Kongregate has given us some really interesting titles over the last couple of years, both through their official website and on mobile. Bit Heroes is their first major stab at bringing a social MMORPG to life after a slew of other genre types, and Juppiomenz has done an excellent job producing a workable model for mobile.
As with most Kongregate titles, the game has high standards but a hard pay wall where the game asks players to either put some serious cash down or quit. This isn’t the odd pound here or there for premium currency, this is asking the player to put £5 in for 500 jewels (as a minimum purchase price), which will be gone in the blink of an eye when even the cheapest premium items are 200 jewels or more. Most of the games systems are based around spending this currency too so it can be crushing for those who don’t want to pay to play. Adverts are also around, but optional to view for the most part. If these design choices are not for you then we can skip the review and say without a shadow of a doubt that you don’t want to download this title. If that isn’t too bad, or if you relish the grind to beat the pay wall, then read on.
Graphically, Bit Heroes uses a two dimensional pixel-art style that’s not really trying to emulate any specific visual from past systems, but does have a Sega Mega Drive era feel to it by default (largely when coupled with the games score). It’s a fairly generic fantasy setting, with heroes collecting a variety of loot that customises the player character to an extreme, but monsters do tend to slip onto the predictable side in terms of design. In the first map you’ll be dealing with three locations (Castle, Forest and Crypt) and see exactly the kind of monsters you’ve been conditioned to expect in those environments. Bats, sentient trees, living mushrooms and ghosts abound. Dungeons have excellent chip-sets that piece together into good environments over successive replay, and the layout of the games menus is fairly natural to use, showing off some well thought out choices on the part of Juppiomenz. Ultimately, if you like the ‘bit’ element of the title you’ll enjoy this games graphical choices.
Sound effects are slightly quieter than I’d have expected, with many of them feeling unobtrusive and the game instead putting its weight behind a musical score that’s reminiscent of ‘Secret of Mana’ as played through the abilities of the Mega Drive instead of the SNES. There’s little depth to the music in terms of instruments and recurring themes, but the work here is solid and extremely enjoyable, making for a lively score throughout. Those that choose to play in mute will be missing out on a large part of the experience.
There’s not much of a story on display here, the game tends to be very aware of what it is and isn’t going out of its way to say it’s anything other than a dungeon-run with the focus squarely on levelling and loot collecting over uncovering a massive plot. There are occasional funny dialogues, which can be hit and miss, with the most vague of them being directly before a boss encounter inside a dungeon. These usually focus on your hero and the monster awkwardly exchanging barbs and they fall pretty flat in honesty. This (alongside the monetisation of the product) is its weakest area.
Gameplay then is where the game really gets to shine. After creating the base of your fantasy hero (sex, hair colour and style) you’re thrust out into the world with one mission – to conquer each of the worlds’ randomly generated dungeons in linear fashion, unlocking loot and levelling as you go. Loot dictates class in this game, and players may start with a plan of what they want to be, but the second a significant stat bonus on a magical staff appears you’ll be dropping that warrior plan and getting your spell on asap. Levelling boosts one of three stats, from which you can choose. Speed, dictating more turns and subsequently letting you better control the battle. Strength, dealing more damage when you attack, and Health to give you more staying power. You can manually explore dungeons by clicking with a finger to move to that spot, with battles triggering when you’re within a set distance of an enemy automatically. Tapping loot grabs it as soon as your character is on top of that spot, and some items will ask if you want to fiddle with them or not. An automatic option IS unlocked after a couple of levels, but it does rob a lot of the fun and ‘game’ out of the title when used. Combat is turn based, with speed dictating turn order and how many actions you get a round. Each item you equip as a weapon will have a number of moves, with some requiring that you build up a temporary gauge to power them through the use of free attacks. You’ll be accompanied on this quest by a series of monsters you’ve recruited in dungeons. There’s a chance that after each battle a monster will hang around to be bribed into service for gold, which has a low chance of success, or through the spending of jewels for a higher chance. Monsters don’t level so you’ll want to swap them out for better ones as you progress, and this plays heavily into your ability to get on in the game. After a series of basic dungeon romps a location will unlock that you will be able to return to multiple times to unlock rankings of up to three stars (easy, medium and hard) and on these occasions the games social aspects come into play. Rather than bringing monsters into these zones you can recruit other players and take on the dungeon with them at your side. It’s still a single player experience, but they’re there to help you. In this it’s more Social RPG than MMO, but the game does have an extensive community and chat focus alongside an easy friend option by tapping on anyone you see in the hub world. It’s a good system overall, with the hub providing crafting opportunities and the in game stores offering lots of items to alter your appearance, etc.
Sadly it’s hard to really recommend Bit Heroes. It does have a good gameplay mechanic and dungeon exploration system with a pleasing retro inspired style, but there’s more to take into account. The pay wall is pretty harsh, especially past the first map where the games enemies get super tough in comparison to the previous area and monsters have an extremely low chance of joining your party. Constant reminders you could be buying items for real cash doesn’t help either, and ultimately the fun of the game pales past the first few hours of play where it becomes an option to pay up or leave.