A code was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
The Co-Op Experience: Vertical Drop Heroes HD supports two players locally (one on mouse/keyboard, the other on gamepad, or both on gamepads) on the same computer, or two players through LAN connection on separate machines.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.