A delightful, light-hearted piece of entertainment.
I’m going to start this review with a statement about myself: I do not play mobile phone games. I have tried to, but I never found the platform fascinating as a gaming device, even with all the celebrated releases. The fact is I simply don’t like the idea of being forced to use handicapped controls that deteriorate the overall experience. With that said, then, I am happy to see that some of the developers of these top iOS games are bringing their titles to the PC through digital distribution. One such title is Hero Academy, created by the folks at Robot Entertainment who also made the addictive and fun Orcs Must Die! series. As a fan of their past games, I was happy to put on my medieval armour and take a look at the PC version of the game.
Hero Academy is an asynchronous game with the gameplay of a strategy RPG blended with the randomness of card games like Magic: The Gathering. Players pick a team and are placed against another human opponent on a randomly generated level. The random generation is limited to where crystals and buffs appear on the map, not the actual size of map or the amount of grids on it. The terrain can throw in obstacles and switches, so anyone who happens to be standing on a set of tracks as a train is sent in will be instantly killed. Crystals act as the heart of the team; if those are destroyed or the team has no more units left, then the game is over.
At the start of a match, each player has 28 items in their door (think of that as a card deck) with a maximum of six allowed in the player’s “hand” at one time. These can be units or items that buff units to give them an advantage. Every team has their own unique units and power-ups, so it is advised to check out the detailed information about each team as the tutorial only covers the very basic gameplay mechanics. On a player’s turn they are given five action points to spend, which can be anything from placing down and moving a unit on the grid, using an item, attacking, or swapping an item for another randomly selected one from the “deck.”
Picking a team is important because it affects how you should play. The Council is the jack-of-all-trades team that is perfect for newcomers, while The Dwarves are great for destroying crystals and attacking multiple squares. The new Team Fortress 2 team is extremely versatile and can adapt to situations depending on the units placed on the battlefield. The only time you are going to be able to experiment with a team is through the single-player challenges. The problem is that it requires you to know what the team is capable off to be able to beat them, so you’d best get reading that help section if you want to finish all 35 challenges.
It must be noted that because Hero Academy is an asynchronous game you will never be playing anyone in real-time. This is both great and bad at the same time. On the good side, it means you can have multiple games going at once, giving a chance to play against a wide range of opponents picked at random or from friends. On the downside, it means you are waiting for the opponent to make their move. I found that to be annoying because this can range from people taking a couple of minutes to an hour or two, or simply forgetting to play. The game does allow you to keep making more matches, but having too many can be too much to keep focused on. It is best to leave Hero Academy running while you are occupied with something else (I had it open as I was doing this review). I do wish Robot Entertainment added in a real-time function on the PC version, eliminating the need to wait if you just want to play right away. There are no single-player bot matches or campaigns (challenges are not matches, but puzzles of sorts) included in Hero Academy, so a match has to be played against another human.
Advantages do come with the asynchronous gameplay, such as the smartly implemented rewind ability that allows you to replay your turn. A turn is not sent to the opponent until confirmed, so if you have poorly used the five action points you can simply press the rewind wheel on the action counter and it will reset everything. I cannot get across enough how helpful this was to me, especially when I first started and was not sure how every unit worked. It leaves room for errors without punishing players, and since this has come from the iOS market, I can see how this would help motivate casual players to keep playing because they can simply rewind until they do something good.
Another cool feature is the cross-platform play with iOS players, increasing the amount of people that have access to playing the game. If you already have it on iOS and have bought it on PC, you will be able to use the Team Fortress 2 team in the iOS version as well.
To be honest, there is not much difference between the Steam release and the iOS game, and it is obvious through the window mode display and lack of resolution options that this is a port.Hero Academy does not run perfect either, with stuttering happening with animations that makes it skip and show the end result without playing them. It isn’t game breaking, but it affects the overall presentation. The iOS title was priced differently, with a free version that gave you access to one team – The Council – while players would have to purchase additional teams. On Steam, the initial game is £3.99, which grants you The Council and the special Team Fortress 2 teams, while the other three can be bought for £3.99 each. It’s a shame that there isn’t a free version, but I am guessing that getting the characters from Team Fortress 2 required them to charge for the game.
Hero Academy is a fun title with some good ideas that fit to a casual mindset but also allow more serious gamers to enjoy as well. My main problem has to do with waiting for moves, and the fact that I can’t play against bots while waiting for turns to finish. Also, I hope they fix some of the small bugs in place to polish off the product. That said, even for £3.99 you still get plenty of enjoyment and two teams that play very differently. If you don’t mind having multiple games on the go and waiting for turns to happen, then give Hero Academy a shot because it is a delightful, light-hearted piece of entertainment.