Has-Been Heroes wasn’t the first game I played on the Nintendo Switch. It wasn’t even the second, but somehow it managed to make an impression even among more mainstream fare like Breath of the Wild and Skylanders Imaginators.
Why? Well, first off, Has-Been Heroes earns points for originality. While touted as roguelike, the game is so much more. Steeped in high fantasy, Has-Been Heroes weaves the tale of a team of past-their-prime warriors (and one newbie rogue) now tasked with… escorting princesses to school.
But it’s how that task is completed—or not completed, but we’ll get to that in a minute—that makes all the difference.
Has-Been Heroes combines a randomly generated, roguelike over-world map boasting various branching paths with lane-based, almost Plants vs. Zombies-style, combat. Then it tosses in a little Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes puzzling element that encourages you to constantly swap your fighters across all three lanes of combat (mapped to the X, Y, and B buttons on your right Joy-Con) to rack up helpful combos.
Oncoming enemies, in their ceaseless charge from the right of the screen, must have their stamina worn down before you can deal any real damage. You do this, of course, by mastering the logistics of the battlefield. Heroes vary in the number, recharge speed, and intensity of their attacks, so the point is to coordinate them so as to maximize the ol’ kill count.
For example, you might initiate an attack with you monk in your middle lane (Y) who launches a pair of quick strikes onto an oncoming enemy with the simple press of the A button. Then, you’ll want swap out your monk (Y) for your rogue (X); she’ll deliver three more quick hits, further wearing down the monster’s stamina and opening it up from a single massive blow once you trade your rogue (now Y) for your powerful warrior (B).
And that’s the heart of Has-Been Heroes‘ gameplay—move and strike, set ’em up and knock ’em down. Along the way, you can use the left trigger to pause the action, (hopefully) giving you a moment to collect your thoughts and plan out your strategy. Similarly, the right trigger both restarts the action and is used to initiate spells and other helpful buffs… like those that shorten the always-slightly-too-long period between attacks.
I’ll be honest; even with a day one patch that addressed overall difficulty and balance issues, Has-Been Heroes is still brutal. I mean, death and rebirth are hallmarks of roguelike gaming, but this one is even tougher than most.
With that said, you’d think the way to proceed through these random, forked maps would be to huff it toward the inevitable boss fight… but you’d be wrong. It is paramount that you explore a bit, as that’s the surest way to discover keys, gear, and helpful spells. Of course, backtracking costs you one of your limited candles (and retreading previous battlefields without them means certain death!), so explore, but do so judiciously.
Once you die—and, mark my words, you will—all that hard-earned loot disappears as you start anew, but enemy souls collected during each playthrough are used to unlock even more items that you just might be lucky enough to stumble across next time. And there’s plenty to unlock—hundreds of spells and items, dozens of playable heroes, and even new region types.
The trick is to stay alive long enough to benefit from all that fierce combat and exploration, and while I’m still having a problem doing that with any real consistency, Has-Been Heroes tempers its frustration with just enough fun to keep me coming back.
Review materials provided by: Frozenbyte Inc.