Make Your Final Decisions as You Hold Your Heart in The HeartBeat
You know that moment in a lot of kung fu movies, Mortal Kombat games, and other media where a character pulls someone else’s heart out of their chest and the last thing they see is their still-beating heart? The HeartBeat isn’t quite like that, but there’s something similar about the image of you holding your own heart as you make your final decisions. It’s not quite horror in the traditional sense, but there’s some really interesting stuff worth seeing here.
The game is a Chinese visual novel/rhythm game hybrid that a friend suggested to me. At a super cheap 99 cents, it felt like a no-brainer to try out. In The HeartBeat you play as the mayor of New Dunk City, which I’m not entirely sure you should ever name your city. It’s the year 2077, and there’s a bit of a problem. People have been modifying their bodies with cybernetic parts, which is all fun and good until a mysterious virus, known as Prion, ravages cybernetics. You spend ten days straight working, causing your heart to literally explode. Thankfully your secretary is able to hook up an external heart that, if you pump with your hand, will buy you an extra five minutes.
You now have five minutes to make the last decisions of your life, in the hopes of saving your city. Assuming you pump your heart correctly that is.
This is where the central two mechanics of The HeartBeat come in. Your secretary will read your emails, and you need to use the four arrow keys to choose how to respond. At the same time, you need to keep your heart beating, pressing the space bar every time a meter fills up. You can’t keep yourself alive forever doing this, but you need to at least do it long enough to make enough decisions about the city so that it won’t fall prey to the virus.
This is a hell of a challenge, You can easily get caught up trying to read every single word in those emails, causing you to lose your life before you can answer. At the same time, you can’t spend a super long amount of time thinking about each decision. You need to make it and move on. This quickly becomes a stressful situation. In a normal visual novel, you can at least think about your decision’s long-term impact and if you’re making the right one. In The HeartBeat you are literally holding your heart, you don’t have time for that.
It’s especially tough because these are issues I actually want to think about. One of the first choices you have to make involves a broadcast that a famous streamer is making. He plans to “tell the truth” about the Prion virus. Do you stop the broadcast, possibly enraging citizens with your harsh censorship? Let it run, knowing it may cause harm? Or something in between? It’s a really intriguing premise, and once I finished the game I grabbed screenshots of each choice to read it in full.
I won’t say The HeartBeat is without issue. The first time I played it everything was in Chinese, because you have to go to the options and select English before starting, and even when you do so not all lines of text appear to have been translated. There are some translation errors as well, mostly being little things like wrong words or missing spaces. Considering how fast you have to read the text, you tend not to notice them.
While it only took me 30 minutes to see a couple of endings for The HeartBeat, I will admit it’s an experience that is likely to stick with me. It’s a really unique setup, an interesting story, and a great intense game. If you want to see a bit of non-traditional horror, the fear of having to suddenly pile all your decisions into one before you’re shuffled off this mortal realm, then give The HeartBeat a shot. It’s well worth it.