Square Heroes Review: BYOB (Bring Your Own Buddies)
(Note: This review is on the Desura version of this title and predates the Steam Greenlight release.)
Many years ago, the Earth was under an alien attack. To defend ourselves, a mad scientist began using alien DNA to create the ultimate weapon...
The SQUARE AVENGERS!
A hit-'em-with-funny-things arena shooter featuring Online, LAN, Co-op, and local multiplayer gameplay, a single-player Tournament, and an arsenel of crazy weapons and even crazier hats, Square Heroes lets you gang up on your friends and blast them out of the sky.
A sequel to Gnomic Studios' critically-acclaimed arena shooter Square Off (which placed in the Dream Build Play Top 20 in 2009), Square Heroes takes up where Square Off ended - once again with our blocky heroes on a mission to save the world.
Or they would be saving the world..
If only they weren't so distracted by beating each other up in the annual Galactic Hero's Tournament.
All maps support up to six players (including bots) so while local multiplayer only allows for up to four human players, online battles can handle six. This means that multiple local players can join online matches together for epic online couch vs couch gaming.
And this is a good addition because without your friends, you may be hard-pressed to find a game going.
(I was lucky during this time and caught a time where another group was playing to stream it - it was the first time I found an open online game.)
When I first loaded into Square Heroes on Desura, I found myself (mistakenly) operating under the assumption that this game was multiplayer-only. The tutorial stage is extremely short (albeit fully voice-acted) to teach you the base mechanics before catapulting you into the arena stages.
Unfortunately, the transition between the initial staging area and the tutorial stages for the rest of the singleplayer isn't very obvious - a series of spotlights overlook what appear to be placeholder achievement boards rather than portals to the new three tutorial stages.
From the main menu, the only other options are character customization and multiplayer - and there aren't that many people playing on multiplayer. Now I may chalk some of this up to my game bugging out because after a few times starting up the game, the "Tutorial" disappeared off the main menu to be replaced with "Single Player."
It was a definite "...Ohhhhh..." moment.
And this came as a relief to me, because for a while I was wondering whether or not I'd stumbled into another situation like Cult of the Wind - a multiplayer-only Greenlight darling that blew through Greenlight and Early Access... but which no one actually plays.
(see Steam Greenlight's Major Flaw: Votes Do Not Result in Sales for more on this title)
Thankfully, the stars aligned just so - I and a friend were able to find another group who happened to be online at the same time looking for something to stream. Undaunted by the fact that suddenly people were popping out of the woodwork to whale into my highlighter-pink square with lightsabers and rubber chickens, we hopped into more than half a dozen matches (mixed deathmatch and Capture the Gnome modes) with these guys.
And I found myself having a pretty damn good time.
(When I wasn't dying and screaming "Nooooooo!! to the heavens, anyway.)
Like many games of this genre, Square Heroes takes people to really have a good groove going. It does support in-game text chat so we could communicate after a fashion - it just took dying to get to. And the most fun came out of the fact that I could voice chat with a friend and treat him to an off-the-cuff audio victory dance over the fact that I'd just one-shot him with a rocket launcher to the face. Several times. In succession.
It had the deliciously OP and tactile feel of the flak cannon in Unreal Tournament days of yore.
Gameplay does start a little slowly, where the first item on your agenda is to kill enough alien blobs floating around to cash in enough coins for unlockable weapons. Chances of winning do skew towards whoever does this fastest - and you'll find that whoever starts dominating the leaderboard first will likely ultimately stay there unless something really drastic and game-changing happens (e.g. reaching over and unplugging their keyboard... just sayin').
Fortunately, the controls are easy and intuitive and don't require a great deal of time to pick up - in this respect, the short tutorial session is perfect; just enough necessary information to get you started and shooting.
Unfortunately, the kind of serendipitous meeting required to get a game going doesn't appear to happen all that often in Square Heroes - at least in its current state on Desura. The game has since made it through the Steam Greenlight process so here's hoping there's a bigger crowd to draw on there.
For those of you who can't find an open online game, Single Player does allow you to learn your way through the mechanics, play against bots, and even experience some story while you level up your square heroes for a shot at the big leagues against your friends.
To me, this experience feels rather hollow and less fun than chasing after real people with a giant flamethrower to earn the funny hats and funnier melee weapons, but I've seen quite a few others who've taken a vested interested in racking up all the achievements, and laying into the Alien King while I'm off beating people up and letting the universe go unsaved.
As is often the case on the Desura platform, the devs monitor the game's store page and the comments pretty closely - answering questions, acknowledging feedback, and from the look of it, putting some of those suggestions into effect (i.e. adding crosshairs).
With a $9.99 price tag, I feel this game is still a little stunted when it comes to community in order to justify that price in this age of gamers glutted by $5 Steam sales. However, it has cropped up in various giveaways and the Nostalgia Groupees bundle (which you could pay however much you wanted for) so it's not impossible to find it for a better price.
Ultimately, I think this game has potential and I'm looking forward to seeing how it'll do now that it's caught the attention of a wider audience.
UPDATE: Square Heroes now available on Steam for 10% off! Existing customers can redeem their Steam keys now in the following ways:
Desura: Go to: http://www.desura.com/collection, sign-in and select the [Your Keys] button on Square Heroes.
Humble: An email was sent to the account you purchased the game with.