XBLIG Review: The Hearts of Men: Throne of Deceit

The Hearts of Men: Throne of Deceit is a top down dungeon crawler that borrows heavily from the classic Gauntlet Legends. While it manages to capture some of the inspiration game’s simple and fun atmosphere, The Hearts of Men is also plagued by so many issues it is a wonder that there isn’t a witch class in the game that is cursing it from the inside. Flawed game mechanics, useless features, a lack of creativity and rage inducing difficulty spikes take this from the potentially amazing game it could have been and instead turns it into The Hearts of Men: Throne of Meh.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpCiTvKNmfI

Unlike many who either purchased The Hearts of Men or demo’d the game in advance, I was unaware before launching the game that it was inspired by Gauntlet Legends. My response to figuring this out within seconds of booting was somewhere between dancing like no one was watching and a somewhat acceptable reaction to surprise cake.   Gauntlet Legends was one of my absolute favorite titles on the N64 (and one of the few games that I continued to play regularly long after the console was relevant), and the remastered version for PS2 was one of the favorite ways a friend and myself would kill an evening while in high school.  If you are going to go to a game for inspiration, Gauntlet Legends is a great place to start.

Well... it looks kinda nice.

Excited at this realization, I continued forth with my elf class character.  The game started off with a surprisingly well-done comic serving as the basis of the story, leading me to think that I was in for a real treat.  As the actual game began I realized that they had taken the Gauntlet Legend style of combat and mapped it to a twin-stick control scheme. Brilliant!  Seriously, why hadn’t this been done before?  For the first ten or so minutes all seemed right with the universe.

Then something happened.  That is to say, nothing new happened.

I had fought through some enemies, found some keys, opened some gates, and quickly found myself repeating the process once again.  Against the same enemies and literally in the same environment.  This was starting to get boring, but then things finally changed! Oh wait… this is an auto-scroll level? Really? Oh, and it is possible to go the wrong direction and get trapped? This was about the time that I began to curse Coltran Studios. Shortly after completing that level I was face to face with the first boss of the game, which proved to be a colossal pain in the ass, complete with a nearly life draining attack there was no real good means of avoiding.  This is when I began to curse Coltran Studios’ mothers for making the wrong choice years ago (too harsh?).

The first boss vanquished, and the first real upgrades applied, a new environment revealed itself, along with a few new enemies.  This seemed like a descent pay-off and for a while I began to enjoy the game again.  Dumping my upgrades into combat, as they were the only upgrades that made sense (one health upgrade for example only increases the effectiveness of meat when picked up, of course meat only shows up once a level in most cases…), the game became less difficult at first. Then the developers began to simply dump more enemies onto the screen rather than get creative with the level design.

The problem though wasn’t really the amount of enemies, but the respawn system.  As you likely remember, Gauntlet Legends had mounds and shacks or whatever they were that spawned enemies until you destroyed them. The Hearts of Men does the same, but some enemies take several shots to kill, and their respawn rate seems based on how long it has been since the last respawn rather than the last death. As a result, an enemy that takes 2 seconds to kill often immediately respawns before you are able to shoot the spawn point even once. In some spots the solution is as simple as avoiding the existing enemy while you take shots at the spawn point, but when the developers decide to just overload the screen with enemies and limit your ability to move around you are stuck between a rock and dick developers.  It is possible to get past them, obviously, but there is little fun in doing so.  Still, you make it through to see what comes next.

I'm going to just point to THIS in response to this screenshot.

Then the archers that can shoot over walls (when nothing else but your incredibly rare potions can do the same), have incredible aim and are sometimes completely unreachable show up.  In other words, we finally get a new enemy in the game and it actually makes things worse.  Still though, I pressed on, because despite all this, there was some enjoyment to be had and I hate to leave a game uncompleted.  Then came the first instance of the game crashing, immediately after I had beaten the 2nd to last boss in the game.  This would be the point where I stopped playing for a couple of days out of fear that I would spike a controller into something valuable.

Upon returning to the game, and beating said boss once more, I pressed on mostly thinking that the end had to be approaching soon.  Unfortunately there appeared to be a couple more levels left still.  Completely upgraded by this point, there wasn’t much left to work towards other than the ending, which I finally reached.  While mildly difficult, the end boss actually seemed easier than the first, and with that, the final comic was displayed and the credits began to roll, or well I imagine they would have but the game crashed again.

Don't rush to comment how I posted the same image twice, look again.

So to recap, The Hearts of Men chooses difficulty over creative level design, offers upgrades that are all but useless, had at least two game crashing errors, forces more than one auto-scrolling level on the gamer and a ratio of enemies to special items that seems horribly lop-sided.  But it has a multiplayer that you will never use!  Sadly, rather than offering online co-op (which would of actually made all the difficulty complaints about the game mute), the online multiplayer is only a series of deathmatch type games that has no lobby or otherwise useful function for making games more accessible.

The game looks good though, if not repetitive, and the sounds, which are also repetitive, add to the game as well.  The core gameplay is solid, and again, the Gauntlet Legends gameplay in the form of a twin-stick seems so obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t been done more.  Ultimately, the most disappointing aspect of Hearts of Men is the failed potential.  This game could of, no, should have been awesome by all accounts but instead it falls flat.  It inspires moments of rage and boredom rather than enjoyment or excitement, but teases you with the possibility of the latter so much that you almost get angry at yourself for not being able to enjoy the game more.  Then you remember those damn archers and your anger is once again properly focused.

In all seriousness though, as a first major release, The Hearts of Men is a very promising start for Coltran Studios. It is a strong first showing even if the game has some fatal flaws within it.  While The Hearts of Men didn’t win over mine, they are some developers certainly worth paying attention to.

Final Rating: 5/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On
: XBLIG
Time to completion: A couple of hours technically, rage quits may make it a couple of days.
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Copy furnished by COLTRAN Studios
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Can’t go lower.
Why you should buy it: You are a huge Gauntlet Legends fan.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: Anger Management class hasn’t been going well for you.

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About Tristan Rendo

I’ve made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.