When looking upon old men with walking sticks, one doesn’t usually expect anything too exciting. However, the developers at Gametrust decided that a bunch of Has-Been Heroes would be the perfect stars for their latest game.
But does a bunch of elderly heroes have what it takes to stand up to the all-stars, or will they crumble to the effects of age?
The story of Has-Been Heroes has every mark of a parody you could think of. We start off with the boyish young rogue who sets off on an adventure to find the heroes of old, who have just been summoned by the king to take on a new quest. While skilled in her own right, the rogue simply sought to meet the heroes in person. However, after the heroes arrive, they invite her to come with them to meet the king.
Upon meeting the king, the heroes are told that their new quest is none other than to take on the perilous task of bringing his daughters to school. Tragedy quickly falls upon the heroes as their first steps into adventure are met with a gigantic meteor crushing them, ending their journey.
Thankfully, due to the great powers of deus ex machina, the heroes are returned to the world of the living in exchange for taking on a new quest delivered by God himself — to destroy the great ghoul who is bringing evil to the land once more. This death also serves as the introduction of the most crucial game mechanic of all: dying.
With the knowledge that they will always be brought back to life, the heroes set off on their journey once more to destroy the great evil, and finding their old allies along the way.
While the story doesn’t really show up much more after this introduction, the game actually has multiple endings that are unlocked by completing the game repeatedly to unlock more heroes, and the comedy is worth every playthrough. Sadly, to my knowledge I was unable to play the endings in a cinema mode despite them being present in the “endings” tab of the unlocks. Whether this is an oversight or intentional design, it detracts from an otherwise delightful treat.
Has-Been Heroes features some of the most minimalistic gameplay I’ve seen in a strategy game in some time — and this works to its benefit. Players control a continuously marching band of heroes through maze-like dungeons by using the face buttons to swap character positions and attack. The trigger buttons are reserved for special abilities granted by the princesses, while the control sticks and bumpers are used to cast various spells.
Though the controls seem simple, they take quite a bit of practice to master, as learning each control is essential to avoiding death in this game. Furthermore, players should come into this title with some masochistic intent since — as stated earlier — a core game mechanic in Has-Been Heroes is dying. New players (regardless of their skill level) can expect to die repeatedly in this game, ranging anywhere from 3 to 10 times before they defeat their first boss.
This is not a fault with the game per se, since it is perfectly possible to beat the game without dying (with the exception of the first scripted death). However, the lack of unlocked spells and items will limit your chances of success. While there is a limited selection of spells players can purchase during their first run, most of them will actually be unlocked by filling the Soul Orb upon each failed or successful run. These items become unlocked, but their abilities remain hidden until players find or purchase them in-game.
Players who find the first run too easy can take comfort in the fact that the game actually becomes longer with each playthrough. What is initially a simple two-map quest gradually becomes an expansive, epic adventure as the game’s difficulty ramps up with each successful run.
Overall, the game is great for a first playthrough, and has endless replayability thanks to randomly generated dungeons and hordes. No two runs will ever be the same, and the game rewards players generously for each completed run.
Has-Been Heroes’s comic book cartoon style works to its comedic effect, and it’s also a very functional method to convey action on the screen. Thanks to bold outlines and vibrant color schemes, characters as well as enemies are easily identifiable even while clumped together against the backgrounds. Rarely is action so cluttered that players will find themselves lost, while damage and effects are identifiable enough that confusion amongst the action occurs.
Unfortunately, despite having a lovely soundtrack, Has-Been Heroes suffers from repetitive background themes. While they are by no means a pain to the eardrums, they can become tedious to listen to. Thankfully, the music volume can be reduced so that it falls into the background more, which helps make it more tolerable while not creating a void where the music once was.
The Verdict: 8/10
If you are not a fan of dying in games, I cannot safely recommend this title. Otherwise, despite wanting to give it a higher score, Has-Been Heroes falls on a solid 8/10. While the gameplay is certainly engaging, and bound to keep roguelike fans entertained for days, it is held back by slight presentation issues and an unlocks page that feels much less finished than it should be.
It is certainly a game that I can recommend without any guilt, as it is sure to keep players engaged for quite some time. However, it is not quite unique enough to warrant a higher score — and the faults the game has should be addressed by the developers, as they leave the game feeling a bit unpolished.
That said, this score is specifically for the Nintendo Switch version of the game — as I would actually give the title a 7.5 out of 10 for any other device.
Picking the right console for you…
While Has-Been Heroes is a great game, it’s not one that needs to be played on a TV or computer screen to reap the most benefit — as the cartoon style carries over well to smaller screens. However, the Nintendo Switch is perhaps the definitive way to enjoy this game, as the console’s portability really works to the game’s benefit. Furthermore, the Nintendo Switch’s battery will actually last much longer than it does with 3D titles, making this game a must-have for traveling Switch gamers.
Playing on a console or PC in this case is simply not worth it — provided you have a Switch system on you already. If not, I recommend picking up the game on sale, as it is best played on the go.