Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic
A procedurally-generated pixelated roguelite complete with randomized party and loot generation.
30 unlockable hero classes each with individual skills and attributes. Random loot drops. 3 campaigns, each with their own sets of dungeons and boss fights. Permadeath!
Paid; $6.99 to purchase
Pixel Heroes is a rouge-lite. That is to say, it’s got elements that appeal to a very niche subset of players: masochists who enjoy the unforgiving hardcore nature of rouge-likes, yet would prefer receiving their punishment a little bit more accessibly than most, and in small doses at once. If that sounds weird, that’s because it is. Not many mobile games aspire to be a pain in the ass to pay through, yet Headup Games seems to take pride in it. I mean, take a look at a couple of the game’s features listed in the Play Store description:
- Permadeath! You know you want it.
- A detailed graveyard where you can mourn your dead heroes, compare their statistics and see which of their choices led to their tragic death.
The self-flagellation starts even before you play the game; its cost of entry is set at a pricey $6.99, well above the usual cost of zero dollars in the Play Store. It’s an easier pill to swallow than its $9.99 PC counterpart, but still more expensive than most Android games.
That said, the game itself is a good example of mobile roguelikes done right. It doesn’t aspire to be the Nethack of Android, and quite frankly, that may be for the best. Nethack and other venerable classic roguelikes have had years of refinement and feedback from their very dedicated community of players, while most recent ones are lucky to remain relevant within the first 6 months of their release. Pixel Heroes appears to have been designed from the ground up to offer a different kind of roguelike experience, one that caters to those who’d like to test their luck on the go in bite-sized chunks of gameplay at a time as opposed to the more traditional way of playing RPGs for hours on end in a state of total immersion.
The game achieves this experience by streamlining and simplifying one of the most defining aspects of a roleplaying game: its battle system. Similarities can be drawn between Pixel Heroes and another recent release, Darkest Dungeon. In battle, the hero and enemy parties are facing each other at opposite ends of the screen, with each individual character in the parties occupying either the front, middle, or back slot in formation. Every action has a corresponding effective range. Melee attacks can only hit whoever is in the front row of either party, while ranged attacks can target the middle or back positions, and some magic spells can heal or damage entire parties at once. The player and enemy take their actions in turns until only one party remains.
It’s simple enough to pick up and play through quickly, yet more strategic players can still develop their own tactics to turn battles in their favor. Placing a hero with lots of health and defense in the front row for example would allow soft, squishy spellcasters more breathing room in the back. Additionally, knowing what kind of enemies to expect in the upcoming dungeons allows the player to prepare equipment while still in town which would benefit the party in those battles to come.
Speaking of equipment, Pixel Heroes has that in droves. There’s a good number of different item modifier combinations to go with the base loot, including magic enchantments which protect against certain types of damage, or have a chance of causing debilitating status effects. There are also powerful unique items with predefined stats and modifiers, usually obtained from defeating bosses or by finding them in random events.
This brings up one of the few issues I have with Pixel Heroes: item management is a bit of a mess. Mixing and matching sets of weapons and armor to each hero involves scrolling through your list of loot and dragging individual items to the character’s equipment slot, and without any way of getting a quick comparison view of items this can mean a lot of switching between gear. Old gear gets swapped out for the new ones and is placed at the end of the list, which can get confusing when you’ve got a full backpack. Add to the fact that you’ve only got a maximum of 20 item slots – 2 of which are permanently occupied by health potions – and you’ve got a recipe for frustration.
Aside from that, the actual game is great roguelite fun. Whether or not it’s worth $6.99 isn’t easy to say; on the one hand, there are cheaper (or free-er) options out there if you need your fix of randomized loot and permadeath. On the other, there are few enough games on the Play Store that are really worth your time, let alone your money, and Pixel Heroes does a very good job at working for both.
+ A different take on the roguelike genre
+ Their references are out of control
- Pretty expensive for a mobile game
- Loot management is a pain