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Has-Been Heroes review

Has-Been Heroes
Due to my overall enjoyment of rogue-lite games, I’m always interested in trying new ones. And the Switch being a perfect machine for this type of game (I’ve also been playing The Binding of Isaac on it), I figured I’d get another one.

I had seen some gameplay for it but I wasn’t too sure how it actually played anyways. It’s one of those games were gameplay videos don’t really give a proper feel of it. So I took the chance and grabbed it. It looked really unique so why not.

Is it good? Read on and see! I will note that I have not played the whole way through, but I have played more than enough to review it.

(no it’s not a rogue-like, as some people have been saying, since it doesn’t play LIKE ROGUE… there’s a reason we used to call FPS games “Doom-like” back when people were cool)

Developer: Frozenbyte, Inc.
Publisher: GameTrust
Date of Release: March 28th 2017
Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, Xbone (Switch version played)
Genre: Lane-based tactical combat tower defense rogue-lite

Rated E10+ for Everyone over 10

Presentation

It’s a fairly generic cartoony look. It’s some of that thick black lines and flat colors stuff. Everything is fairly simply animated, which fits with the gameplay. I like how it looks, it’s simple and functional. It’s a game that, by gameplay design, needs to give you a LOT of information at once, and some of it is questionably-placed, but in general you can pretty easily see what’s going on at all times. Even when the screen is filled with stuff it’s still not TOO hard to follow. I have no issues at all with the graphics. I wouldn’t mind more visual variation with enemies (they’re basically all skeletons) but they still vary those a little bit so that’s fine by me.

On the sound side, sound cues are really important here, but the music is pretty bare, there’s not much of it and that’s how I like it for this kind of game. As long as you can hear what enemies are there and what they’re doing, that’s all you really need. As per rogue-lite tradition, I recommend listening/watching stuff while playing, so turn down that music volume if you want.

Story… Not much to it. You play as a team of heroes. These heroes were previously legendary but haven’t done much recently (so they’re Has-Beens). They go to a king, who asks them to accompany his daughters to school. You go out, fight a shitload of skeletons, and that one ghost pirate guy from Spongebob (or is it LeChuck from Monkey Island?). You actually die right away, but get resurrected by the gatekeeper of heaven to keep fighting over and over. Not sure where this story goes in the end, but that’s really not important (I don’t particularly care if the princesses get to school or not). What’s important is the gameplay.

Gameplay

I’ll throw a few things at you here to describe this game: Binding of Isaac, Enter the Gungeon, Plants vs Zombies, Tactical/strategy gameplay. Does this sound cool? Does it even make sense? I guess I’ll have to explain this.

So this is a rogue-lite game, which means that when you die, you have to restart the game from the beginning. However you still have SOME progress, maybe usually in the form of new things that may appear in following runs. Runs are fast enough that dying doesn’t feel too bad most of the time. It starts you up with a quick tutorial explaining the very basics of combat, but it’s not really enough. This game doesn’t really feel like explaining that much to you, it’s all about experimenting and learning yourself.

So how does it work… Well, there’s a map that has points and paths between these points. On crossroads and dead-ends there’s big circles, otherwise there’s small circles on corners. Big circles are special “events”, while small circles are either combat or nothing. Special events might be merchants, altars, gambling, chests and probably a ton of things I haven’t seen yet.

Combat is unlike anything I’ve played. You have 3 lanes. Similar to lanes in Plants vs Zombies, enemies spawn on each of them from the right side of the screen and walk straight to the left side where you characters are. On a controller each lane is set to an appropriate button (so the top lane is X, the middle lane is Y and the bottom lane is B), so pressing one of those and then pressing A causes the character on that lane to attack. The d-pad controls your cursor on the bottom half in the spell grid. Pressing R pauses the action to decide a target for a spell, then pressing R again casts it instantly (spells are on cooldown). When a character attacks, the action pauses. You can see a circle behind them (since they move forward to attack) that indicates that you can switch characters to different lanes. Those are the basics. Though the biggest most important basic is to press the L button. This pauses the action, enabling you to plan out your next actions (or pausing while a character is backing off from an attack to perform a clutch switch).

So the core of the game relies on a stamina system. All units (yours and opposing ones) have a stamina stat. Units cannot be dealt physical damage unless they have no stamina (or get hit with a critical). When an enemy gets to you, you get hit and lose a stamina (though some enemies might hit you several times so be careful). If you have no stamina you get a direct hit to your HP (which tends to go down FAST), and if a single one of your characters dies you lose. Enemies, on the other hand, lose stamina when you hit them, and when they get to 0 they get stunned. Any subsequent melee hit will deal damage, and ones the current attack is done they fly back in the lane and instantly recover their stamina (if they’re stunned before you hit them they may also lose maximum stamina on your attack so you debuff them that way). So the goal is to stun enemies, usually with a multi-hitting character, then deal damage afterwards with a strong hitter (the monk and bard won’t be the ones hurting enemies, the rogue or warrior will likely be doing the final damage).

So the basics of battle are basically to push enemies away until you either kill them all, or a timer runs out and the enemies flee (no timer or fleeing in boss battles though). If you beat all the enemies before the timer runs out, you get a bit of bonus gold. You can combine your character attacks, spells and even elemental effects to try to cause a lot of damage and, more importantly, delaying the enemy advance. Elements react much like you’d expect which is quite cool (water and fire have the best interaction that I’ve seen so far).

At the start of a run you choose your team. There’s 3 “slots” of different colors, and you choose one character for each color (so you couldn’t have, say, the knight and the luchador on the same team since they’re both green). You start with just 3 guys but you unlock more. There’s 36 slots but I don’t know if they all get filled up at this point. In each level you do fights and find merchants and other things. Items boost stats, while spells give you more stuff to cast in battle. Some of the characters’ spell slots have buffs, I THINK for spells that go in it (so get a buff in the rogue’s third slot and that buff gets applied to everyone on the team when you cast it). Going down a path is free, unless you went on that path before, in which case it costs you a candle (run out of candles you die). The goal of each run is to get to the final boss of the final level. The final level changes though. At first the final boss is in the second level. Once you beat him, the next run will have 3 levels and the second level will have different set of bosses. Bosses can be single skeletons with special powers, single really strong skeletons who summon a ton of minions, or a team of strong skeletons that can fuck you up really fast and must be dealt with in very specific ways.

So the rogue-lite aspect, other than the restarting when you die, is the items and spells you get from merchants. As you kill enemies the princesses gather their souls. When you die, the souls are given to heaven’s gatekeeper and you unlock 2 items/spells per certain numbers of soul thresholds. Plus, when you finish a run and unlock a character, you get literally a shitload of unlock. I think my first completed run yielded had around 70 unlocks, while the next 2 had 52 each. That includes not only spells and equipment, but also new enemy types and event types (can be new merchants or entirely new types of interactions).

(oh, and the souls the princesses gather can be used to cast spells regardless of cooldown, very useful in many cases)

So basically, the game is one that has a really big learning curve and teaches you only the very basic. You really have to figure out strategy on your own and it’s really fun to figure out. Hint: The rogue is really good and his starting spell stacks. Just saying.

Overall

I love this game. A lot. If you read a negative review, I imagine that it’s because the reviewer didn’t get how the game plays. And that’s because journalists suck at games and want them to hold their hands the whole time.

This game is extremely unique, nothing plays quite like this. Is it hard? Sure, a bit. A lot of the difficulty comes from the initial learning curve, but at the same time it’s still a nice big challenge. I appreciate a decent challenge, and especially how this game handles it.

There’s really not much to complain about. You don’t know what items do when you first find them but that goes with the territory (and you can try to guess). The worst thing is probably the characters you unlock, the character select screen doesn’t say what their starting stats are, so you have to try them out.

And a quick note, the Switch is awesome for games like this. As long as the movement and such isn’t too action-y even the “not-d-pad” d-pad works great.

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