Sometimes the simple things in life work – like Nutella on toast or a ham sandwich. Games sometimes don’t need to be complicated 100-hour RPGs with an in-depth conversation system, ornate in-world design and endless side quests. They can sometimes take the form of endless runners or simple chess exercises with slight twists. In some senses, that is the beauty of small indies, taking uncomplicated concepts to fuel neatly packaged experiences. Games like Papers, Please come to mind in this regard.
That is the approach for developers VaragtP with side-scrolling grindfest Loot Hero DX. Taking on the role of a classical valiant knight, you are tasked with grinding your way through lateral levels, slaying steadily increasingly difficult enemies ranging from goblins, to frogmen, and all the way to boss dragons. All the while, players collect treasures and gold from defeating enemies in order to improve their attack, critical hit chance, defence and speed.
The true challenge of Loot Hero DX lies in an ever-increasing difficulty scale. As you beat the game’s nine stages, the difficulty of the enemies scales up. The game encourages you to grind heavily to deal with this, with a message at the start of the game encouraging you that it is “essential” to backtrack to gain additional loot to upgrade your hero’s skills. Beating each cycle of the nine stages also gives you a rescued miner who will mine for additional gold in the background whilst you face your opposition. Doing so allows you to keep progressing as the game’s difficulty curve gets steeper and steeper.
Firstly, the positives. It has to be said the VaragtP have crafted a game with plenty of visual flair. The pixel-art 2D style is wonderfully realised and does evoke classic side-scrollers like Goblins & Ghouls, in particular with its nine stages each varying up the world environments players zoom through. This variation is mainly done through differing grounds and changes to each stage’s background art, giving each of them their own visual identity even if the levels themselves are fairly short. That principle does help to ease the visual repetitiveness that could come with the repetition of nine stages being recycled over and over.
Additionally, Loot Hero DX has a surprisingly decent musical score to accompany your time. Its main theme that blasts triumphantly upon opening the game and within each level is supplemented with bombastic brass and some heavy emphasis on the strings – it’s a blatantly medieval score that provides plenty of auditory scale to the adventure.
The difficulty scaling also never feels unfair, scaling in a fairly linear way and rewarding players who take the advised time to grind and upgrade their skills. Those that do will find satisfaction in being able to breeze through levels at rapid speed thanks to their upgrades in defence and attack, slaying numerous enemies with no time to actually count the kills.
That speed, though, is part of one of Loot Hero DX’s bigger problems. As part of the game, it encourages being able to get to the point of speeding through levels at pace. There’s even a very do-able achievement to beat a level in 15 seconds. That in of itself isn’t a problem and the game plays best at speed, but the problem arises from the busy HUD as well as the numerous gems and coins that home in on the player, as well as damage numbers. At speed, there’s so many things on screen it creates a headache-inducing effect.
Part of this problem also lies in the ability to reduce the speed, but doing so also reduces the satisfaction of the gameplay. When the game is slowed down, the limitations of the gameplay become far more apparent. With no jumping or platforming mechanics to speak of, nor any in-depth mechanics, Loot Hero’s grind becomes more of a chore at slower speeds and the lack of complexity results in a frustrating time. This does affect the early game as well, when the player doesn’t have the loot yet to buy those speed upgrades.
That aforementioned lack of complexity is fine, but the lack of additional attacks to use, jumping or other mechanics that can just give the game something to incentivize multiple runthroughs, makes the gameplay repetitive after a few cycles of the stages on offer.
Perhaps that reliance on simplicity is a bit too much with Loot Hero DX on Xbox. With more to offer or a few more stages, perhaps those shortcomings wouldn’t be too much of an issue. Sadly, the excellent presentation and well-balanced difficulty scaling can’t overcome a fundamental issue of repetitiveness that hurts further playthroughs. Still, at only £4.99, there’s some relatively inexpensive value that can be found, in spite of said flaws.