A provocative title is just the thing to get views, I’m told. Well, if there were ever a cause to drag the pineapple-on-pizza topic back into the discourse, Pizza Hero (Free) just might be it. After all, we’re no longer talking about how the sourness of the fruit is a fantastic match for the sweetness of the sauce and the saltiness of the cheese. No, we’re talking about how effective it is to have a big honkin’ laser beam attached to your slice. Surely that is something we can all get behind? If not, don’t worry: there are plenty of deadly toppings to go around in this Vampire Survivors-inspired romp.
Have we settled on a name for this genre yet? Bullet heaven? Horde defense? HoloCure-like? Auto shooter? A stroll gone wrong? Well, whatever you want to call it, that’s what Pizza Hero is. Almost to a tee, really. You start out with one weak weapon, wander around procedurally generated areas battling enemies, level up, unlock new weapons and passive abilities, and try to survive as the enemy waves get more numerous and powerful. Level up enough times and it starts to feel like you’ve flipped the script and become the monster. Your goal in each area is to survive a set amount of time, an arduous task at first but one that becomes easier as you unlock permanent upgrades and new weapons.
So with that said, what sets Pizza Hero apart from the crowd? The most obvious thing is its theme. You’re playing as some kind of sentient slice of pizza, and all of your weapons are toppings. Passive abilities? They’re all spices and seasonings. The aforementioned pineapple laser beam is here, along with things like a basic mozzarella shot, explosive green peppers, and heat-seeking mushrooms. There are eighteen toppings in all, and you can discover some fun combinations that actually make sense if you know your pizzas. There are also eight different passive spices, which adds up to quite a bit of variety all told.
As with other games of this sort, your main source of upgrades comes from defeating enemies. They’ll leave behind items that give you experience if you can pick them up, and collecting enough of them will give you a level-up. You’ll be presented with three perks you can choose one of as your level-up bonus, and the usual strategies apply here. You have to choose between adding new weapons to your arsenal to expand your spread of attacks or upgrading existing ones to make them more powerful. You’ll also want to pick up the occasional spice for passive boosts. Sometimes you’ll find sauce cans that can contain experience, gold, or health. You’ll also earn experience by firing up any pizza ovens you come across.
One thing you don’t see in many other games of this kind is the dash/combat roll you’re given in Pizza Hero. A quick swipe will boost you out of the way of harm, but a cooldown timer ensures you can’t abuse it. You can get by without using this move if you really don’t feel like using it, but learning it assuredly has its benefits. Since you’re invincible during that little dash, it’s a great way to escape when you’re surrounded. At times, anyway. Sometimes it will just put you in a worse mess. Well, that’s why you have to learn when to use it and when to keep it in your pocket. It’s a neat extra element to the game, if nothing else.
The other interesting mechanic here is that you have a pet with you at all times. You’ll start with a trusty pup that will fetch items for you, but as you play you can rescue its friends and add to your options. Of course, rescuing them is one matter. Surviving long enough to open the portal to bring them home and fully unlock them is quite another. There are ten different pets in total, making for quite the menagerie of furry/feathered friends to lend you an assist. In mechanical terms, this adds even more variety to your builds.
You can also unlock more weapons to choose from at the start, using the typical method of finding it and leveling it up to a certain point. At first, you’re limited to three starting weapons and just one pet to choose from. That’s not a bad thing, as it allows the player to get comfortable with the game before things get more complicated. In a lot of ways, Pizza Hero feels like a more guided experience than some of its peers. Following the roads will always take you somewhere of interest, adding a bit of structure beyond simply surviving. Still, it would behoove the player to remember that surviving is the main point. You won’t unlock the additional maps if you can’t pull that off. There are four maps in total, but one is the tutorial stage. It’s fun when you only have a few minutes to play but most of the action is in those other three areas.
Outside of each individual playthrough, there are a few over-arching elements to take care of. There’s a full list of achievements to work through, each one offering you some valuable gold. That gold can also be found in the game, and you can use it to permanently upgrade ten different stats. Well, if you’ve played Vampire Survivors you know how this works. The upgrades give you a sense of progression beyond trying to unlock the different areas, weapons, and pets, and some of the achievements are fun to figure out. All in all, Pizza Hero gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
That brings us to the monetization. The game is free, after all. And we all know that nothing is truly free. The thing is, Pizza Hero is pretty close to it. You’ll get the occasional mandatory ad after a session, but fairly rarely. You can also watch an ad to continue once after being taken down, and you can watch ads to reroll the upgrades presented to you at a level up. It’s all incredibly inobtrusive, but if even the presence of those few ads bothers you, the developer is apparently looking into adding an IAP to remove them.
Pizza Hero doesn’t reinvent the cheese wheel by any means, but its specific seasonings add an extra flavor to the familiar Vampire Survivors dish. The fun theme, bevy of interesting upgrades, enjoyable list of achievements, and solid action make for a game well-worth playing even if you’ve gorged yourself on a large serving of other titles in the genre. Sometimes it’s just one secret ingredient and a bit of charm that can make a dish its own, and that’s what Pizza Hero offers.