NoReload Heroes is like one of those microwave meals you get from a discount store. On the surface, this title appears to be a tasty treat to get stuck into, but after a couple of mouthfuls of the DIY fast food, it’s a dish that becomes a bit of a slog to chew through. This isn’t to say this game doesn’t have some redeeming features - it occasionally chucks out moments of fun and momentarily serves up small portions of couch co-op amusement - but it’s missing one vital ingredient.
After a quick, semi-animated sequence showing four chibi-like heroes accidentally creating a destructive AI that breaks the floor beneath them, we’re instantly thrown into a short tutorial that shows off the super simplistic controls. Moving with the left stick and firing one of the 70+ available blasters with the right triggers, the setup makes navigating the randomly generated rooms easy enough and works smoothly for the most part.
Playing solo makes it quickly apparent that this is a permadeath affair and it’s up to you to keep your eyes peeled for weapon upgrades, health boosts and stat buffs to stand a chance of making it to the first boss fight and beyond. Levelling up is a simple procedure of collecting XP dropped by fallen foes. Stat buffs stack up until the Game Over screen greets your TV; however, don’t expect intricate skill trees or ultra powerful finishing attacks as it’s an undistinguished feature that rarely gives any motivation to grind.
The simplistic design of the rooms is a double-edged sword; scattered with exploding crates, a slim selection of differing laser-blasting robots and mini-boss fights, things become ‘samey’ within the first 20 minutes of play. Granted, twin-stick dungeon crawling is expected to be straightforward, but NoReload Heroes doesn’t offer much else. The sense of exploration is thin on the ground and, coupled with very little in the way of strategic combat, it stops this title from giving you any incentive to want to retrace your steps when your health bar runs to zero and progress is completely lost.
Sure, there’s the expected hike in difficulty – with enemies growing stronger - when advancing through the floors and the powerups scattered throughout give you a clear advantage over the larger, more challenging enemies, but the whole thing is a bit half-baked for our liking. The situation is helped, however, by the addition of more players. Catering for up to a maximum of four, drop-in/drop-out gameplay shines through and helps to add an interesting dynamic to crawling through the various rooms.
We tried it with three players at one time and it is entertaining, albeit overly hectic and dizzying. It becomes increasingly more challenging to make out who’s who on the screen, especially when you’re doing things the tabletop way. Divvying out power-ups through a ‘voting’ system sees players pitching to one another on why everyone should side with a certain buff (only for them realise that it only benefits yours truly) and this adds a sense of devious strategy to proceedings. Getting hit just once strips you of your buff instantly, which forces you to make a mad dash to another. Die, and a teammate can revive you by holding down the ‘A’ button - but if the whole party gets wiped out, it’s back to the beginning; bare bones with the starter weapons and at room one, floor one.
The majority of couch co-op titles on Switch rely heavily on communication to progress (Pode and Chariot being prime examples) but, when the main aim is to ‘run, gun and not die’, there’s only so much effective planning a group can conjure between them. There are clearly missed opportunities in NoReload Heroes and we’re not asking for Four Swords complexity, but it would have been great to see some simple tasks that require teamwork along the lines of ‘you step on that switch, I’ll step on this one’.
With a mediocre mixture of electronic-rock soundtracks to help things move along at a faster pace and an easy-on-the-eyes presentation that doesn’t intrude on the action, this indie title doesn’t exactly stand out from the crowd. This isn’t a game that will go down as a picturesque masterpiece among the sea of striking and often beautifully-crafted pieces of software already available on Switch. Much like the gameplay, the presentation does its job without too many hiccups. Just don’t expect the same kind of graphical flare that, say, Nine Parchments delivers in bucketloads.
If you’re desperately on the hunt for the next Enter The Gungeon then give this one a pass, as there’s simply not enough depth or variety to maintain interest past an hour. The Switch iteration is desperately lacking the online functionality, which ultimately results in a stripped-down version of an already lacking title. Still, if you’re planning a get together for some mindless fun with three friends who are seeking quick rounds of colourful, straightforward and light co-op dungeon crawling action, NoReload Heroes is a sharing platter that can be devoured in just a few bites, but will still leave you wanting more.