Reviewing Hero Academy was a challenge. The game has been a wild success on iPhones and iPads, but designing a game for mobile devices is wildly different than putting one together for the PC market. There’s a different demographic being exposed to the product, and the challenges that come with each format are very different. So, how do I separate Robot Entertainment’s runaway success on the iOS from its recent debut on Steam when it’s the same product? More importantly, were they able to translate it well?
At its core, Hero Academy is an incredibly engaging turn-based strategy title. Two players choose from five teams in search of battlefield dominance. To win the round, you either have to destroy your opponent’s crystals or decimate their team before they have the chance to do the same to you. You’re allotted five action points per round, which must be spent in order to put new units onto the field, give them a quick upgrade, launch an attack or strategically retreat. It may not do anything to reinvent the wheel in terms of strategy games, but everything here works about as well as you could ask for.
One interesting mechanic is an undo feature, giving you the chance to really make the most out of those five moves. If you’re not quite happy with how you left a caster undefended or think that, with a different plan of attack you could cause a bit more damage, you can keep retrying your turn until you officially end it. I’m not a huge fan of this mechanic since I think it’s a bit of a crutch, opening up the game to trial and error as opposed to actually teaching players how to plan ahead to make the most out of a turn; however, that is strictly a personal opinion. You can search for games that have the feature disabled if it really irks you, and it is a nice tool for newcomers.
There are five teams available (for a price), and each one offers a slightly different play style. The Council is your standard all around team, allowing for a balanced attack against your opponent. Conversely, the Dark Elves and the Tribe focus on killing the enemy heroes, while the Dwarves are outstanding when it comes to taking out enemy crystals. Lastly, the Team Fortress 2 team has more hero units than any of its peers, allowing players to make changes on the fly. Thankfully, all of the teams are balanced in a very top notch fashion, meaning that a good player should be able to win by using any one of them.
The big selling point of the Steam version of Hero Academy is the cross platform capability found in the title. I fired up my copy on Steam to play with a friend on his iPad and the simplistic gameplay worked seamlessly between the two.
The factors that made Hero Academy such a brilliant title for mobile gamers are unfortunately what end up holding it back on the PC. With mobile games, it’s not uncommon for players to need to take hours, if not days, to respond to a turn. Although players will normally get back to you within an hour or so, it’s hard to remain interested in a game that has been delayed because someone walked away and you have no way of knowing when they’ll return.
Unfortunately, the elephant in the room is this Steam port’s price point. Hero Academy falls into the trap of wanting to be a free to play game, but has the audacity to charge players an entrance free. The game itself is free on for your iPhone and iPad, but comes with an asking price of $4.99 on Steam. This blow is softened a bit by a few bonuses, including a team based on the characters from Team Fortress 2, as well as some gear based on the wildly popular game, but it’s still a bit disheartening that the PC market was not given a free to play option.
Another questionable area is price that the aforementioned teams are sold for. In the iOS version, teams are available for $1.99 each, while it’s only possible to buy teams through packs on Steam, with each one starting at $4.99. Again, this will come with a few bonuses such as a TF2 hat and some avatars for the game, but it’s an egregious shock to see that big of a price discrepancy.
Hero Academy‘s visuals are extremely bright and colorful, adding an element of pop to the title’s aesthetics. There normally isn’t a whole lot going on at one time, but the world does seem to breathe in its own unique way. However, while its graphics may have looked phenomenal on a portable device, they don’t stand out of the monitor-based crowd.
The audio is extremely simplistic but very rewarding in its own right. There’s a good bit of bass in the explosions giving them a lot of weight, and the satisfying crack that comes with downing a hero never got old.
All in all, Hero Academy is a decent example of the gap between mobile and PC gaming. What is an absolutely stellar portable title is merely a “good” title when you’re sitting behind a keyboard. The wait for your opponent to return fire seems much longer when you’re actually waiting, which is an issue that is unique to this version of the game. Though, with that being said, the core experience is an absolute blast, and I’ll be sure to pick it up once they finish a version for Android phones. However, I can’t imagine myself losing much more time to this one.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us.