After the relative success of the Trine series, even with the misstep of Trine 3, Frozenbyte has proven that they can make gorgeous side-scrolling action games. As such they decided to do something similar, yet unique, in Has-Been Heroes, by merging sideways movement, battle lanes, strategy game elements and rogue-like elements, to make a hard but addictive game.
Has-Been Heroes tells the tale of 3 ex-heroes who must help the king with his great task, of getting his kids to school. The premise and some early dialogue made me chuckle, but this was short lived as you then don’t find dialogue for a while as you continuously repeat the game in a desperate attempt to get slightly further along than last time.
This is both the game’s biggest strength, and weakness. As with many other titles, such as The Binding of Isaac, Has-Been Heroes implements perma-death, as well as randomised Levels. These make every playthrough unique, and makes the game both interesting, and super addictive. The problem of course with any randomisation of Levels is sometimes thanks to luck, or a lack thereof, you will die a lot when the game puts you in a brutally unfair position. Fortunately, the gameplay is fun so while it’s frustrating to die a lot, coming back Is worthwhile.
The gameplay itself places you in a zone. Using a map, you choose which node to move to next, delineated by lines connecting them on a map. You can see the whole map leading to a boss so can pick the route that will suit you best, but can only tell what is in each node if they are connected to yours. Each node is either empty, has a battle to be fought, or a vendor / treasure chest etc.
The battles make the game truly unique, in that each of your characters are placed in a lane. Enemies move towards your characters from the right hand side of the screen in the lanes, and you then need to kill them all by attacking when your attack gauge is full. The battlefield pauses when you choose to pause it to strategies, or automatically after each attack. During the pause phase after an attack you can switch characters between their lane and the one of the attacker. So, if A attacks, A can switch with B or C, but B can’t switch with C until B or C attacks.
Enemies can have stamina bars which must be depleted before attacks will do damage, so chaining attacks becomes necessary quickly. This is done by having a character that does a lot of hits knocking down the stamina bar of an enemy, followed by switching lanes with a stronger character to land hits on the enemy. The liberal use of pausing the battle does make the game more strategic, and adds to the charm of the gameplay. As well as attacks are spells, which can be used for stat changing or benefits, such as hot potato giving an extra attack on the next turn, or damage spells. These have their own charge bars and can be used with or between standard attacks.
Each character starts with a spell but then must gain more from vendors, which usually provides a randomised spell, and thanks to the games strict economy, it takes a while to gather a significant number. Similarly, items bought form merchants are also random, and you quite often don’t know the effects until you have a hero pick it up, which automatically assigns it permanently to them.
Every time one of your hero’s die they appear in heaven, and any souls earned from slain enemies levels up the system, unlocking new items and spells to be unlocked on your next playthroughs. This randomised nature of the spells you gain and the items you collect can also add to the game’s RNG punishing you unfairly at times. As you go along you will gain new heroes to use in game as well which does add some great replay value.
The game looks very nice, especially in handheld mode on the switch with its cartoony characters on some nicely designed backgrounds. The music and sound are both fine, nothing outstanding, but good enough to blend into the background and slightly enhance the experience.
On the whole I am glad that Gametrust has been funding these quirky new games. Has-been heroes isn’t the greatest game but is perfect on the switch to play in short bursts if you can stand the harsh punishment of RNG, and the frustration of being slaughtered. With it unique and fun playstyle it is certainly a personal favourite of the perma-death style games.
Released: April 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (also PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
Genre: Strategy, Battle, Action, Adventure