HeartZ: Co-Hope Puzzles is a charming and quirky new indie title developed by Upper Byte and published by Neko Entertainment. HeartZ is a new addition to the ever growing puzzle platform genre, with aspects very reminiscent to the popular 2014 hit game, Velocity 2X.

The guys over at the Upper Byte studio are no strangers to the platforming genre with them having previously developed Wooden SenSey, but having not heard anything about HeartZ before its release I had no idea what I was about to get into. However, with early screenshots bringing a promising look and my hunger for a memorable puzzle platformer growing more and more, I jumped in to see what it was all about.

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HeartZ is designed to be a local co-operative gameplay experience in which up to three players can run, jump, dash, teleport and even turn into a hotdog throughout numerous story mode acts and levels. Although intended as a co-op game, it is entirely possible to play through the game in single player with the ability to swap between each character; something which is great should you find yourself unable to pry friends from their busy lives to help you out.

The tale set within HeartZ is a little thin on the ground and certainly not the focal point I would choose to help recommend this title, however Upper Byte have done a great job of making it fit in with the gameplay. At the end of each act, players are met with a short cut scene which depicts their progress on a path to stop the nefarious Dr. Nylus and his many minions. 

The three characters available – Spittle, Brainy and Punch, or as I came to know them Pink, Green and Yellow – are seen as test subjects and receive their powers from the same mysterious artefact that helped them escape their captivity

Spittle is a small dog who is used to progress past areas with small holes or large gaps. He has the ability to become immune to electrical damage (for a short period) and is used to progress past Pink areas. Spittle can also utilise the dash movement in mid-air to help manoeuvre through gaps which are otherwise too big to get past. Next up is Brainy who is an average human-sized creature who uses teleportation to get past otherwise inaccessible or Green areas. Finally, there is Punch, a large sized brute-like creature that uses brawn over brains to get past areas. His most notable ability is a resistance to heat for a short period of time however unlike Spittle, Punch is able to project his ability onto others, with anyone standing close by also receiving a resistance to heat whilst in the affected area. His other abilities include punching through walls and moving objects too heavy for everyone else. He is also, if you hadn’t yet guessed, the focus for the Yellow puzzle areas.

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Throughout each level players will attempt to pass the various traps set by Dr Nylus. Checkpoints are readily available (although maybe a little too frequently) and act as a respawn location should you meet your deathly demise – something which receives comedic approach. With players seen turning into a lovely cooked chicken leg should they find themselves on the hot side of a heated trap, or potentially a hot dog should they fall into a fight with electricity, throughout the game if you find yourself not quite doing everything right first time round, you will see plenty of other comedic death variations and a family friendly vibe. After completing each act the player is met with a summary screen showing details and statistics, including how many deaths a player has had as well as the number of collectables attained. These play a nice part in the game with achievements and extra costumes for each character linked to their collection – something which can make hunting each one down all the more pleasing.

The gameplay in HeartZ is very traditional to the genre with many of the levels including things such as levers and switches as well as moving platforms, crushing machines and character specific obstacles/areas. These all make the game very enjoyable and spice things up from your regular platformer to make it feel different to the norm. Some of the later levels offer small hints with character specific ghosts appearing in front of obstacles that may not be the most obvious choice when looking at a solution.

HeartZ is a title that provides a family friendly return to platforming, however no game is perfect and indeed HeartZ does have a few niggling issues. Admittedly these issues are certainly nothing to worry about and whilst they do not ruin the gameplay experience in any way, should changes be put in place to fix them, it could only improve an already great game. The first issue I noticed was with the hit system. In fact, many times throughout I found myself the subject of a slightly oversensitive hit area in which my character would be turned into a steaming chicken leg before I had even fully landed onto a death filled heat pad. Although some of these were obviously due to my own misjudgement, there was indeed times in which my characters ability to dash in mid-air would simply be overruled by the games intent on seeing me change into the latest offering on KFC’s menu.

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The other issue that I must pick up on is something that is slightly disappointing. Not a game bug as such, but instead a development issue is the choice to focus on an analog control scheme. Whilst the game does indeed work smoothly using the thumbsticks, being a gamer for some time and an avid fan of platforming titles, I found myself trying to use the D-pad to traverse different obstacles only to fall into traps due to the control scheme lacking an option to use the preferred method. It’s a shame, but I fully understand that it may just be completely a personal issue.

Overall though and HeartZ: Co-Hope Puzzles is a great game which offers a fun and friendly return to one of gaming’s greatest genres. With the addition of solo play being missed from many co-op focused titles, HeartZ offers a unique experience that can be enjoyed either with the family or as a solo experience.

It is certainly one that offers great value for money.

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