I’m always interested in games that feature a diverse roster of characters, giving multiple ways to play through certain experiences. Whether it means choosing partners to support a static main character or a dynamic protagonist, it can be fun to experiment a variety of ways to go through a game, even if it follows the same story. Roguelike games are great for this, with titles like Don’t Starve and Binding of Isaac offering a wide roster to choose from, each with skills and weaknesses that can completely change how the game is played.

So I was intrigued when I first heard about Frozenbyte’s latest title, Has-Been Heroes. A pair of heroes long past their prime have seen their job requests dwindle from dragon-slaying to glorified babysitting. Teaming up with a young rogue, they set out with 2 princesses in tow, navigating procedurally-generated dungeons fraught with peril, but also merchants and treasure chests, and taking down a mighty boss before zipping to the next dungeon. Despite the “has-been” status of the adventurers, the game doesn’t really lean into this aspect. The warrior still deals massive damage, for example.

shot_4

But when it comes to roguelikes, gameplay is king. In HBH, your heroes will begin each dungeon in individual lanes, running towards the right. In battle, enemies will shuffle in from right to left somewhat like Plants vs. Zombies. The twist is that enemies don’t just have health, but stamina. Each whack takes off one block of a stamina bar, and when stamina is completely depleted, the enemy is stunned and open for an attack that actually deals damage. Since each hero does a different amount of strikes per attack, with a recharge period between, attack order becomes incredibly important.

When a hero is sent out to attack, his lane becomes “open” for one of the others to swap lanes. If a skeleton has 3 stamina blocks, it will take 3 attacks from the warrior, who deals a single massive blow. That takes time and the skeleton will continue marching forward all the while. Instead, it’s better to use the rogue, who does 3 quick strikes, to stun the enemy before swapping him out for the warrior to strike. Even the smallest amount of damage done will knock the enemy further down the lane and permanently reduce their stamina by 1 point, so even the mage has some purpose, but the warrior is still the best choice for finishing them off.

It’s a system that takes some getting used to and even after several hours with it, I had difficulty swapping heroes to the exact point I needed them. That said, it’s still great when a combo is set up  In addition to these basic steps, there are items that can be found or purchased in the game which offer various bonuses and spells which range from healing allies to stamina damage to outright obliteration of an enemy. The game won’t tell you what an item or spell does until you pick it up, though, so it can often be a risk – a percent-based damage increase for your mage is far less appealing than a flat bonus, for example.

has-been-heroes-review-new-item

Sometimes you’ll just have to deal with what you’re given, though, as the game leans heavily on its RNG (or random number generation). As a roguelike, the map, the encounters, the items, and even the bosses are determined by the roll of invisible set of dice in the software, setting you up for success or failure. Almost every roguelike has this element to it, but very few make it so difficult to succeed with a poor roll. I’m often able to trudge through until the end of the second stage before discovering that I just don’t have the tools necessary to survive.

This led to another unfortunate discovery in that unlocking characters is tied to beating the game. I managed to do this once, then the game added a third stage, meaning I’d have to trudge even further to unlock another. Meanwhile, the character selection screen taunts me with dozens of questions marks and makes me wonder just how many hours I’d have to put in just to get a fifth selectable hero. Other unlocks such as items, spells, or even new enemies come from gathering the departed souls of those defeated in combat, but you won’t know what they do until you come across them in play.

So you’ve got a good roll and your game is progressing pretty well. There’s one more challenge that rears its ugly head after playing several runs: monotony. Battles can be drag on for quite a while and it soon becomes apparent that a good portion of the enemies simply feel like retreads – a skeleton, a skeleton knight, a skeleton knight with a helmet, a skeleton mage, a skeleton mage with a different-colored scarf. Sensing a pattern here? When I first unlocked a huge batch of “new” enemies, I was disappointed to see an endless stream of skeletons pop up. Just another obstacle to really enjoying what the game has to offer.

KAIJU VERDICT

2/4 Pops: Decent  There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.

Review based on a digital version of the game played on the Nintendo Switch.

About The Author