Developer: Frozenbyte
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO, Nintendo Switch
Release: March 28, 2017

Despite gaming’s large and often confusing list of genres and sub-genres, Has-Been Heroes is a tricky game to peg. It notably draws from side-scrolling Beat ‘Em Ups, tower defense and rogue-like RPGs to create a highly replayable adventure with its own unique rhythm.

In Has-Been Heroes you play as the old veterans of a typical RPG. With the big bad defeated and the world relatively safe, your task these days is to simply escort the young princesses to school. Unfortunately the lands aren’t quite as safe as you thought. Your three heroes journey from left to right, each in their own separate lane. Enemies continue to shuffle in from the right side and try to reach you – that’s the tower defense part. Instead of building towers, however, you use your heroes’ attacks in tandem to defeat your foes.

Has-been heroes screen

While enemies never stop coming within a battle, you have one crucial ability always at your disposal – pause. The pause feature is so critical that whenever you use a hero to strike an enemy, the game automatically pauses for you. This allows you to change lanes to set up combo attacks, and to unleash powerful spell attacks.

There are over 200 spells to find, and which ones you acquire are completely random. Each hero can equip multiple spells, and knowing which ones to use and when to use them is critical to your success. Spells range from buffs and shields to elemental attacks.

Offensive spells can target any foe on the screen and can create satisfying combo effects. Set an enemy on fire, then use a wind spell to spread the fire to others. Drench them with water and shock them silly with lightning. The spells you find add to the replayablility – along with the procedurally generated maps, battles, and enemies you face. That’s the rogue-like part.

Your young princesses don’t simply cower in fear while you protect them. They carry Soul Orbs, which absorb each foe you defeat. Once you acquire 20 orbs you can unleash the orbs, allowing you to cast a spell for free. Spells don’t cost any mana; everything works on cooldown, including your hero’s attacks. This helps keep the action exciting as you constantly unload your attacks and set off cool effects.

Additional replayablity is added through unlocking new heroes. You always have three heroes in each run, but new heroes can vary in their strengths and weaknesses and change up how the game plays, not to mention which items and spells you find.

The colorful cartoon art style tricks you into thinking Has-Been Heroes is a casual, light-hearted stroll. But there’s a satisfying depth that requires you to learn the unique rhythm of switching heroes and comboing your attacks and spells in the heat of battle. The action and art draws from classic arcade beat ’em ups like Gauntlet while infusing its own unique take on lane-based strategy. Has-Been Heroes was easily one of the most enjoyable and interesting games I saw at PAX South.

Has-Been Heroes launches on March 28 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $19.99.

This article was written by

Eric has been writing for over nine years with bylines at Dicebreaker, Pixelkin, Polygon, PC Gamer, Tabletop Gaming magazine, and more covering movies, TV shows, video games, tabletop games, and tech. He reviews and live streams D&D adventures every week on his YouTube channel. He also makes a mean tuna quesadilla.