You know kids, being a JGR reviewer isn’t all giggles. I mean it’s true, you get to review games and make sarcastic, biting comments about them, and then people will come along, read your stuff, and laugh with you. But we here at JGR also do retro gamers a big fat favor sometimes, almost like community service. Those are the times when it’s not so fun to review games – times when you have to hold your breath and dive right in to the toxic sinkhole that makes up a large majority of released games. And somewhere, in the middle of that sinkhole, atop a throne of pain, sits Heroes of the Lance, surveying its kingdom as one of the worst games ever made.
Sometimes you just know you’re not going to like a game. For me, this occurred five seconds into Heroes. After the title screen, you’re shown pictures of each heroic character in the game. I assumed this was a character select screen, so I merrily pushed buttons trying to change my heroic characters. Instead, this is a showcase of all the heroic members of your party, and you have to sit through about a minute-long show as this gallery of heroic heroes is paraded in front of you. Then, without so much as a hint of storyline or a taste of plot, you’re thrown into a dungeon with the assorted heroic eight.
Now I’m not going to pretend to know anything about Dungeons & Dragons, because I don’t. I’m also not someone who plays D&D all the time, but is too cool to admit it. I really only know two things about D&D – it involves some dungeons, and often, a few dragons. So I am certainly not the most qualified person to speak about a video game based on the universe, and that’s fine by me. I suspect even if you’ve been known to spend your free time role-playing your alter-ego, Elduhondo the White Dwarf, you still wouldn’t like this game. You’re the only one that should stick around though, because as for the rest of you, if you don’t like D&D to begin with, you can leave now, it’s cool. This game won’t win any converts.
Oh, where to begin with the problems of this game? Well, for starters, pick yourself up a manual or forget it. The game never really tells you the differences between your heroic party members or the heroic purposes they serve, though I suppose you can glean at least a marginal idea from their weapons and stat bars. Each heroic character is relatively unique, however. You have your offensive magic user, your healing magic user, your brawler, your archer, your trap-finder, and then a bunch of guys who just fight. If one of them dies, their items can be picked up by specific other heroic members of the group, and used at a lowered effectiveness. For example, if your heroic healer dies, a few of the remaining heroic characters are able to pick up her heroic magic wand and cast a mere few heroic spells out of the ten or so she’s able to cast. Therefore, it is wise to keep important heroic characters protected, and in order to know which heroic characters are important, you need that manual.
The story of this game, and I use that loosely, and the heroic characters are presumably based off of either the pen and paper game or the books, so fans will likely find neat-o links to the D&D universe. Whatever. The fact is, I suspect that the characters and the treasure at the end of the quest – the disks of Miskalalawhakadoobiewhatsit (the real name is in the manual, but this is close enough, and not like they put effort into naming things in this game anyway), are the parts from D&D land. The actual gameplay is just knockoff nonsense the developers created, at least I hope so, because if a real game of D&D plays like this, then remind me to keep a heroic screwdriver handy so that I can heroically shove it through my heroic eye if I’m ever forced to play such a game.
The quest is absolutely boring, and consists of nothing more than side-scrolling though a dungeon, fighting randomly appearing monsters, until you reach the end of the game. Your characters aren’t designed to do anything besides fight, with exploration as a sort of byproduct of looking for more monsters to slay. So it’s interesting that the combat the entire game is based upon, is absolutely horrible. Every character is equipped with a sword that extends about two inches in front of them, and the ability to slash high or low. Depending on the height of the enemy you are facing, you must choose the appropriate attack. That’s as deep as the combat gets. Once you’ve properly sized up your foe, it’s time to press the attack button over and over and over again until the enemy in question perishes, stopping only to pause the game and heal yourself when your life bar gets dangerously low.
That’s it. You can’t block or avoid attacks, except for the ability to duck under a few magic spells. Your cast also has magic, and Keisterhammocks and Gingersnaps Tammerlacky, your heroic archer Elves, have arrows that can be shot from a distance. Yet both the magic and the arrows have non-refillable limits for the whole game. What you have at the beginning of the game, is more or less what you have for the rest of the game.
This means you’ll be spending a lot of time mindlessly smacking that sword button, and healing ’til you can’t heal no more. To add some fresh salt to an already deep wound, this superb fighting action will take place in some of the most boring environments ever. I understand this is supposed to be a dungeon, and that dungeons were built before Trading Spaces came on the air, but when every single room looks like the first room you enter, you’ve got some problems.
Also, it’s good that the combat only requires you to judge the size of your enemy, not the type, because that would be pretty impossible. Every enemy looks like a shambling collection of pixels, bearing down upon your multicolored collection of pixels, with different colors for different party members. They could really have scrapped the Heroes of the Lance title, considering that these fellows barely qualify as “heroes” and there appears to be no “lance” at all, and re-titled it: “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons – What the Hell am I Looking at On the Screen?”
Kids, even if you loves you some D&D, there are much better games out there. MUCH better. When your characters look like squares, against the same stone background… forever, while the same six notes of music play, as they fight other squares through a press-B-until-someone-falls drunken swordfight, until they eventually stumble their way upon the lair of the final boss, you know it’s time to move on to greener, more heroic, lands.
8 characters do have different abilities, and are taken from the D&D universe.
The developers can take the lance and shove it up their collective, heroic ass.