Freeware Friday: The Monster Mash/The Black Heart,
Now this game is another first for this column, as it is the first Argentinian game we’ve discussed. Luckily, in addition to being in Spanish and English, the game is also really good. Andre Borghi’s The Black Heart is also a 2D fighter, but this one feels a lot more professional. This time there are only six fighters (with an additional one being unlocked after you enter passwords from beating Team and Story modes on Hard Difficulty) but each one has a unique fighting style. There’s Hashi, the plant man who uses vicious plants like watermelons to attack his foes; Ananzi, a deadly jurogumo; Noroko, a vengeful Japanese spirit who inhabits a doll; Peketo, an undead child serial killer who can pop off his head to use as a weapon; Shar-makai, a snake-like demon that will rip apart itself just as often as it will destroy its opponents; and Animus, the one-eyed sadomasochist hermaphroditic who impales himself to hurt foes.
Of course, what also makes these characters memorable is the story mode. The game is set in between two worlds, one like our own and one that is filled with demons. The king of the demon world was murdered and had his heart, the source of his power, stolen by a giant chaos demon named Final. Now, with the power up for grabs, six fighters pursue Final, all of them pursuing their own agenda. While the gameplay doesn’t work that well with the story (invincible fighters being kill-able, characters dying in one storyline but appearing in another storyline that takes place after their own storyline), the cutscenes that play at the beginning and end of each character’s path, despite being short, develop the characters while also being very chilling.
That’s another thing about this game. Despite being a fighting game, The Black Heart can be quite scary at times. In addition to the excellent score, the environments definitely play a role in this, as there is always something disturbing going on in the background or foreground, whether it’s a giant head watching your fight, chalk drawings mocking you, or, worst of all, disturbing images appearing behind prison doors. Then again, the fighters have their own creepy quirks, whether it’s the gory fatalities, Animas’s laugh, or Noroko’s specials, which even attack the player. This game actually succeeds at being both a fighting game while also being quite scary.
Of course, if the game was only scary and had terrible gameplay, I wouldn’t be recommending it. The game is surprisingly easy to pick up and play, though you’ll need to spend a bit of time reconfiguring your gamepad if you are using a 360 controller since the default setup ties a few attack buttons to the D-pad. Luckily, once you do, you’ll find all the special attacks easy to pull off, making fights more about who knows WHEN to use their techniques, rather than WHO can pull them off. This makes you focus on how each character’s attacks give you an advantage. For instance, whereas Ananzi has the ability to shoot webs on to the floor, sticking enemies, Animus has the same input but his attack creates a decoy. This keeps the combat varied but easy to learn, making the fights more intense and engaging.
The game also has a healthy number of modes and unlockable content. In addition to the story mode, there is also team mode (where battles are simultaneous 2-on-2 affairs), vs. (single or team), training (this game has a move list so you won’t be lost like in The Monster Mash), and survival (single or Team). Unlockables, which you get by obtaining codes from beating team mode on any difficulty or story mode on hard, include wallpapers, music, and an additional character. While none of the unlockables are mind blowing, the wallpapers look nice and it gives players a reason to keep coming back, even if they don’t have a friend who wants to play. It’s this extra effort that I appreciate and I believe most gamers will like the extra content, unless they don’t care for the game’s art style.
While the art style won’t be to everyone’s taste, it benefits greatly from having a lot more animation. All of the characters have a number of unique animations and they all add to the game’s personality. In addition to just having smooth movement, the fighters have animations for when fatalities are used on them or special moves to finish them off. They also have special animations during mirror matches (Peketo’s and Animus’ are my favorites) and victories, with characters like Ananzi having many victory poses. There’s also a surprising number of small touches. For instance, if Peketo dies while his head is bouncing around the arena, it will crash to the floor and crack open. Add in some fun Easter eggs (listen to Peketo’s humming and see if you can’t find Ananzi putting on some familiar costumes) and I think most gamers will be pleased with the art style and animation.
One thing that will likely turn off players is the difficulty, which comes in two varieties. First is Normal, which will have you getting your ass kicked by round three and Hard, which will make the last fight be against an AI opponent who will read your commands and block EVERYTHING. While hardcore fighting fans will probably appreciate the difficulty, more casual players will probably get frustrated as they fail to even beat one story mode.
Overall, The Black Heart is a great game. While you will definitely want to reconfigure your gamepad once the game boots up and the difficulty curve is rather steep, you will find a surprisingly fun fighting game that has plenty of content, memorable characters, and an eerie atmosphere that will stay with you long after you put down the controller.
Soundtrack can be found HERE