The roguelike is a remarkably difficult game genre to develop for, due to the nature of procedural level and enemy generation. Trine series developer Frozenbyte is trying its hand at the hard-to-define genre with Has-Been Heroes, a hybrid of real-time strategy and action mechanics, whose Saturday-morning-cartoon aesthetic hides a tough-as-nails procedural adventure.
The results are mostly positive. Has-Been Heroes’ lane-based combat mechanics provide a truly unique spin on the Roguelike. However, in towing the fine line between “challenging” and “unfair,” the game leans too far towards the latter, largely on the back of randomly generated scenarios that can make each journey feel like a bit of a crapshoot.
Teaching old dogs new tricks
Has-Been Heroes’ premise is simple, and kind of beside the point. At its outset, we learn the about legendary knights of King Fortinbrax’ who have saved the kingdom — what kingdom? Not important — from dangerous monsters. But that was a long time ago. For their final mission, the final two legendary warriors, an aging Monk and Warrior, join a green rogue on a quest to take Fortinbrax’ twin daughters to school.
Has-Been Heroes’ tone is appropriately silly given its premise and cartoony art style.
As it turns out, that isn’t going to be easy. The tone is appropriately silly given its premise and cartoony art style: It all gels, particularly during the game’s introductory “motion comic” cutscene, though we would have liked to see more of it. Outside of the introduction, most characters grunt like medieval Sims, which grows old very quickly.
Technically, Has-Been Heroes is a real-time strategy game jammed inside the mechanics of an old-school PC RPGs like Eye of the Beholder or, more recently, Darkest Dungeon. The game throws your party into a randomly generated room-based dungeon. Each spaces contains a point of interest, such as a battle, vendor, treasure, or place to rest. Much of the game’s strategy comes from simply picking your path. While you may be able to take a circuitous route and avoid all combat, you will need the upgrades and resources earned in battle to stand a chance against the dungeon’s boss.
In traditional roguelike fashion, you lose most of your progress, including your skills and cash, when you die. There is some progression, though: You earn “souls” for completing battles, which can be saved across lives, and redeemed for unlockable items that you could find on your next attempt.
Combat is the core of Has-Been Heroes. When you start a fight, your three characters each occupy a separate lane of the battlefield, mapped to a button on your controller for easy selection, and a simple button press sends them forward to attack an enemy. Once a character has attacked, they can swap positions with another hero to unleash a combo attack.
Has-Been Heroes offers something unique to both the action and real-time strategy genres, but its difficulty can often feel artificial.
Most enemies have a stamina meter visible next to their health bar, typically ranging from one to four “blocks,” and each character has an attack power that varies from one to three. Use a character with two attack powers, for example, against a character with two stamina blocks remaining, and you’ll stun them. Use a character with too much attack power, however, and the enemy will go flying back to the back of the edge of the screen, regaining their stamina as their allies continue to push forward.
Under ideal conditions, the system makes Has-Been Heroes an absolute blast. Mixing in traditional attacks with the special abilities you’ve gained in a particular “run” is quite satisfying, especially when you destroy wave after wave of enemies before they even get close to your heroes.
However, the battles the game generates don’t necessarily seem possible. The game’s first boss, a skeleton with a stamina bar that can be four or five times that of a normal enemy, is flanked by a never-ending stream of minions. There was a strong correlation between how those enemies rolled out and how close we came to winning the fight.
Switch up your adventuring
The game will launch across all three major game consoles — PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch — and, for the first time, we’re comfortable saying that the Switch provide the definitive version of the experience. The game’s interface makes use of several small icons that could cause some problems on smaller televisions, which could leave some PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players without another option. We played Has-Been Heroes on the Nintendo Switch and found that the console’s “portable” mode made for a much more intuitive, pleasant experience that was not only easier on the eyes, but also led to fewer mistakes.
Has-Been Heroes offers something unique to both the action and real-time strategy genres, but its difficulty can often feel artificial, which can lead to some controller (or Switch)-throwing rage. It’s definitely worth a try for fans of Frozenbyte’s past work, but it’s may not be the best choice for someone looking for a new game in which to invest a ton of time.