Girls Just Want to Have Fun
The latest offering from the studio that brought us the Neo Geo nearly three decades ago, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy is finally upon us. Much like 2000’s Neo Geo Pocket brawler SNK Gals’ Fighters, the game’s roster is entirely made up of leading ladies from SNK’s fighting game properties including King of Fighters stalwarts Mai Shiranui, Kula Diamond, and Leona Heidern, along with Samurai Shodown kunoichi Nokoruru and a gender-bent Terry Bogard, just to name a few.
While both games share the same producer, don’t mistake this for another hardcore fighter in the vein of King of Fighters XIV (read our review here). SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy is a fanservice-filled spin-off that puts a premium on its accessibility. The game eschews the familiar complex button and joystick inputs that have defined SNK’s fighters for decades in favor of a significantly simplified fighting system. Although newcomers may appreciate this change in direction, it will likely leave veteran fighting game fans wanting much more.
A Saccharine Slugfest
SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy may look like your average 2-on-2 fighting game at first glance. However, it makes some pretty bold changes to the formula that gives it its own unique flavor. For example, a fight doesn’t end when an opponent’s health has been depleted. The only way to put them down for the count is to hit them with a Dream Finish. These are flashy attacks that can only be executed by spending a massive chunk of your Spirit Gauge, which functions like the skill gauge found in other SNK fighters.
Still, the Spirit Gauge offers a few other twists, too. Whenever you perform a special move, a bit of your Spirit Gauge is consumed. You can still use as many special attacks as you want, even when your Spirit Gauge is empty. But if you get too crazy lobbing projectiles across the screen and unleashing special attacks all willy-nilly, then there’s a good chance you won’t have enough spirit left to execute a Dream Finish to knock out your opponent. This makes each round a bit of a balancing act because you’re forced to prioritize between stocking up on energy to finish the fight and dishing out your more powerful special attacks to whittle your opponent’s health down.
Thankfully, Spirit recovers on its own over time. Additionally, for every hit you take, the portion of your health bar that’s been drained actually becomes an extension of your spirit meter, which, in turn, allows you to unleash more specials and Dream Finishes.
Another interesting mechanic is the addition of items. Sort of like the random goodies you find scattered around the arena in Smash Bros., items you collect can be utilized by your partner in the background to help title the fight in your favor. These items include bombs that explode on impact, pinballs that ricochet around the screen, boulders that bowl over anyone in their path, just to name a few. In addition to offensive items, you can also collect health and spirit-restoring power-ups as well.
Girls’ Fight Out
While I think SNK deserves credit for trying to shake things up with SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, I can’t say I’m head over heels with the end result. Sure, I can respect the idea to streamline things a bit for newcomers. But rather than simply trimming the fat, the developer has carved things down to the bone, leaving mostly scraps for those craving something more substantial.
For starters, the game pares down the four attack button system found in KoF to just two attack buttons, a throw button, and a button designated specifically for specials. Speaking of specials, every character only has three or four of them that are mapped to a single button and D-pad direction. Even Dream Finishers, the most destructive attacks in the entire game, can be executed with a simple press of a button.
With no need to really memorize moves and only limited combo possibilities thanks to each fighter’s especially lean command lists, it’s really hard to become particularly invested in the on-screen action. Further exacerbating this issue is the addition of items. Used sparingly, they could have added a welcome element of strategy to the game. However, you’re showered in them almost constantly. As a result, fights quickly devolve into pure chaos as explosives and traps rain down almost non-stop throughout each match.
SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy features a handful of modes to choose from. The story mode revolves around the girls waking up in a mysterious mansion. After coming to, they’re tasked with fighting one another for the pleasure of their perverted host. It’s alright the first time through, and the cutscenes are just as ridiculous and racy as you’d expect them to be. It’s just a shame that no matter who you choose, each cutscene pretty much plays out identically save for a couple lines of dialog – right down to the animations of your characters.
Outside of the story mode, you’ll find your typical versus (online and offline), training, and survival modes, with the latter offering the inclusion of cooperative play. Each of these modes earns you money. This cash can then be used to unlock new costumes and over 100 accessories in the customization shop. It’s just a crying shame most of these accessories are so boring. Have you been dying to deck out your gender-bent Terry Bogard with a black rotary phone or flashing siren on her head? How about giving Shermie a nice, sturdy turtle shell to accent those crimson bangs? No? Well, if not, then you’re probably going to be pretty disappointed with what you’ll find here.
Oh, speaking of costumes! While you’d assume a game like SNK Heroines would be ripe with racy outfits, that’s surprisingly not the case. Interestingly enough, almost all of the optional costumes are very tame. Most of them are lifted straight from each character’s stint in the King of Fighters series. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it certainly seems odd that the more over-the-top outfits, like Nokoruru’s incredibly skimpy swimsuit, are accessible straight out the gate.
Beauties And The Beats
While SNK Heroines isn’t the most graphically demanding game out there, it’s hard to knock its presentation. The characters are well-animated and the backgrounds, despite being largely static, are colorful and easy on the eyes. Attacks always result in colorful flourishes of playing cards, teddy bears, and other bits and bobs too, which is a pretty fun effect. Again, nothing groundbreaking, but the presentation is cute and fits the theme of the game like a spandex bodysuit. I also thought the music was top-notch, featuring some familiar SNK themes intermixed with the haunting melodies that accompany the story sequences.
For my review, I played both the Switch and PlayStation 4 versions of the game extensively. And while it pains me to say it, the Switch version leaves a bit to be desired in terms of performance. Whether you’re playing docked or via the system’s handheld mode, the game noticeably chugs and drops frames when the action gets too intense. The Switch version also seems to suffer from longer load times and noticeable jaggies. It’s not unplayable by any means, mind you. Still, considering SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy isn’t exactly a technical showpiece, it’s a shame it struggles to keep up on the Switch.
Despite its share of issues, I can’t help but think there’s a kernel of a solid fighter buried beneath all the bruises. If SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy stuck to the studio’s time-tested formula rather than attempt to reinvent the wheel, I sincerely think the game would have been all the better for it. As it stands, I’m really not sure what type of gamer this is meant to appeal to. It’s much too shallow to hold the interest of hardcore fighting game fans and does precious little to attract new players outside of fleshy fanservice.
If you’re looking for a deep and rewarding fighter, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy isn’t going to scratch that itch. It’s a lighthearted button-masher that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And really, if you’re looking for more than a weekend’s worth of gameplay then you probably shouldn’t either. Still, if you’ve been waiting years to deliver a Buster Wolf to Nokoruru’s noggin as a gender-swapped Terry Bogard, now’s your chance.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed), Switch ; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: SNK ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: September 6, 2018; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on review code given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.