The night that Arena Of Valor launched on the Switch my wife came into my game room and asked what I was playing. "Oh this is a new free game... it's kind of like Heroes Of The Storm," I told her. She replied, "Okay... see you in six months then."
It would be impossible for me to talk about Arena Of Valor without talking about Heroes Of The Storm. They have a lot more in common than their awfully generic titles. You see Heroes Of The Storm was the first - and until now - only MOBA that I've ever been able to enjoy. And I feel like a big part of that is the ease of use. Yes, it's a MOBA - but I think it's one made for people who aren't really into MOBAs. Call it babby's first MOBA if you wish, but there is obviously a demographic of gamers who can enjoy MOBAs where matches can be played in twenty minutes; and that have mechanisms in place to make easing into the genre a lot less painful than the big names like Dota 2 or League Of Legends.
Having basically bailed on PC gaming in the past couple of years now, I've longed to see Heroes Of The Storm brought to consoles. Certainly Blizzard showed us what they could do with the console versions of Diablo III. That was game that seemed like it should never work on console, and yet it turns out that it's even BETTER when you use a controller! But I admit, even I was a bit suspicious about how well a controller could handle a MOBA - wishful thinking aside. And yet now I can assure you that Tencent has shown us that it's totally possible.
Outside of gameplay, I realize (and appreciate) the concerns that newcomers may have to this game. Yes, it's a game that first materialized on mobile phones. Yes, it's free to play and there's lots of things in-game to spend money on. But let me address these two items: First of all, Tencent did NOT take the easy road of merely just running an Android apk on the Switch. This new version of the game was clearly recreated with love and care to be a whole new CONSOLE experience. It looks great and it plays great. (It's also missing the DC licensed characters of the phone version if that matters to you. Though, I must say that they probably feeling jarring when juxtaposed against the fantasy themed characters and world).
As far as monetization goes, I guess that's up to you. I've personally never had an issue with playing these kinds of F2P games truly "free." I don't mind starting with a paltry cast of available characters and slowly unlocking new ones with in-game currency that I've earned. And after I month I've already unlocked more heroes than I've actually had time to use them all.
And I've been playing A LOT. Since the game launched last month it's pretty much become my "few rounds before bed" game. I'm currently sitting at level 18 and have started messing more with the Arcana system to buff my heroes. Even after all this time, I recognize that I'm fairly noob-ish but I'm having a good time. In a way, it reminds me of those early months of playing Heroes Of The Storm - learning new heroes, and getting my head wrapped around strategy and everything else. As such, I haven't even CONSIDERED playing any ranked matches yet. I know that I need to punch my own weight.
I love how even the perceived 'lost cause' matches can end in an upset. These crazy turns of event will be familiar to those who have played Heroes Of The Storm no doubt. Which is why when I see an overzealous and preemptively salty teammate suggest we just surrender a mere seven minutes into a game, I roll my eyes and don't even acknowledge the request. Arena Of Valor requires that your team always be doing SOMETHING constructive. So while an opposing team might be way ahead of you on kills, they may be forgetting to jungle; they may be ignoring an entire lane; they may be getting cocky and ignoring the fact that your tiny grunts are slowly chipping away at their defenses. It's awesome and exciting to see how quickly a tide can change. Better yet, it provides an easy lesson that you should never give up.
Right now my favorite hero is Krixi (the pixie...) who is one of the Mages in the game. She has some nice powerful attack and control spells that are projectiles so she can play pretty ranged. And I prefer to augment her with the Heal talent which has a short range but can still help teammates in a bind. After Krixi I tend to use Violet and Butterfly a lot. Violet is Marksman - basically a ranged attacker/flank who hits pretty damn hard. When using the speed-up talent she can be transitioned a bit from those who may have played Tracer a lot in Heroes Of The Storm. Butterfly on the other hand is just a straight up Warrior - one who reminds considerably of The Bride from Kill Bill (especially given her possible Oneechanbara-looking skin). I mean I haven't even touched a Tank yet. There's still so much for me to learn!
But that's always been the appeal of games like this for me. Just like Overwatch or Paladins or any of the other competitive games I've gotten into over the years. It's never really about getting good - it's about having fun. And if I improve in the process, then even better.
For some reason I was really optimistic about SNK Heroines. You might look at a game like this and wonder why. But I was. Part of it was just that hey - there's a new SNK fighting game coming out on the Switch! That's pretty rad, right? But the more important thing was that a new SNK fighting game made up entirely of a roster of the women of SNK was basically a long awaited sequel to the Gals Fighter on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. That sounded fantastic. I kind of had to support the release of this game. Oh sure it looked campy and fan-service, but... Gals Fighter 2!
Here's the thing, though. Gals Fighter was a far more robust fighting game than SNK Heroines. At least that's how I feel right now after my initial time spent with the new game. Gals Fighter was on a tiny screen that you had to hold in just the right light to even be able to see. It was on a handheld with only two buttons. And it felt way deeper than this.
There are a lot of things I don't like about SNK Heroines. The small roster I can deal with. I mean I'd love to see more fighters, but I can deal. The simplified fighting system is good... and bad. Okay so basically the entirety of the fighting is two buttons here (a throwback to Gals Fighter?) and the direction that you push while hitting those two buttons determines special moves. I guess that's sort of like Smash Bros, right? Some might call this overly casual, but I think it's kind of cool and inviting. My problem is that pushing Back does not block, and while you can crouch there are no low (versus high) attacks. It's either a hit or not. So you lose all the strategy of mixing up high and low attacks. Shallow!
Then there's the issue of the tag team system. Again, it feels like a wasted opportunity. See, both fighters share a lifebar. This might be part of why matches end in seconds. Seriously, the loading screens between matches tend to be longer than the matches themselves. Anyway, the second fighter is like a support that can toss you items, ugh. My real issue is that you don't win by getting your opponent's lifebar down to zero - you win by getting it low and then landing a finishing blow. It seems like an unnecessary - and stupid - requirement. Do you know how many times I got the last boss' health down to zero in story mode only to see him dodge the finishing blow several times and whittle me down? I hate it.
People are going to dislike the cheesecake here, and I get that. Though I do think that the sleeze here is done in a tongue-in-cheek way. I mean, they go out of their way in the story to make the dude who put them in these costumes look like a creep. And watching him watch them on little TV's makes the point that maybe the player is the creep afterall. It's sort of fourth-wall breaking voyeurism that's a little campy and a little pointed at the same time. And luckily you can unlock some less revealing outfits.
Having said all this, I'll hang on to my copy of SNK Heroines for a couple of reasons. First off, I have the feeling that future patches will bring new characters and possibly we'll see some changes for the better. I'll give SNK a chance to make this game better. But also because I feel like the simplified fighting system could at least be fun to my wife whose past fighter experience has been Dead Or Alive or nothing - she never did care to learn those button combos in things like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. So there's some promise here. Then again, maybe Blade Strangers would have been the better purchase.