Warning: This game is not for the faint of heart, pregnant women, or people who may be susceptible to bouts of breaking controllers in fits of rage. This is a decidedly difficult game that while I have certainly found hours of entertainment, if the level of complexity explained below does not appeal to you, I would advise you to stay away. If you’re up for a challenge, keep reading!
Now that the disclaimer is done, it’s time to delve into the most difficult game currently available on the Switch, Has-Been Heroes. Has-Been Heroes is tough game to describe, it defies typical genre definition. It has bits of an action-adventure game mixed with a taste of a semi real-time turn-based RPG with a sprinkling of procedural roguelike elements layered over a lane-based brawler. Essentially, Has-Been Heroes is one of the most unique recent releases in the roguelike genre, as that seems to be the cleanest genre to define the game, and is often used by developer Frozenbyte.
Has-Been Heroes follows the tale of a group of washed up warriors – if they ever develop a sequel or expansion this should be the name – as they bring twin princesses to school. In order to do this, you must fight your way through a series of regions featuring a multitude of themes, and you will die…a lot. Then you will die some more. Each death helps unlock new spells, items, and enemies, so death is very much a core part of the gameplay that will help gear up for subsequent runs, but that does not remove the level of frustration from a litany of unsuccessful runs.
The gameplay has one of the most complicated systems of anything I’ve ever played on a console, taking over 5 hours to really grasp. Each of the three lanes contains a ‘Hero’, with a rogue, monk, and fighter being the initial heroes and new ones unlocked after successful runs – point of note, with over a dozen hours logged I’ve only had 2 successful runs. Heroes have an attack timer that can be sped up or slowed down by items, and a set number of attacks per timer, e.g. the fighter attacks once and the rogue attacks thrice per timer. Only after an attack can you shift which lane a hero occupies and only with the hero that attacked, but gameplay pauses after an attack or with the press of L so you do have time to stop and strategize before making your next move. Also, just as you have stamina so do enemies, and you must deplete their stamina before doing direct damage. In addition to regular attacks, each hero comes with time-locked spells and additional ones can be bought as you make your way through the region.
Navigating all of these options is incredibly confusing for the first several hours but as you break the 5-hour mark the game becomes intuitive in its own way. Part of the difficulty in the game comes not just from the complicated controls and gameplay, but the lack of handholding. The tutorial is essentially a couple of minutes long and shows only the basics. Finer points of gameplay, such as how one attack will send your enemy flying to the back of the lane versus just a small knock back are not explained, but need to be figured out through experimentation.
There are hundreds of items, spells, and enemies to unlock, as well as heroes and variants. Initially, nearly all of the enemies are variants on basic skeletons, but eventually flowers, zombies, and demons add some spice to the battlefield. Boss battles introduce an interesting twist on the oft-repeating gameplay, turning the formula on its head with new obstacles other than just beat the enemy in your lane. The final boss is typically a pirate ghost that summons obstacles that must be destroyed before you can attack enemies down the lane or the boss himself.
The art and sound design add an interesting layer to the game. The music adds a sense of drama to each battle and makes the enemies pop, with a satisfying rumble accompanying a strike of the blade hitting your enemies. Graphically, this is not the most impressive game ever released, but the quirky Flash-like aesthetic does not mar the game, it adds a distinctive yet simplistic flair. One of the biggest issues I had with the game is the text renders in a very small font which works well in handheld mode but not as well in console mode.
Before I picked up The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + I never considered myself a guy who enjoyed procedural games or games that reward me with a constant barrage of death and failure. Like most gamers, I had decades of training that game over was the enemy that must be avoided at all costs. With the one-two punch of Isaac and Has-Been Heroes releasing within weeks of one another, I am proud to say I am a convert. Has-Been Heroes is a very difficult game, but it is a very rewarding game. Outside of my first hour, I never felt the game punished me unnecessarily. Similar to learning the levels of platformers of old, once you learn the rhythm of enemies and the pace of battle everything is manageable.
While it is one of the most frustrating games I’ve played in quite a while, Has-Been Heroes is a must recommend. It clearly will receive additional tweaking over time, but after a dozen hours logged, only 22% of content has been unlocked. The game has a high level of replayability and I find myself, more often than not, trying to sneak in a quick session whenever I find a few spare minutes. Has-Been Heroes may not be the new hallmark of the genre, but will likely develop a cult following. At only $20, this is quite possibly the best bang for your buck title currently available on the Nintendo Switch.