One of the great things about sourcing content for these independent gaming pages is that I can follow game development, and the people doing it, over time. I first saw Square Heroes at PAX Australia in 2013 and I recall it as being so immersive, I could momentarily ignore the madness of the indie pavilion, just to get lost in something really fun. Recently, at full release, I got so busy playing the campaign that I forgot to put my kids to bed. This game speaks right to my inner escapist.
Firstly, it’s an arena shooter that is incredibly easy to pick up and play, especially with a controller. It’s also multiplayer, so you can easily share the experience, even with whoever has just dropped around for a cuppa, gamer or not. This is not to say, necessarily, that it is easy to win. Weapons come in a range of hilarious melee implements, including the bone and the rubber chicken, where firearms are a mix of quick, accurate, wonky, ammo-hungry and incredibly powerful. Choose wisely.
At the beginning of each match, you choose your loadout and then unlock these weapons progressively as you collect coins. This makes for tentative initial play which gradually transforms to riskier. You can certainly zoom away from an enemy who is wielding a spanner, but less easily from a grenade launcher. Of course, the potential for blowing yourself up accidentally also increases incrementally. When all your weapons are unlocked, coins then buy health/ammo suitcases you can carry with you.
There are a variety of levels to play in. Each has areas that spawn heal/ammo packs, and a mystery box, which may restore health or ammo, or provide coins. Depending on the challenge, staying near one of these can be a good strategy. If you are simply trying to survive while other players blow each other up, having ready access to health is good. Alternatively, once you have the big guns, staying close to ammunition can allow you to consistently blast anyone who comes too close.
Another gameplay mode is “gnome hunt” where the little fellers pop (fairly) randomly into existence and you claim them by standing close by while a little circle fills. Being vulnerable to attack while you wait, it is helpful to have a precise ranged weapon equipped. Alternatively, if someone else is at the gnome, blast them with something powerful or just rush in and bonk them on the head with a club. Although death has no scoring consequence here, having to respawn is time away from gnome claiming.
Learning to play through the single player campaign is useful, but not really necessary. There is some very light story to this and weirdly adorable creatures to meet and play against/with. The AI is a worthy opponent and ally, gradually playing less forgivingly as the campaign progresses. You get a sense of who the aliens are and some insight into the setting. I’m not sure I’d unreservedly recommend Square Heroes, however, unless you intend to play multiplayer, too.
Luckily, there is a bundle providing three copies for the price of two, so that’s helpful. The (relatively) limited scope to gameplay, combined with emergent strategies used among friends, strangers and foes, makes for really fun times. I have to admit my favourite thing about the game is still what I wrote up from PAX 2013; the evocative facial expressions to your square and its constantly worried manner. It complements the action perfectly.