Rusty Hearts Review
A childhood classic.
The first beat-em-up I ever played was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, (which in hindsight is a super confusing name, since it is neither a true arcade game, nor is it related to 1991 film classic 'TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze'). There's only a few things I truly remember about the game. One being how goddamn hard the game was (not as hard as the torturous original TMNT game, but we still never made it past Bebop), two being how cool the jump kick looked, and three being how much goddamn fun it was to grab a friend and murder endless waves of the Foot Soldiers.
The point is that though brawlers like Turtles in Time or X-Men Arcade were great fun back in the day, their button-mashing arcade ascetics (though quarter-worthy) have ultimately proven a bit too shallow to make an impact on the current gaming generation. Though beat-em-ups are excellent multiplayer time-wasters, even recent hits like Castle Crashers or Scott Pilgrim have failed to truly evolve the genre beyond its simple roots, instead acting as very polished clones of River City Ransom. Note that this is not entirely a bad thing! I will likely play as many highly-polished River City Ransom clones as I can get my hands on. But I can't help thinking that what the beat-em-up genre has needed is a fully formed online multiplayer experience, one which takes everything we know to be good about brawlers, and fleshes it out with some honest to god depth.
After playing Rusty Hearts, I'm starting to think it might be the one.
Rusty Hearts is a new free-to-play title from Perfect World Entertainment, which cannot be so simply summed up by the traditional MMORPG acronym. For starters, though plenty of gamers can be found loitering about the game's servers, Rusty Hearts relies entirely on four-player sessions, the 'massive' moniker is barely applicable. There are also no open-world areas to explore beyond the starting town, and no true character creation system either, forcing players to choose from one of the three storyline characters (a fourth is on the way), slowly picking up costumes pieces and new hair colors to differentiate themselves from their thousands of clones.
For many these aspects might seem like deal-breakers. For me, they're proof that Rusty Hearts is focused on the elements that actually matter, delivering a game which combines the best of hardcore brawling gameplay with the fleshed-out RPG elements the genre has been crying out for. If you want a lush and magical world to explore, then hey, go play World of Warcraft. But if you're like me, the prospect of waiting around 30 minutes for rest of the guild to show up sounds like a lot less fun than launching straight into some ridiculous ass-kicking action with three of my buddies. Especially when that action is as satisfyingly ridiculous as the combo-centric gameplay of Rusty Hearts.
The combat system in Rusty Hearts will be familiar to just about any arcade fan: pile on the attacks as fast and furiously as you can, and don't ever let up. In addition to your standard "hit things" button, each character also has your a suite of regular brawling moves: jump; dodge; guard; and grab. These available actions, combined with the wide range of special attacks and skills each character can earn, results in some truly frantic combat, especially when you've got a full party of four players rampaging their way through the sprawling 3D dungeon levels on a gleeful spree of destruction.
I played as the witch Angela, who though seemingly weaker than her male counterparts, offers some interesting support moves in addition to the standard suite of combo-finishers, including a healing spell; some long-range fireball type attacks; as well as my favorite: the tornado, which pulls all nearby enemies into a vortex, allowing players to rack up huge chain combos by attacking the newly formed cluster of baddies. Each character of course has their different strengths and weakness, though the game seems to reward diverse parties, with each Tude and Frantz I teamed up with helping to round out our arsenal of fighting moves and targeted ability buffs.
Again, rather than focus on a gigantic game world, the action is broken up into various dungeons. What's worth noting is that these 3D areas offer a variety of alternate routes and paths, players able to decide whether they want to streamline their way towards the boss, or search every dungeon corner for rare treasure and items. Even more interesting is how many of the dungeons offer some small interactive elements. In one dungeon, players can search out and trigger a switch in order to lower the water level in the final room, making it easier to take on the sewer boss there. In another boss battle, me and my mates were unable to damage the giant lobster facing us without first using one of the room's ice cannons to freeze the crustacean, which was an interesting change of pace from our standard button-mashing tactics.
The most important thing to note about Rusty Hearts is of course its monetization model. Rusty Hearts is 100% free-to-play, letting anyone jump online and start hacking away with friends. This model is one which seems to becoming the standard genre-wide, and it's easy to see why, filling up game servers with new players, getting them hooked, and then dangling shiny premium items in their face. The Perfect World crew was kind enough to hook me up with a bit of spending money, and I spent perhaps an hour or so in the cash shop trying to find the perfect assortment of costume items--
Yes, dressing up my character in a pretty outfit is exciting for me. And the line between myself and Jeffrey Dahmer grows ever thinner...
The thing is, dressing up your character is a definite appeal to the game, helped not only by the aforementioned desire to separate oneself from the pack, but also by the fact that the game just looks awesome, characters included. The game's design ascetic combines the gothic horror of Castlevania with a cel-shaded anime style sure to appease the 4chan crowd (there's even an unlockable bear costume... we'll leave it at that). These graphics are moody but colorful, with brilliant-looking special attacks ripping across the screen, tearing through enemies and pushing the max combo ever-higher.
But again, what the brawler has yearned for is depth, and jamming the traditional MMORPG tropes into this world of face-smashing goodness provides just that. There's always new quests to undertake, with powerful new gear waiting to be found in the depths of the game's various dungeons. Players can craft items and armor, search out the materials for new costumes, buy and sell items in the auction house, and even enjoy some down and dirty PVP. The game even supports a standard usb gamepad (such as the 360 controller) for console purists, and though I personally couldn't get used to the pad's button-combinations, the game's producer tells me it's his input device of choice.
The bottom line is that Rusty Hearts is fun as hell, free to play, and has a gigantic content update coming in about a week. Again, it's better with friends, so if you've got even a faint memory of smashing your way through Final Fight with a chum, it's time to call his ass up and get him on a Rusty Hearts server. After all, friends don't let friends brawl alone.