It takes a round of combat to really get what makes Has-Been Heroes is trying to do. As a rogue-like, there’s a lot to take in, so you’ll spend your first battle poring over spell descriptions, figuring out how to properly swap lanes, and probably get trounced by the seemingly neverending wave of undead. But once everything clicks, you’ll find a surprisingly satisfying blend of action and strategy wrapped inside a goofy, cartoonish exterior.
Has-Been Heroes is actually pretty easy to control underneath all the ability descriptions and RPG trappings. You have three heroes at your disposal, each one with a unique set of skills and strengths, and they continue to march to the right while a horde of skeletons saunter toward the left. In order to make it through battles, you have to manipulate your heroes, move them between one of three lanes, and send them out to attack. Each melee attack pauses the action, allowing you to set up variety of follow-up attacks.
This is Has-Been Heroes’ secret sauce, where simple attacks turn into deadly combos with the press of a few buttons. A rogue’s swift barrage of dagger strikes wears down an enemy’s stamina (effectively armor, which can regenerate if you take too long to attack). Swap them out for your warrior, whose powerful hits can cut through their health, then polish them off with a lightning blast from your mage. All the while, other monsters continue to march in the other two lanes, so you’re constantly juggling heroes, setting up attacks or casting magic once their respective time meters are full. It’s frantic but totally manageable, like a cross between Final Fantasy’s active time battle system and Plants vs. Zombies’ lane-based approach to strategy and tower defense.
On top of this are all of the familiar rogue-like trappings. You’ll move across a series of nodes on a map, alternating between battle screens and shops and other helpful rooms. After completing each map and taking down a handful of bosses (one that I saw had 50 stamina to burn through before you even started to poke away at its health), you’ll unlock a new hero to take with you on future runs – and now the game gets more difficult, adding more maps to run through before you can claim victory. Lose, and it’s back to the beginning with you.
While Has-Been Heroes is slated for simultaneous release on all major consoles and Steam on March 28th, it’s the Switch version that seems the most appropriate venue for this kind of game. It’s got the depth you want from a rogue-like, but it’s built for the kind of quick bursts that makes it a perfect choice for a portable platform. Either way you play, Has-Been Heroes is looking like a rewarding adventure for those who enjoy their rogue-likes with a little more chaos.