SNK Heroines ~Tag Team Frenzy~
One horrid amalgmation of gameplay and fan service.
Trevor | October 27, 2018
SNK Heroines is a catastrophic failure with no redeeming qualities.
There are few companies more influential in the world of fighting games than SNK. With both Samurai Showdown and annual King of Fighters installments, SNK defined and shaped the genre. They were the first to experiment with now ubiquitous systems like super bars, assist characters, cancels, and tag teams.
Playing a game with the SNK logo plastered on it that not only fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of these concepts, but also tosses aside ideas core to the genre for the sake of bad, skimpy costumes feels like a horrible april fools joke. Sadly, SNK Heroines came out on September 7th and not April 1st, so no one is joking here (and if they were, $49.99 is too high a price tag for a gag gift).
If you’ll permit me a brief second on editorial self-awareness -- I’m aware I rarely award games low scores. Until today the lowest score I’ve attached to a review is a five, which, on my scale, is still a game worth playing if found at a budget price. This is because from an early age, I wanted to be a game designer myself.
Ends up making games is hard. Very hard. As a result of my own personal experiences and failures in the field, I’m often extremely forgiving of a game’s flaws. I look for the best in everything, because I recognize the demanding time and effort it takes to make a game from scratch.
SNK Heroines is the first game I’m giving a one. It has only a handful of ideas and fails to execute even one of them well.
I’ll address them in an ordered list and then suggest alternatives, because quite frankly, there's better stuff out there to spend your money on.
1 - Poor Attempt At Simplification.
SNK Heroines pairs down fighting game mechanics to basic simplicity. Your four buttons are light attack, heavy attack, special, and throw. Everyone has a basic 3-hit combo by mashing light attack. Heavy attack either launches or wall-bounces your opponent, depending on when it is pressed in the combo. Your special button operates like Smash Brothers, where the direction you press in tandem with the button determines which special you use. No quarter-circle motions here.
Oh, there’s also a dedicated block button this time around. More on that later.
For a company known for archaic, byzantine inputs to execute character supers and specials, it was a bold choice to pair down the controls this far. There’s nothing inherently sacred about maintaining the same inputs; BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle did the same thing, refining all moves and supers down to only quarter-circle motions. This was done so players could focus on all the other systems in place, and create a uniform control scheme across a wide range of franchises.
SNK Heroines, meanwhile, seems to have replaced perfectly acceptable systems with poor ones, without considering the ramifications on how these new systems impact the game.
Moving special attacks to a seperate button could’ve worked fine for a more accessible SNK game, but the additional choice of having special moves drain your super meter fundamentally misunderstands the point of special attacks. Special moves exist to bridge gaps in a character’s normal moveset. Guile is highly susceptible to aerial attacks, so his flash kick exists as additional protection from above. Hadoukens and other projectiles help players control the space directly in front of them, offering protection against players with a strong ground game.
By having these moves drain your super bar no matter what, it means you can be without these tools when you need them most. Fighting games are all about muscle memory. When someone goes for a jump, Street Fighter players hit that shroyuken input without a second thought. In SNK Heroines, you’ll often do the same only for nothing to happen, because your meter is spent.
This would be bad enough, but SNK Heroines isn’t content to be mediocre. It wants to go all the way to the bottom of the garbage can.
SNK Heroines made the baffling choice to make Super Arts the only way to win. This means you’re better off never using your specials, because each time you do, you’re draining a meter you need full to put up a W. It also means you can dominate a match from beginning to end, but your opponent only needs to land one Super Art to steal victory. This makes matches more tedious and annoying than exciting, because a low health bar means nothing if neither player has super to spend. You just have to resign yourselves to fruitlessly smacking each other to build those meters back up.
Call me Billy Mays, because just wait. There’s more.
A key concept in fighting games is “opening up” an opponent. This means mixing up your throws, overhead, mid, and low-hitting attacks to get around a foe’s guard. SNK Heroines eliminated low attacks entirely, so that’s one tool gone from everyone’s kit.
By blocking, you can roll left or right. In other King of Fighters games, you can use this to dodge projectiles, or cross-up your opponent by rolling behind their back. This works because in order to block, you must hold away from opponent, so you’re testing your foe’s reflexes when you roll behind them; they need to reorient their guard before the roll ends and you land a free hit.
SNK Heroines made block a dedicated button, thus making the roll worthless as a cross-up tool. This lack of options makes every match even more tedious, as there's shockingly few ways to get around an opponent's defense.
Despite the seemingly simple controls, SNK Heroines is a chore to play. If what you’re after is a highly approachable fighting game, there’s no need to muddle through this. Here’s three simple, highly accessible alternatives.
Fantasy Strike was designed to teach basic concepts without any difficult inputs. It’s a fantastic entry point to the genre.
Rising Thunder is a great mech-based fighting game with basic controls. It has since been cancelled so there will be no further development, but it can still be downloaded and played for free.
Super Smash Brothers is Super Smash Brothers.
2 - A Baffling UI.
Let me present you with a quiz. Point to your health bar in this picture.
Did you say the giant bar at the top? The place where most other fighting games put life bars? This one?
That was a good guess, but no. It’s this.
Yes. This tiny bar.
The other bar, the giant one, is your super meter.
This is a fundamentally bad idea. Ever since the inception of a super meter, in games made by this company, they’ve had the good sense to give each their own space. Now this super meter is encroaching on your lifebar like a greedy neighbor building a fence on your property.
I understand, to some extent, how this particular sausage got made. Since a match can only be won with a super art, your super meter becomes more important than your vitality. Given that, I see why you may want to feature the Super Bar more prominently, but why did both meters have to occupy one bar?
Being able to quickly deduce who’s winning at a glance is essential to any fighting game. Meter information should be like checking your mirrors while driving; an automatic, quick reflex. Then you can adjust your plans and strategies accordingly.
SNK Heroines would rather make you get out a microscope to track your progress.
There’s more, of course. Like a burnt cake, SNK Heroines layers its flaws on one another.
So your health and super bar are an indiscernible mess, and that’s unfortunate. But don’t worry, SNK Heroine’s particle effects help clutter the rest of the screen up, too. During the fight, your partner tosses out items to “assist”. These items quickly fill the screen with additional nonsense, making an incomprehensible situation worse. Hit confirmations are already difficult to spot, but the endless barrage of other decals and symbols makes it nigh impossible to get any positive feedback on your actions. Or negative. Any feedback at all, really.
Playing games for the UI is a weird choice, but if that’s what you’re into, here’s some better recommendations.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle has meters all over the screen, but their purpose and function is clear.
DragonBall Fighter Z is great. There's a life meter, a super bar, and that's it.
Persona 5 has the best UI ever made.
3 - Can’t Even Get Smut Right.
Listen. I'm not ignorant to this game's desired audience. But even perverts are allowed to have standards.
I won’t pretend SNK Heroines was going to be the next Street Fighter: Third Strike. No one could accuse SNK Heroines of false advertising -- you know what you’re getting right on the box. This game is counting on you to be thirsty for the SNK cast in skimpy outfits.
The problem is SNK Heroines is promising something it can’t deliver on here, either.
This game looks dreadful. There’s no uniform design decisions tying any of this together. Everyone’s costumes and outfits look like they came from different games entirely, despite the fact everyone here is from King of Fighters. There’s fun nods to other SNK properties buried in the optional costume list, but look.
There is nothing sexy happening here.
One of the bigger discussions I see happening around SNK Heroines, at least in the one corner of the internet concerned with discussing this game, is Lady Terry Bogart.
If you’re unaware, Terry appears in SNK Heroines in a new femme form. An amusing story probably could’ve been written about Terry Bogart’s genderbent experience. A tongue-in-cheek adventure where he learns something about what it’s like to live as the other half, with witty insights and commentary.
Instead, he spends most of the story checking himself out while the camera zooms in on his ass.
Most of the story mode is spent this way, really, with all the characters standing around some formless mansion while cameras film them from compromising angles. If this game were better made, I’d say something cheeky like “I don’t recommend playing SNK Heroines on your living room TV,” but that would require something titillating and scandalous to happen.
To be clear, it’s not like I anticipated Shakespeare here. I didn't expect SNK Heroines to fundementally alter the very foundation of how we as a scociety think of gender, but I expected... something. Anything. There's nothing sexy, nothing terribly provocative, and nothing insightful. If SNK Heroines was trying to push the envelope, please the perverts, or offend the prudish, they’ll have to try harder. I’ve seen worse browsing my Netflix queue.
Okay, I get it. Maybe you’re here for the T&A. This is a no judgement zone right now, okay? But listen; your money is still better spent elsewhere.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here’s some recommendations for sexier content.
Anything with Dead or Alive in the title might be more your jam, especially if volleyball is involved. Can't say I've ever found it sexy, but I certainly enjoy playing any DOA title more than this travesty.
Bayonetta. Bayonetta’s sexuality is front and center in the game’s narrative. There’s lots of fascinating articles out there written by people far more qualified than me to discuss her role as a a positive or negative representation of female sexuality.
And if you aren’t interested in the social commentary, at least you’ll be playing a better game.
Yuri! On Ice is a fantastic, beautifully animated show about Figure Skating. Also happens to feature lots of sexy, animated dudes.
If you were hoping for a fun genderswap story, you came to the wrong place. SNK Heroines is just so far off base from what you want.
Your Name is a beautiful, heartwarming movie about a boy and girl who sometimes wake up inhabiting the other’s body. Highly recommended.
4 - Don’t Buy This.
Please don’t. That’s really all it comes down to here. In a banner year for new fighting games, SNK Heroines has snuck in hoping to be counted among them. It doesn’t even come close. If anything, it’s a dark vision into a world where fighting games never learned or iterated upon each other.
This is the part where I normally have some caveat, like “I only recommend this game to [insert a very specific set of interests here].”
Try as I might, I just can't do it. I cannot answer the question “who is this for?”
If you’re into fighting games, SNK Heroines removes every mechanic you would normally expect to be present in one. If you’re into specifically King of Fighters, this game removes all the systems and inputs you'd expect to find as a fan. If you just want a fighting game on Switch, there are dozens of better options. And if you’re here for smut, the internet exists. If you’re here for smut of the SNK girls specifically, again -- the internet exists.
There is no reason for anyone on this planet or others to purchase SNK Heroines. Whatever your fix is, you’re better off getting it somewhere else.