Digital Continue and Aspyr Media’s upcoming game, Next Up Hero, held its last closed beta on Jan 3. It was meant to showcase the game’s new additions, such as spectator mode, new heroes, and new biomes. They even promised beta participants that their progress will carry over once Early Access launches on Jan 11, along with a 50 percent discount.
But one question remains: is it worth it?
Next Up Hero‘s biggest selling point is its “Community Continue” aspect, where each player continues the previous player’s run until the dungeon is cleared. Only one person at a time can explore the dungeons, but that same person can revive a previous player’s ghost, called “echo,” to help them fight. Other than spectator mode where spectators can heal whoever they’re watching, there is no way to regain health. The belief is that with the player’s skill, along with enough echoes helping, a dungeon of any size will eventually fall to its knees.
This community continue mechanic is definitely an interesting one because no one really loses anything. After each failed attempt, players still accumulate prestige (the game’s currency) and experience points. There are even community checkpoints that, if cleared, ensures everyone will start on the same floor instead of the first one. Everyone’s efforts count one way or another, regardless of whether they died on the first or the last floor.
While this concept works perfectly on Steam, its “always online” requirement raises an important question for its eventual console arrival. One could argue that this is doable for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but what about the Switch? Because the game has to connect to the server in order to properly log an attempt, how will this work with the hybrid whose main appeal is its portability?
Perhaps an offline, single-player experience is in order. The beta did not show any signs of allowing players to play offline, which would frankly be a missed opportunity. Story campaign can be relegated to offline play, allowing anyone without an internet connection to enjoy the game. It would also give players a chance to practice without the community pressure behind them.
The reliance on online collaboration leans heavily on the notion that a huge number of people would always be around to help each other. While this may be the case during the early days of the game, it’s too early to determine right now if the audience will stick with the game years from now. What happens then when the player base dwindles and 80+ floor dungeons are nigh impossible to complete? Late adopters would get punished for something beyond their control.
Long-term plans aside, let’s take a moment talk about the core gameplay.
Next Up Hero is a twin-stick, dungeon crawler that relies on community effort for completion. This also means that players only have their own skills and ingenuity to get them through a floor. Each floor has a different goal to keep things interesting, such as enemy bounties, and this is communicated at the start of each one.
Because a run’s success relies on the character’s hit points, this means that characters unlocked at higher levels completely overshadow previous ones. Yes, it’s still a game of skill, but bringing an advanced character with 250 health instead of 95 guarantees better survival odds. What’s the point of sticking with a character with lower health when there’s a comparable one with better build?
Meanwhile, the dungeon crawling itself is fun despite a few problems here and there. Enemies can attack you before you even see them, which can sometimes prove problematic when you’re already managing an existing mob. And as you encounter more enemies, the way they deal damage relies more and more on status effects. There’s nothing more frustrating than taking a direct hit and dying from poison damage three seconds later. Try imagining that situation after getting hit by an off-screen enemy.
Attacking is also a fairly exhausting affair regardless of whether you’re using a controller or a mouse. Because each attack has to be registered as a separate button press, you need to tap the button repeatedly in order to keep doing your attacks. Only a few handful of characters avoid this situation, but chances are if you’re using an expert character you’re rapidly pressing the attack button. The situation is understandable – the game would be too easy if everything fired by just holding a button – but the game’s fast-paced nature really invites undue stress on your poor hands.
Next Up Hero still has a long road to go before its full release, and its possible that the issues mentioned here will be addressed by then. The game showed a lot of promise and proved to be a lot of fun with a lot of players. With the game entering Steam’s early access in a few days, its reception and development will soon be shaped by the public’s perception. Will it flourish and become a household hit, or will it flounder and languish in the halls of what could have been? We shall wait and see.
Note: Aspyr Media provided a closed beta key for testing purposes. No score is provided when evaluating the beta version of a game.