Before writing my recount, I’d spent over nine hours with Has Been Heroes on Nintendo’s new hardware hotness. I’ve only completed a full game round once and unlocked one new hero from the vast selection. Difficulty is a talking point with Has Been Heroes, as is the steep learning curve and rough-around-the-edges visual get-up. However, some quirky humour and charm, fun battles and encounters and a truly addictive new gameplay mechanic make for a true hidden gem and a wonderfully refreshing roguelike experience.
A world of ruin. Princesses of the kingdom to be saved. It all sounds distinctively familiar, right? A noble hero to save the day, you may imagine? This is not to be in Has Been Heroes. The premise is this: the evils of the kingdom have withheld two damsels in distress, the princesses of the kingdom. It is your job, as a once retired hero, to safely guide the two princesses to school, whilst traversing harsh environments and battling a vast foray of enemies. As a party of three, you hold a distinct variety of strength and technique; the Rogue, a nimble, agile but less hard-hitting foe, the Warrior, a sheer brute force and sizeable strength to be reckoned with, and the Monk, an awkward battler with the balance of both technique and strength. These three heroes are set-up in a three-lane formation in Has Been Heroes – each hero holds of helm their own lane.
In a Plants vs Zombies-cross-brawler stylisation, you must use each hero’s attack style to fight off hordes of enemies, with a stun-first, kill-second methodology in mind. This style flows and assembles very naturally, as each hero has a varied amount of hits per attack; at one end, the Warrior hits just once with a devastating blow. Contrastingly, the Rogue hits with three swift strikes of lesser damage. I’ve made likenesses to the game of Volleyball; use the Monk and Rogue to tip (stun) the enemy, then rush in with the Warrior to spike (kill) for the finishing blow to deal serious damage. The ability to attack the same enemy, given there are three different lanes, is using a pause mechanism, whereby after each hero’s attack, the game will pause and give you the opportunity to swap lanes to chain together your attacks. It is, of course, like nothing I’ve played before, and the entire gameplay mechanic is either a love or hate situation – which, in my case, I’ve taken great fondness to it and do approve Frozenbyte’s unique flip on the roguelike genre. It should be noted, however, that a steep learning curve is apparent here. As a seasoned gamer, I found the perfect play style at around five hours of gameplay, which is likely longer than many other reviewers might have spent with the game in total.
Amongst each battle, is a map traversal system, whereby you travel from point to point, like a standard world map you’d find in a classic platformer. At each point on the map, you’re presented with either a battle milestone, or an interest point. At each interest point (presented with a ?), you’ll find merchants, spell gamblers, cartographers, and even stamina camps to rest your heroes. During my time with Has Been Heroes, I found that the randomly generated maps of each playthrough kept me engaged each time, where an interest point being revealed can turn the game on its head and greatly influence your future decisions. The NPCs found at each of the interest points are full of character, charm and cheekiness, each with their own memorable persona. It’s evident that Frozenbyte put great thought into the player’s experience with each NPC, and each encounter with them drew a chuckle out of me and still does.
While difficulty did play a significant part in my frustrations with Has Been Heroes, it is, by no means, unbearable. While my playthrough was split up between the day one version of the game, as well as the recently patched version, it was evident that the patch has dipped difficulty ever so slightly. Nevertheless, Has Been Heroes is very much still unrelenting in its seemingly random difficulty blips; one playthrough may have you flying past your first boss encounter with ease, whilst on another playthrough, you may have your work cut out upon your very first battle.
There is, in my honest opinion, a tonne of replayability here. As a roguelike, each playthrough is indeed unique and fresh. Beyond that, Frozenbyte have littered the game with a slew of unlockable heroes, enemies, spells, items, cinematics and varied endings, each with their own merit. I currently sit at a measly 14% completion of the games’ encompassing content, which much more to see and explore in my continued playthrough.
Graphics and Sound
Frozenbyte have assembled an interesting art style in their latest title, with hand-drawn assets evident at each corner. From the quirky heroes and cute princesses, to the noticeably odd and wacky NPCs and frightening enemies, there is personality per pixel here. Whilst it did seem as though NPCs and even the princesses appeared somewhat prettier than their hero counterparts, the visuals do present a style similar to Nicalis’ Binding of Isaac series. There is a common theme of dark palettes and smears, all of which do portray the survival-adventure environment. With my playthrough being exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, it is by no means the most gorgeous title – in fact, far from it. Yet, the charm and purpose-built roughness to the art style shines through, an attempt which I can appreciate.
From the bells and tingles of the map traversal music piece, to the dark guitar riffs and twisted flutes of the battle tracks, Has Been Heroes provides a personified mix of creativity. Seemingly cliché in many instances, with the ‘battle win’ fanfare similar to that of other roguelike entries, each sound and musical piece blends and moulds together well. It’s a mild distraction to the often-chaotic nature of what the screen is treating your eyes to, and, during your encounters with the shopkeepers and merchants, you’ll often find that the background of quirky flutes and pipes will assist
Frozenbyte’s Has Been Heroes is a bold, unique, and truly fun take on the roguelike genre. Whilst it is far from perfect, with its sometimes-repetitive deaths and frustrating difficulty, it’s a title I plan to revisit again and again throughout the Nintendo Switch’s shelf life. The pick-up-and-play nature presented by short bursts of gruelling battles and encounters will leave you with endless fun to be had – if you hang around long enough for what is a slightly scary learning curve. Has Been Heroes has resonated with me, the ball has dropped, and I’m incredibly glad it did.