First impressions can really come back to bite you on the back-side. That is what I have learnt from playing Hero Academy. What initially seemed to be, what I can only describe, as Final Fantasy Tactics light, soon revealed itself to require an equal level of planning to succeed. Hero Academy is much more akin to a game of chess with some tactical RPG elements thrown in to make it feel very fresh, challenging and very rewarding. It’s also much faster paced than chess or Final Fantasy Tactics, and for that reason alone I think it will appeal to a much wider audience. Its not all roses though, Hero Academy has dropped the ball in a few areas that will hurt it in the long run.
There are two modes in Hero Academy: Online, which is the main draw, and Challenge mode, which is a singleplayer component. The premise is very similar for both. You play on a five by nine grid with the primary objectives of either eliminate the opposing team or destroy their crystal. The crystal adds a dose of Tower Defense to the mix and is great because it really makes you think twice about just rushing into attack.
Each turn grants you five actions you can make. Now this may sound generous but when nearly everything counting as an action you soon run out action points. Moving, attacking, buffing, and healing all take one action point away.
There is no story mode to speak of in Hero Academy, its primary focus is playing online against other, real people. It’s very quick and easy to get into a game, however, it doesn’t appear to try and match you with people at your skill level, its just finds anyone that is available which can be rather humbling for a first time player. Yes I got my arse kicked pretty swiftly! This mode is a lot of fun though, once you get to grips with it, but one major drawback is you can be waiting a long time for your opponent to make a move so make sure you have a few games on the go. To add further insult to this there’s even a Steam achievement for making your opponent wait an entire day before returning your move.
It’s a real shame that the only way to really learn how to play Hero Academy is to go online and learn from your mistakes. Yes, there is a fairly good tutorial which teaches you about how the different races vary from each other and how to use each of the classes within them, but it would still have been nice to be able to play this mode against an AI opponent.
Now challenge mode is quite possibly my favourite part of this game. I also highly recommend you come here after you have finished the tutorial as it will teach you much more about what each race is capable of. Challenge mode essentially looks the same and plays the same as online with one major difference that changes it from a strategy game to a puzzle game. You have one turn to reach your objective. You have five action points to your move - like you do in online mod – the difference is you don’t have to think of possible outcomes a few moves ahead. It is all about using what is given to you to eliminate the enemy within one turn. This is why I say this mode more resembles a puzzle game than a strategy game. The downside to that is there are only 35 challenges split across five different races, and it doesn;t take long to clear them all, giving you little reason to return. Once you crack a puzzle it’s never as fun doing the same one again.
All of the races can be used in challenge mode but if you only have the basic game you can only take two of them online, the rest come at a price. The two available are The Council and Team Fortress 2.
The cell shaded art style suits Hero Academy very well. The sprites are well designed and animate really smoothly. I especially love the little victory dance they do after winning a game. The music isn’t particularly memorable, it’s kind of just there. It won’t offend your ears but nor will you be humming it to yourself hours after playing it.
Overall Hero Academy is a game that I fear relies far too heavily on a strong user base. There just isn’t enough single player content here. The challenge mode is fun but lacks the replay value that the online portion of the game offers.Hero Academy is begging for an offline mode that you can play against the AI. What is here is fun for a while but I can’t see people sticking around for long especially with all the great AAA titles round the corner. It’s a real shame; this could have been so much more.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Platform: PC/ iOS Release Date: 16/09/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Hero Academy by the promoter for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.