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[Review] SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

Posted on September 8, 2018 by (@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch

System: Switch
Release date: September 7, 2018
Developer: SNK
Publisher: NIS America

SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy takes the powerful female stars of the King of Fighters franchise and gives them a game all to themselves, bringing together an illustrious cast of fan favorites while retaining smooth and flashy gameplay. Although familiar in its presentation and charismatic roster of fighters, the game is a little different from its mainline King of Fighters counterparts by making it extremely accessible to newcomers or casual players of the genre, while also being a fun pick-me-up for seasoned players. Accessibility comes with sacrifice, however, making just about every character’s move-set slim and uneventful, with most of the roster feeling similar in their fighting styles.

Right off the bat, SNK Heroines invites you with a catchy theme song and clean menu system that’s straightforward and pretty to look at. It has your essentials like Story Mode, Battle, and Online, with plenty of customization and unlockables without being too overbearing with myriad submenus within each. Shortcuts are automatically assigned for each mode as well, making it easy to access other modes through the main menu with the click of a button (hitting ZR would take you to the Gallery regardless of where you are, for example). It makes for choosing modes quick, easy, and much more intuitive for jumping into the fight with as little delay as possible.

Once you’ve chosen a specified mode, 14 out of the 15 characters are already unlocked, and are presented in a clean UI where the roster is in a heart shaped container with icons for each. A huge graphic is accompanied with the selection of a character on both sides of the screen, and give players the option to customize their outfits and colors once selected. At first, only the basic look of each character will be made playable with choice only in color swapping, but with each fight, regardless of mode, you’ll be given in-game currency to spend on unlocking each additional outfit and the plethora of accessories that follow.

I was surprised by this as mode skins in games – especially fighting titles – are typically preset and don’t allow for much customization beyond that. However, SNK Heroines allows you to change and equip accessories for just about every part of the body – hips, wrists, head, face, neck, legs, ankles, shoulders, etc. – and are purely cosmetic, giving no tactical advantage in battle, which I found really nice cause I could dress up my favorite characters in any way that I’d like without having to worry about stats.

If you’ve made an outfit you really like, either from scratch or modified a preset outfit, you can save what you’ve created as a custom outfit as well, of which up to three can be saved. All unlockables in SNK Heroines are reasonably priced as well, so it never really feels like a grind to get what you want, and instead is the perfect balance of having to just do a few quick fights before you inevitably get what you want.

Fights are reasonably quick in SNK Heroines, but last just long enough to feel the fun to be had without things becoming too strenuous and bringing up thought of “please just end already.” Whatever mode you’re in, players will have to choose two characters, an Attacker and a Supporter, for their 2v2 matchups. There’s not much difference between the two other than the fact that Supporters gain their Spirit Gauge quicker – the sparkly gauge right next to a player’s health bar that’s consumed every time a special or finish move is initiated – and that some items that can be attained on various stages or achieving certain conditions that are specifically for the Supporter characters. With them having little difference outside of items that are more annoying than they are useful, coupled with the fact that characters already have very little that make them stand apart from each other, I found it’s best to simply look at it as a basic 2v2 fighter, with the only real strategy being to frequently switch between your Attacker and Supporter characters just so you can quickly regain your Spirit Gauge to deal harder blows to the opponent. There’s no difference in damage output otherwise, and is only affected by having a lack of Spirit; Specials can still be done, but at a much lesser ferocity.

Fights being quick also unfortunately have an effect on the Story portion of SNK Heroines – if you can even call it that. Story Mode has you pick whichever two characters you like, and it’s actually rather impressive how any combination of characters all have interactions which each other, fully voiced, and acknowledge each other’s lore and strengths and weaknesses. No matter you who you choose to team up, they’ll have some sort of connection and history that they’ll make mention of, but this is basically where it ends in terms of depth or longevity.

The heroines of the King of Fighters tournament shortly after XIV find themselves captive in another dimension and wake up to confusion, and have to fight their way out. That’s basically the gist of it. There’s an “antagonist” – and I put that in quotations since I found him rather humorous and likeable, however creepy – who basically wants to take all of the beautiful women in the world and have them for himself, so he’s trapped them all. Each “cutscene” between each fight lasts all of five seconds, with the longest one being about 20 seconds or so until you beat the boss and that one is around 45 seconds.

Story Mode is essentially a glorified Arcade Mode with some nonsensical narrative thrown in between, and the entire thing, regardless of your team, can be beaten in around 15-30 minutes; this includes the cutscenes, load times, and everything else, and there are only seven battles overall, which includes the boss. The story is essentially the same save for character interactions in the beginning and end of the mode, so you’ll have to basically play and watch the same thing over and over again. If you want to unlock everything, you’ll have no choice but to do this repeatedly since certain graphics, voices, and sound files can only be attained this way. The nice thing, however, is that once you do this enough times and accrue enough coins, you can actually just go ahead and unlock them by buying them so you don’t have to put yourself through that loop. They’re the only things in the game that do cost somewhat of a pretty penny, though.

The biggest drawback of SNK Heroines, despite all the fun, laughs, and joy I’ve had with it, is unfortunately its performance. SNK had previously stated that they wanted parity between both the Switch and PS4 versions, which I highly appreciate, but I don’t mind having to cut corners to get the best possible performance since fighting games are one of the few genres out there that should be mandatory 60 frames per second (or higher) at all times. It would vary from fight to fight, but more often than not frames would either be at 30 or 60 FPS – nothing in between. It’s light and day when this happens, and I’d argue you’ll mostly be playing at 30 FPS.

The instability would give me a headache and caused fights to feel sluggish, and actually cost me a few when they occurred at inopportune moments (not that there’s ever a good time for frames dropping). SNK Heroines is a really pretty game for what it is, and not just because of its beautiful cast of strong women, but it’s not pushing the technical limit of what Switch can do and what other fighting games have achieved by comparison, so the unfortunate occurrence of sluggish performance hurts to see on an otherwise good game. Even with the game being as accessible as it is, button input is still important, and having that done in what feels like slow motion can be a nuisance.

Also to note is that SNK Heroines more or less feels really good to play on TV mode and with a Switch wired or Pro controller, but as with other fighting games I’ve played on Switch, the Joy-Con’s lack of a proper d-pad still destroys any comfort in playing in handheld mode, even if SNK Heroines’ moveset isn’t anywhere near as elaborate as most traditional 2D fighters. Once HORI’s Joy-Con come out, though, I think we’re in for a real treat, and it’ll be made a lot more feasible.

The Verdict

SNK Heroines is one of the most accessible fighters I’ve played in recent memory and has a great cast with tons of unlockables and modes with fun to be had, but its performance, thoughtless story, and barebones move-set undoubtedly hinders the overall experience and keeps it from being a true must-have for fighting game enthusiasts. However, for King of Fighters fans or perhaps those who aren’t fluent in the genre, there’s still a lot to enjoy here for some casual fun. A charismatic cast of characters keeps me coming back, even though I can only play for a brief period of time before I’m left bored and wanting more.

SNK Heroines review copy provided by NIS America for the purposes of this review.

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