SNK has been in the game for a very long time. Their King of Fighters series is second only to Street Fighter in the legacy of franchises born in the arcades of the early ’90s. One of SNK’s more obscure but fondly remembered titles was called SNK Gals’ Fighters, a 2D fighter in the vein of Pocket Fighter on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, which featured an all-female cast. So when SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy was announced, fans like myself were hopeful that it would be a spiritual successor to Gals’ Fighter, with it being an all-female fighter with a simplified system compared to its big brother, King of Fighters. Unfortunately, SNK Heroines delivers on none of those hopes, instead delivering a sub-par fighter that pleases neither the fighting game hardcore nor the casual audience they are trying to reign in.
SNK Heroines does not have a strong graphical presence, being mostly character models lifted straight from KoF XIV, but the fighting is where the game truly suffers. It also doesn’t help that the screen is being constantly bombarded with obnoxious effects like teddy bears, candy, and flowers to try and accentuate the “cute” theme of the game.
Similar to Blade Strangers, SNK Heroines has a simplified control setup. You have light attacks, strong attacks, throws (and every character has air throws), and special moves. You can chain three light attacks together to perform the only auto combo option available in the game. Special moves are done by pressing the special button combined with up, down, left, or right directions, similar to Super Smash Bros. You also perform your super move, called a Dream Finish, with the press of a single button. Unlike Blade Strangers though, SNK Heroines does not have a robust number of system mechanics to complement the simplified control scheme. Each character’s move lists barely cover the entire menu screen, with some characters having a few follow-up moves to specials being the only differentiating factor.
There are no crouching attacks in SNK Heroines. That means the entirety of a character’s normals is reduced to standing attacks and air attacks–a whopping total of four attacks, possibly more if your character happens to have a different close and far normals. Every character has a wall bounce that can be used by pressing strong attack after dashing. Also, every air strong attack causes a ground bounce. Now, one would think this opens up combo options, but hit stun is extremely high in Heroines. After a successful bounce, you can land one extra light attack, a special, or a Dream Finish.
This being a 2v2 fighter, you also have a tag button to swap out your current fighter. One health bar is shared between both characters, but super meter is tied to each individual character. However, with the aforementioned hit stun, there are no real tag combos. You barely have enough time to eke out one special move when your partner tags in. The whole point of a tag-based fighter is combining each character’s specific skills to create unique combos, but not here in Heroines. Tagging is an afterthought as opposed to a central mechanic.
On top of that blocking is handled with a dedicated block button, which is borderline sacrilege for an SNK fighter. This means that there are no cross-ups or high/low mix-ups. You can’t block in the air, so the entirety of your defense is handled via this one button.
Heroines tries to make up for this by having a varied movement system. All characters have air dashes, ground dashes, and front and backwards rolls. The attempt is to make the game more spacing- and footsies-oriented, but with such a lack of combat options, it boils down to running around with nothing to do once you connect an attack. Also, nearly every move is unsafe on block, so spacing is a frantic game of chicken, being unable to truly commit to any offense.
One of the unique features of Heroines is how you win a match. Unlike in a standard fighting game, you don’t win by lowering your opponent’s health to zero. Instead, once your opponent’s health is brought into the red, you have to land a Dream Finish move to end the match. Essentially, you have to use a Super to finish your opponent off, similar to PlayStation All-Stars. There is a major difference, however. In PlayStation All-Stars, you could not combo into your super move (outside of the Dante glitch). Therefore, you had to use spacing and planning to land your super move.
Being able to combo into a Dream Finish is a moot point when combined with another issue: A Dream Finish does enough damage to lower your opponent’s health to zero once in the red regardless, and once your opponent’s health does reach zero, they enter a dizzy state where they are left completely vulnerable and unable to move. So you end up just walking up to your opponent and performing a Dream Finish anyway. Add to that the drastically reduced health bars compared to most fighters, and the conceit of the Dream Finish just feels like a superfluous extra step to differentiate Heroines from its contemporaries.
Another aspect of Heroines is items. Orbs on the stage can be struck to give your character an item that can be used with the right stick. Some items change properties depending on what direction is used with the right stick. Which item you get is completely random and is supposed to add to the chaos of a match in a Super Smash Bros. sort of way. In reality, they just end up being an extra nuisance on top of the woefully neutered combat system. Items range from giant bowling balls, banana peels, and springs to health and super meter potions.
In the end, every item can be broken down into three types: debuffs, potions, and combo breakers. Items can also be used while you are being hit, so they can interrupt an opponent’s combo if the right item is used. But with such a limited number of combat options to begin with, finally landing a hit to complete your measly 10-hit combo, only to slip on a banana peel, is a very frustrating experience.
With such short health bars and limited combo options, matches can end in literally a minute. But with how the system operates, players are actually discouraged from performing extended combos. Specials and Dream Finishes both share the same super meter. So if you use all of your meter to do extended combos with multiple specials, when you get your opponent into the red, you won’t have enough meter to finish them off. You are then either forced to wait for your meter to recharge, which it will do naturally over time, or completely relinquish your offense to tag in your partner.
Just like its combat system, Heroines‘s other modes also leave much to be desired. There is a Story Mode that boils down to seven fights interspersed with meaningless cut scenes as Kukri from King of Fighters somehow transports all the ladies to an alternate dimension that he is trying to merge with our reality, and everyone is scantily clad for some reason? None of it really matters. You will fight six boneheaded CPU punching bags and then fight an absurdly powerful Kukri at the end, continuing the SNK tradition of stupidly difficult final bosses.
While on the subject, SNK Heroines is a very creepy game. The game is selling itself on its sex appeal, but in the cringiest way possible. The camera ogles the girls in an extremely voyeuristic fashion, which is very uncomfortable. Seeing all these strong, awesome female characters reduced to Barbie dolls made to fawn over is not only disrespecting to the characters, but to the audience as well.
In addition to the story mode are barebones survival, versus, and training modes. They can be fully explored in the matter of an hour. I was able to get one match online, and the netcode works fine enough, but it hardly matters when the combat isn’t very fast, and the combos aren’t extensive.
There is also a customization mode. From here you can use in-game currency, unlocked through normal gameplay, to buy new costumes and accessories. All characters have three costumes available. The customization also leaves a lot to be desired though. Most of the options boil down to accessories from other characters that are just transferred over, and basic options like cat/dog ears, angel/devil wings, etc. You can also unlock illustrations, voice files, and songs in the gallery, but it is all, again, very barebones.
It is unclear who SNK Heroines is made for. It can’t appeal to the hardcore fighting game crowd with its limited combo options and shallow depth. It can’t appeal to hardcore SNK fans with its limited 14 character roster, especially with only one character not being explicitly from the King of Fighters series. (Seriously, there are so many good female SNK characters left by the wayside that would have been at least interesting additions to the cast.) It also can’t appeal to the casual audience because — let’s be honest here — a truly casual crowd won’t know who most of these characters are, and the limited gameplay options won’t keep anyone’s attention span for very long. Most of all though, it certainly doesn’t justify its $49.99 price tag.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.
Kevin has been a fan of fighting games since he first walked up to a Marvel vs. Capcom cabinet at the tender age of 8 at the local arcade. (Kids ask your parents what an “arcade” is) He may not be very good, but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying them.