Death in video games is so frequent that it has virtually lost all meaning. Any slip up is instantly forgiven, and the player is often respawned perfectly alive and well almost instantly. Next Up Hero twists this dynamic on its head, turning game death into a playable mechanic.
Next Up Hero is an isometric dungeon crawler which features cartoonish heroes who must fight their way through endless hordes of enemies known as the Ceaseless Dirge. Online co-op play dominates the game, with players choosing which world to explore from procedurally-generated, Gauntlet-style dungeons. These dungeons vary in intensity and setting, and only remain on the main page for a limited number of days and hours.
As well as displaying information on the basics of these levels, Next Up Hero also provides information on the number of Echoes in each zone. Echoes are fallen brothers and sisters which can be revived through the level to act as your heroes. Yes, you can bring other players’ characters back to life and then use them as your allies to help you progress through the game!
Characters come equipped with a variety of weapons and each individual fighter falls exclusively into a ranged or melee class. Melee characters have stronger attacks which makes them seem like the obvious choice but, in a game where death is so unforgiving and there is a noticeable lack of health potions, the smarter move is to attack from afar. As well as weapons your hero can also collect a number of abilities and equip two for each adventure. These abilities are unlocked by killing various amounts of specific enemies, and, like weapons, abilities often have differing levels of power.
Although initially a fun twin stick shooter, Next Up Hero soon becomes repetitive despite the colourful and varied levels. The aim of each is always the same, meaning that after some time the game feels more like a grind than the constantly varied experience the fun level design dynamic promises. The ability to revive fallen players is an interesting one but the rewards granted by cashing in fallen heroes only results in a temporary power buff or boost and then said Echoes will once again disappear, making cashing in your heroes feeling slightly anti-climactic.
The other glaring negative in Next Up Hero is that to play even a second of the game the player must have a PlayStation Plus membership. While online memberships are arguably commonplace these days, those who do not have paid subscriptions cannot engage at all with Next Up Hero, limiting the audience at best and causing glaring frustration at worst.
Online-only play taints Next Up Hero and obviously puts off potential players, but this bright and colourful world can be enjoyable at times. Repetitive gameplay prevents the release from becoming a standout indie title, but it may have enough charm to entice a few aspiring heroes for at least a few hours.