PAX South: Has-Been Heroes Has Got the Challenge

As a developer, Frozenbyte really made a name for themselves with the Trine series. Three gorgeous platformers with interesting physics based puzzles and challenging action, there is a reason that the trilogy is so danged popular. This prominence is what makes their upcoming title, Has-Been Heroes, such an interesting decision. When a studio is so good at one thing, they tend to stick with it. Not so here. Has-Been Heroes is a melding of real time strategy and action with heavy rogue-like elements. Again, though, with a studio as good as Frozenbyte, the change of style might be surprising, but the quality is not.

The game puts the player in control of three heroes who are escorting a pair of princesses to the Princess Academy. Before anyone balks at the word “escort,” they are not vulnerable in the back of the line on the left of the screen. The demo had a party make up of a warrior, monk, and a rogue, though there will be twelve classes in the final game. As the levels progress, the player needs to control three lanes of oncoming enemies as the party journeys down the path. Each of these enemies has a stamina meter that acts as a shield, with one bar of the meter being removed per strike. Now, each hero class swings their weapons for a set amount of strikes per basic attack. The idea is to try to match the amount of hits to the exact amount of enemy stamina to stun them, then switch out to a different character for follow up damage. Going over the amount knocks the foe down the lane, which can also be useful to buy some breathing room. For fear that I am making the very basic concept more confusing, the trailer below shows it in action.

There are also spells. Glorious, glorious spells. During my demo time, these were absolutely imperative to have any hope of survival. With additional ones randomly awarded, it will be up to the player to formulate strategies on the run to get the most bang out them, especially as the cool down timers aren’t exactly generous. One classic example of effective use is to use a burning spell when there is a large group of enemies on screen, then immediately follow up with a wind spell. This is a game that encourages dirty tricks like this, as it is not hesitant to beat the player down.

That’s really the most interesting thing about Has-Been Heroes. It doles out the player advantages and options like that that Mountain Dew vending machine in the first live action Transformers movie. Fast, repeatedly, and to the face. Even so, it also doesn’t hesitate to leave the player in the same state as the victims of that machine: on the ground, moaning, with a twelve ounce dent in the head. I made three attempts at the first area of the first run in the demo, and failed each time. But, I know it was my fault. There were plenty of other tactics that I should have tried, places where I made multiple blunders on par with filming and releasing 13 Hours (in case anyone thought I was giving Michael Bay a free pass). Each time, I wanted to try again.

This strange fascination stems partly from the graphical design. I’m a sucker for a well done cartoon aesthetic, which Has-Been Heroes nails with its character designs and animation. There is also the fact that, my hamfisted attempt at description aside, the game boasts some easy to learn mechanics that are hard to master. I was learning new ways to progress through trickery and planning on the third attempt that I didn’t even notice on the first. Each try got me a little further, even though I started the demo fresh. That, in the end, is where the game will succeed. It has more hooks than a freshly opened cenobite puzzle box and could potentially leave the player in the same state…metaphorically. But, if my experience is any proof, the player will want to keep returning. The box opens March 28 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC.