Remember when video games were just fun to play? They don’t all have to be constantly tugging at you to pay into a microtransaction economy to unlock features and more of the fun? It seems like SEGA is wanting you to remember these times as it pulls out older IPs such as Shinobi, Golden Axe and (yes it’s 18 years old now) Jet Set Radio for its new mobile title SEGA Heroes. The fact it’s a free to play mobile game isn’t cause for it being ignored, there are free to play games out there that successfully balance the need to charge real money with gameplay. I’ve sunk many hours into Fire Emblem Heroes, Hearthstone and Dragonball Legends without feeling that I had to pay to play but felt happy to pay for a bit extra just for the hours of gameplay fun I already had. Let’s go into this with an open mind then, this is SEGA after all! How bad can it be?
If you’ve ever played Puzzle Quest or Puzzle and Dragons Z you’ll be in familiar territory. The core puzzle mechanic of playing a simple turn based tile matching system where colours power up attacks for the characters and matching 4 will result in a power gem that when cleared does an extra attack. At its core it’s a simple colour matching puzzle game with an extra RPG element tagged on. You swipe the colours to match, click on portraits to do special attacks and enemies to chose which one to auto-attack. The attacks, damage and enemies stats are all balanced based on levels and power. The power level of each character can be upgraded and this costs coins depending on your player level which also goes up with EXP from battles. Character skills can be upgraded but this costs specific items. If all these systems sound overly complex and reliant on items and energy to play that’s because they do. It’s as if they looked at other Puzzle games and asked, “What if you took those games and stripped out the characters, progression, fun and then charged them for it?”
The visual style for Sega Heroes is interesting. Some will love the slightly deformed, cartoon styling of the characters and the colour matching tiles all do the basics nicely. Others would say that this is simply bejewelled shapes and the occasionally interesting artwork was slapped together in the laziest way imaginable especially for the more popular characters. The animation is very throwback to classic flash animation shorts where the characters would wobble back and forth and throw out occasionally recycled clips of audio. It’s all very functional to the point where the dialogue boxes are very simple text boxes. In a way the games entire design reflects how flat and by the numbers the writing and presentation is.
The feature list is a bit sparse with the game slowly opening up as your player level increases. There are campaign, events and survival modes but they are still the basic gameplay with no variation. This would be a simple kind of fun but of course the more you play, the more energy you use and it recharges over time (it quickly adds up) You can of course refill that energy immediately with gems and gems cost £. This isn’t a problem in the earlier stages and your player level increases (and your energy is refreshed for free) but as you progress more you’ll find yourself hitting difficulty spikes as quickly as zone 4 (there are 30 zones in total) SEGA Heroes does also include an Arena mode but this gives the illusion of a human opponent when you’ll actually be playing an AI who uses that players main team. It’s an interesting change to the core puzzle gameplay trying to interrupt the AI’s special attacks but you can only play 3 of these battles a day (or buy more) and you cannot battle all 3 in a row. You have a cool-down timer after each battle. Even its most interesting gameplay is locked out on a timer and limited by greed.
SEGA Heroes has music but there’s no stand out melody here to get stuck in your mind. The music was so forgetful I ended up turning it off entirely. Not really a good aspect when you think that titles like Angry Birds and Candy Crush still show up on music lists. The voices and attacks are all by the numbers and you’ll soon mute the audio as it seems designed to just be thrown away. It’s absolutely criminal when entering classic nostalgia stages that it doesn’t have any of the recognisable aspects here, even an event stage using Dr Eggman as an enemy just has the generic music used for all battles! The changes in background stages seems to make little to no difference either.
This isn’t taking into account the most greed riddled aspect of the game. You collect characters for your team by getting shards of them via chests, loot from chapters and achievements. These all start at the lowest star tier and the duplicates go towards upgrading them. This sounds on paper like a fun way to collect your favourite dream team but the push towards a shop page that only allows 2 items on it to be bought with the coin currency (that you primarily use to power up characters) and the rest with gems (with are sparse or bought with £) sums it up. Even when you do buy the shards expect to purchase a maximum of 5 at a time, the lowest tier to actually play them is 25 so you’ll need to buy that character 5 more times. Lets not forget to mention that there are chests (aka loot crates) which you can buy and which have artwork and various sales banners in each screen. These are predominantly for favourite characters like Tails and Sonic characters but given that your chance of getting a character you want is 0.4% don’t hold your breath.
The more I played SEGA Heroes the more I started to remember SEGA’s previous mobile titles, How I really wanted to enjoy Sonic Dash and Sonic Runners but both of those games became so marketplace and advertising heavy they eventually buckled and became unplayable nonsense. Sonic Dash was even gutted in its later years and redesigned to be more drastically fun to play and it feels like it would have been a runaway success if it had started that way. SEGA seem to have learnt nothing from these titles and have just bumped out SEGA Heroes to make that money before it gets buried into obscurity. There’s a reason there’s a £99 option on the marketplace and it’s not only dangerous but it’s sad they feel it’s best way to make a game like this profitable. The constant popups that push towards LIMITED TIME ONLY sales is insulting.
We’ve seen free to play models that can work with video games and there’s just no excuse for this kind of mental manipulation anymore. Using nostalgia that have been largely ignored by SEGA over these last years just adds insult to injury. The fact this is free to play and features bright colourful artwork and simple to use buttons also gives a worrying thought that it’s aimed at a younger audience. If this had been released on any other platform they wouldn’t have dared release it in such a hollow state. The main frustration with SEGA Heroes is there was potential for a smash hit here that was gutted and shipped out for corporate greed.
2/10 – From heros to zeros