2D fighting games aren’t all massive online juggernauts like Dragonball FighterZ. Just as every FPS game isn’t the next Call Of Duty, you’ll still find plenty of amazing quirky titles full of fantastic core gameplay, typically with a ridiculous story and plenty of offline content. We’re seeing a familiar resurgence of unique 2D fighters at the moment in the same way the PS2 did back in the day with games such as Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, Blade Stangers and now SNK HEROINES Tag Team Frenzy (referred to hereafter as SNK Tag because SHTTF is a bit naff).
SNK Tag is unique despite it’s core being a simplified 2vs2 fighter, with one character you start with and a second character you can tag between on the fly. Not only does SNK Tag feature Smash Bros style power up items dropped into the stage but you can’t win a fight by just reducing your opponents health to 0. You have to first reduce the opponents health to a low-level and then land a ‘Dream Finisher’ super move (which requires a sizeable chunk of super). A bell constantly plays when a player is ready to be killed and you can’t change that in the options so get used to being fed up with hearing a bell toll over and over until either a player boosts their health with power ups or the match ends.
This system can be playable thanks to the fact your super meter shares the same space as your life. So the less life you have the more super you have to use. Your tag partner builds super while your main fighter is brawling so this leads itself to some meter management as you progress through the fight. You can also switch a character mid-combo flow but don’t expect Blazblue Cross Tag Battle level mix ups here, tagging uses a chunk of super and any special move tanks the rest. It’s an interesting idea but without a way to escape when trapped in a combo it can become unfair resulting in one touch death moments that only the random items can fix. This game just feels like it could have really benefit from a Burst mechanic.
This isn’t the first time SNK has released a fighting game featuring an all female cast from their other game titles. I know when the trailer launched for SNK Tag I was hoping for a sequel to Gal Fighters and it was mentioned a few times in comments by others. Despite it’s terribly dated title, Gal Fighters was a brilliant Neo Geo Pocket Colour 2D Fighter that held up brilliantly just as the other fighters on the system. All hopes of a sequel to that title were dashed as soon as the Terry character reveal launched and it became apparent this was a very different game. Much less King of Fighters and more King of the Extreme. The more you play of SNK Tag the more it feels like it could have benefited from a look at the past or even a closer look at fantastic KOF XIV as it’s focus on gravure just continues to take away from a fun fighter.
The similarity to a Smash Bros simplicity continues with the controls of SNK Tag. Blocking is assigned to L1 and holding it and a direction rolls the character just like Smash. However because of this system, block cannot be assigned to pushing back on the stick and I can’t stress how difficult this is to adjust to. It’s a challenging muscle memory hurdle to get over for a 2D SNK fighter. The light attack, heavy attack, special attack and throw are assigned by default to the front buttons on the controller. Tag and Dream Finish assigned to R1 and R2. If all of this sounds overly complex it quickly becomes apparent from playing how simplified everything is. To perform a special attack you simply press the special attack button, to do a different one there’s no complex movement of the analogue stick only a direction and a button press. ie no down, down right, right + special, only down + special or left + special. Then it clicks, the Switch uses buttons for a D-Pad. Clever design for that version but it comes off simplistic for the PS4. You’ll find that heavy attacks are just used to clear space and very little else. There doesn’t seem to be many combos that support heavy moves and you’ll almost always be relying on a 3x light to special combo with almost every character and this results in a cast that may look different but largely ends up feeling very similar.
Lets address the elephant in the room (as it’s currently standing in a bikini and trying to pose). SNK Tag’s outfits and design is pure DOA Xtreme volleyball levels of cringe. From the outfits, the story and the design of everything around it. SNK Tag is boobs, butt and as much CGI skin as it could get away with. Most games with this aesthetic run with it in a sort of Senran Kagura kind of way but the most disappointing thing about SNK Tag is that it didn’t have to be this way. Once you start to unlock outfits and alternate costumes you realise your unlocking the original King Of Fighters outfits and a ‘fancy dress’ costume that is a lot more toned down alternate. When you play the game with only the KOF outfits you can see a fairly quirky but good-looking game, the massive particles of nonsense (from cards to love hearts and curry dishes) flying from every attack and none of it ever seems to hamper the frame rate. Then you have to deal with the default outfits again or some artwork unlocked and your back to square one. It just goes back to showing how embarrassing the style for SNK Tag has become.
You have all the usual trappings of a good fighting game; Story, Survival, Vs, Training, Online and Gallery modes. There is also an in-game currency but it feels like it’s a way to justify extended play as you have head, back, arms, legs, backgrounds, voices, outfits, artworks and more to unlock in the customisation mode. Which is good as at the time of writing I struggled to find anyone playing online in either regular matches, room matches or gamble mode worldwide. This could be due to the enclosed nature of the PS4 but it could also be because the Switch version of the game is getting a lot more attention. Which is a shame as the net-code was holding up for the few fights I had remarkably well. The gamble mode is an interesting idea as well, where you can bet some currency before the match on whether you’ll win or not. It’s definitely a niche game but I found myself disappointed that I couldn’t find another player with much skill in tag combos so that I could figure out how to get more from the system.
If you can seriously play a game like GalGun without feeling embarrassed, then hats off to you. Personally I find most of the outfits ridiculous and struggled to get through most of the win screens without rolling my eyes. When you first jump into the customisation mode and see the staggering levels of customisation you twig who this game really is primarily aimed at. There are numerous poses, accessories and setups that encourage you to make a picture that wouldn’t be missing from a H-manga or doujinshi. That being said it cannot be stressed enough, the levels of tinkering that you have to mess around with (and unlock with the currency) is simply staggering. Sadly it just feels like a model viewer was the start for the game and the fighting system was built up around that.
The music is nothing to write home about and to its merit it exists just to back what is an impressive performance from its voice cast. Half of the dialogue is incredibly terrible and yet they deliver it with some impressive gusto. The game is in Japanese but it drops a lot of English words and the subtitles do a good job of translating even if they are frustratingly small. It’s such a shame the script is unfocused. Some tag teams have special lines during their story and yet you have the same lines delivered from the villain in all of these cutscenes regardless. You’ll have to endure the same lines from the villain to get to the new content, with no option to skip and this becomes tedious especially when you realise how short the scenes are.
If you love having a camera in cutscenes zooming in on breasts and characters posing as if they were having pictures taken for FHM then you’re in luck. The game tries to not take itself too seriously and laugh these moments off but for the most part it fails to pull it off (phnar phnar). You get the feeling they were aiming for a “so bad it’s good” balanced approach but the sad fact is that it’s just mostly letchy. It’s disappointing as there are interesting ideas here but you really have to look past a lot of the ‘eeh’ moments to get to them.
There are a few good quality of life touches at work here. For example when you finish Story mode you get both selected characters endings, one after the other which makes grinding to see all of the content much more enjoyable. The endings are nice, stylish and fit in nicely with the characters stories. The story’s final animation is actually crazy enough to be enjoyable and it’s so stupid it’s kind of brilliant. Even the artwork that shows in the background during the credits is lovely. It’s a shame they’re such small redeeming features when between each fight you have a lecherous pointless scene that is far too voyeuristic and the special team artwork is borderlining hentai.
It’s only when you go into survival mode you realise quite how cheap the final boss from the story mode is. Breaking through numerous AI only to be smashed by him. Can we all just agree that having a final boss that feels like it’s cheating by input reading is just against the law now? There were numerous moments where I’d blitz through story or survival mode grinding for currency only to get game-over multiple times in a row at the boss. The currency is dished out quite fairly for the basics, you get 100 coins for each victory but a larger amount from Story and Survival and will have to grind those for all the outfits, accessories and everything else making the boss character that much more frustrating (even if you can lower the difficulty on the pause screen in Story mode)
Your mileage with SNK Tag is going to vary drastically on your personal tastes and how much you can look past the extreme cheesecake fan-service on show. If you’re looking for a fun simple Tag fighter it’s a hard sell, if you’re looking for a customising trophy positioning system with a fairly basic game to unlock more content? You’re in luck. An interesting fighter is ironically lost here in a focus that seems to be struggling to please people who won’t buy a game unless they see flesh. Which is a shame as SNK can do so much better than this and really now, can’t we all just be a bit better than this?
4/10 – SNK Heroines Xtreme
Code supplied by EU Partner Relations at NIS America Inc.
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