Has-Been Heroes, the 2017 fantasy Roguelike from Frozenbyte, has some very good art.

Oh my.
Oh lord.
Oh yes!

Has-Been Heroes, to the game’s detriment, also has some terrible art.

Oh no...

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The most egregious involving the game’s main trio, Tam, Metacles and Crux. The loading screens and cutscenes make them look like quite the charming bunch. Past those sections they change from the strong character designs below.

To looking like something not quite as strong.

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This image is taken early in the game from the battle screen. The area with the greatest amount of focus placed on it, and where players will spend most of their time. Not every game has similar graphics to their cutscenes. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus doesn’t always look as amazing as its cutscenes. However, Has-Been Heroes shouldn’t be one of those games. It’s doubtful the out-of-combat art style is more taxing than than the in-combat one. Especially since the in-combat art style is more detailed.

The amount of detail added to the sprites is probably the crux of the issue. The in-combat art style is too detailed, too gritty and too realistic. It doesn’t really fit with the other styles of the game.

Other battle screen sprites don’t look this bad. Vendors, camps, later unlocked characters, the two princesses and backgrounds all have a brighter and more cartoony feel about them that doesn’t mesh with the starting trio and most of the enemy cast.

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Goth Princess speech bubble not shown, but is equally adorable

Whenever Tam speaks a speech bubble appears containing her zoomed in picture highlighting the difference between the two representations and other characters.

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Crux and Metacles’ speech bubbles are also not great.

Metacles’ speech bubble not shown, but is equally not adorable

One version looks like they belong in the world of Has-Been Heroes. The other version looks like an early, low shadows Darkest Dungeon character. Has-Been Heroes just doesn’t have the type of environments to support that style.

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Stumbling blocks from the art direction choices for some characters and enemies remove some luster from what could have been a highlight for the game. Tumbleseed, on the other hand, took a single art style and ran with it.

If you don’t know what Tumbleseed is, well it looks like this.

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It looks like that throughout the entirety of the game.

Every art decision made by the Tumblseed development team is cohesive. While Has-Been Heroes has a schism between some aspects of its art and another.

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I don’t bring up Tumbleseed just as an example of a game that did something well that Has-Been Heroes did poorly. The two games share quite a bit. Reviewers of Has-Been Heroes criticise the game for repetitive gameplay, a lack of reward when failing a run, harsh difficulty spikes and an obtuse tutorial for the new control systems. All of which are true. Some of it opinion. The core gameplay loop is fun to me, for example. According to Tumbleseed developer Greg Wohlwend his game suffered from similar failings.

We released TumbleSeed on May 2nd to the critical consensus that it was ‘too hard.’

Many considered TS unfair and unforgiving.

Percentage of players that...

  • 0.2% Beat the game
  • 0.8% Reached tne (sic) Summit
  • 1.8% Reached the Snow
  • 8.3% Reached the Desert
  • 41% Reached the Jungle

While I wouldn’t expect this distribution to be perfectly linear, the sharp drop off after the Jungle and even in the Forest lines up with what critics and players are saying. ‘I quit after playing the Jungle.’

... that players feel overwhelmed with far too many things to learn at once.

These quotes are from Mr. Wohlwend’s Tumbleseed Postmortem; a blog post where he collects his thoughts about Tumbleseed’s post-launch period. Despite having near one-to-one pressure points for players, Tumbleseed achieved a larger amount of success. SteamSpy marks the number of Steam owners at over twice as many (63,421 to 29,251) for Tumbleseed. Metacritic averages for Tumbleseed are higher than Has-Been Heroes on every platform except for PC where Tumbleseed has only one review. Tumbleseed even landed on Paste Games’ “Best of 2017” List at #30.

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If Has-Been Heroes had a tighter art direction, would review scores be astronomically higher? No. A better art style doesn’t remove criticisms. Look at Tumbleseed. I believe it would be easier to absorb some faults if Has-Been Heroes (or other games) had a more consistent art style. Look at Tumbleseed.

Has-Been Heroes is a game that sells itself on its charm. You play over-the-hill warriors escorting princesses to school! Have you ever wanted to be a tiger that shoots fireballs at zombies? Play as a phD-candidate luchador with lightning punches! Poison a ghost!

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The art style should have been just as enticing as the plot and characters. Some of it even is. The other parts being inconsistent hurts its initial impressions. Possibly hurting how successful the game could be.

I wanted to give a quick bit of information on each game’s response to criticism. Has-Been Heroes and Tumbleseed have both been updated post-review. Tumbleseed’s update was mentioned in the postmortem linked above. The details of which can be found here. Has-Been Heroes also received an expansion on November 10, 2017. Those details are found here. Both updates are free.