This is a game that knows when to let the heroes.... erm... drop?! Beastie Boys reference? Anyone? Sigh.
Vertical Drop Heroes HD is a standalone PC adaptation of a Flash game called Vertical Drop Heroes.
Both were developed by Nerdook, and both feature heroes falling downward towards an exit, but that’s about all they’ve got in common. The PC game skews heavily towards the modern interpretation of roguelike - it feels very much like Rogue Legacy, honestly.
You begin the game by selecting one of three heroes to play as. The heroes are randomly generated from a set of weapons, abilities, and traits. More of each of these are unlocked as you play - some via achievements, and some from buying them at vendors scattered around the dungeon.
After taking a quick moment to practice skills, you venture into the dungeon. There are a total of 10 levels, with each level scrolling vertically downward from the start towards the inevitable boss.
The combat is pretty straightforward. Attack enemies with your weapon, or if the situation looks dire you can use some of your abilities to get an advantage. Scattered about are shrines that will take the gold you earn and translate it into a boost of some sort, or spawn additional enemies in return for a slight boon.
What’s unique, though, is that you don’t have to fight at all, if you don’t want to. “Pacifism Orbs” are scattered about, and they’ll give you XP and gold just for collecting them. They evaporate in the blink of an eye if you kill an enemy directly, though. You can even bypass boss fights by paying enough keys - 5 in total will bypass any boss except the very final one.
Want to get some kills without getting your hands dirty? Well, there are NPCs scattered about that you can free in exchange for keys, although that leaves fewer keys for boss bypassing or looting. Certain abilities will also kill enemies without breaking your pacifism, letting you have your cake and eat it too, if you plan properly.
Death is inevitable, but you get to keep your gold between runs. When you respawn, you can choose a different character and then spend any remaining coins on permanent upgrades to your damage, health, or the value of pacifism orbs.
I do have one or two complaints about Vertical Drop Heroes HD. The audio and art is all pretty basic, with pretty simple and repetitive tunes and just a couple of frames of animation for most enemies.
The game also has several unfair enemies - you’re going to take damage whether you like it or not. There are some really unbalanced skills in the game, including one that can one-shot the final boss if used properly, with other skills that are downright useless or lacking in charges.
I can’t really complain that much, though. This is a lot of game developed by a one-man team and sold for a bargain basement price. I’m not ashamed to say that I sat down with it and couldn’t stop until I had all the achievements. I got around a dozen hours out of it, all told.
(Cult of the Fiver is my monthly series on great games that can be had for cheap. Want to stay on top of all our recommendations? We have a Steam Curation Page! In Pre-Cult articles, I collect my thoughts about a game I plan to feature in this month’s entry.)