Written by Mark Turcotte
In 2009 unknown developer Frozenbyte released the acclaimed hit Trine. A puzzle platformer that captivated players with its unique graphical style and multi-character gameplay. With multiple sequels to the series, Frozenbyte became ready to move on and launch a new IP on a brand-new console. Enter Has-Been Heroes, a strategy rogue-like that had all the trappings to be a hit. Unfortunately, the bland gameplay and brutal difficulty have lead to a game that falls flat on fun and is downright a chore to play.
Has-Been Heroes starts off well with a witty narrator setting the stage with quirky animations featuring the main characters in the game. A warrior, a mage, and a rogue round out the cast of characters who are tasked with a quest to deliver, of all things, two princesses to school on time. It’s an odd and quirky premise, but honestly the set up works with the art style and animations. It’s quickly after the setup that things begin to fall apart.
The gameplay is a bit difficult to explain unless you’ve actually played it yourself. This is partly because the game does a terrible job at explaining what is required to succeed. Essentially each of the 3 characters line up in a row. Enemies slowly move from right to left towards the heroes similar to Plants vs. Zombies. Each enemy has a stamina bar that must be widdled down before they can take damage. Each hero’s action is set to a small cool down meter. When complete you can choose to attack, cast a spell, or move to another lane replacing its current occupant and attack in that lane. Much of the strategy comes down to attacking, pausing, and then swapping lanes with another hero who then also attacks and ultimately wears down the stamina meter of the enemy so damage can be applied.
All that seems simple, right? Well the problem begins with what I just described. The game does a horrible job at teaching you this progression of damage and combos. The enemies stamina bars also fill up after a short amount time once diminished so even when damage is applied, you must repeat the whole process again, if they are not attacked quickly after. This is all complicated as the enemy waves are procedurally generated and doesn’t to take into account that you may be a beginner in the game and can become brutally difficult right from the get-go.
With Has-Been Heroes being a rogue-like experience, once you die you will be sent back to the very beginning and forced to start over again. This is something you should get used to because it will be happening quit frequent and frustratingly so early on. The ability to purchase spells throughout each run helps you deal more damage or control the battlefield more and is critical to success. The only way to get better at the game and get used to its gameplay quirks is to just commit yourself to it and take the repeated failure that you are destined to incur.
The problem that the game suffers from however, is just the lack of fun. This is mainly due to the brutal difficulty and just flat out boring gameplay. To get better you need to play more, but if you’re not having fun playing it how can you ever get better. I look at other rogue-like title such as Spelunky or Rogue Legacy and think about the hours of fun I had playing them. Granted they are a different genre being that they are platforms but ultimately the rogue-like gameplay loop is still the same. Those games were at least fun to play in the moment to moment and Has-Been Heroes just isn’t.
I’m not quite sure who I could recommend this game to. Potentially some strategy and rogue-like fans may gravitate to it craving the brutal difficulty and the almost impenetrable barrier to entry. Some players just enjoy that style of gameplay. It’s a shame however, that this is currently one of only a handful of titles available for the Nintendo Switch. I think many Switch owners who are ready to take a break from Zelda will be baited into purchasing this by the medieval looking characters and promise of a fun strategy game. Instead, many of them will be met by an extremely difficult game that is uninviting to newcomers and quite honestly just isn’t fun to play.