Square Heroes can be deceptive. The 2D cartoon arena shooter, brought to us by Gnomic Studios, slides under the radar due to its flat aesthetic and cheap price point. In fact, its easy to judge Square Heroes immediately and write it off as another lost PC-to-PSN game.
I beg you not to.
Once you pick up Square Heroes and begin to dive into its endlessly enjoyable gameplay and ridiculous atmosphere, the true nature of Square Heroes becomes apparent: This game is just plain shoot-’em-up fun, unencumbered.
When you first boot up Square Heroes, you’ll be greeted with a main menu screen. This is your home for all of the game’s numerous aspects, including a character customizer. You’ll have the option of changing your little square guy’s color, hat, and weapon (the latter two offer various skill bonuses, which was a pleasant surprise and a nice indicator of depth). As you scroll through the various colors your character can be, the light bar on your PS4 control will scroll along as well, which is a great example of the attention to detail given by the Gnomic Studios team.
Then it’s off to the races. Gameplay consists of smashing the R2 button to swing your melee weapon or shoot your various ranged weapons. Players will choose a “loadout” in the beginning of each match, selecting their three ranged weapons (a pistol, a mid-range weapon, a heavy-hitter, and an item to improve status, such as a medkit). Players begin the match with only their melee weapon available, but weapons from your loadout become available as you collect coins by defeating opponents and the little aliens scattered throughout the arena.
Managing your ammo and health is of the utmost importance, as running dry of bullets when you’re cornered can spell certain defeat. A blue bar above your characters head denotes the amount of ammo you have, and the larger your weapon, the more ammo it costs. Blue-marked boxes and mystery boxes may fill up your ammo, if someone doesn’t get to it first. The same goes for red-marked boxes as well. The limited ammo and health is a great tool for adding additional strategy and desperation to each match.
There are various types of matches as well, such as Deathmatch, Gnome Hunt, Survival, and Kingslayer. Deathmatch and Gnome Hunt also feature team versions, which adds to the strategy required. Deathmatch gives each fighter a certain number of lives and the task of being the last one standing. In Gnome Hunt (my personal favorite), gnome figures appear randomly throughout the map. Hovering over the gnome claims it as yours, and the first fighter to claim the amount set, wins.
The single-player mode lacks real story, but it isn’t particularly missed. You are a square hero, created by a doctor to compete in an arena tournament. Along with the other competitors (who flaunt names such as Scalebait (a warrior flying fish) and Squidrum (a warrior flying squid)), small little aliens dot the arenas. These little guys don’t appreciate being murdered for coins and sport, and they begin an uprising, disrupting the tournament and forcing you and your opponents to work together to survive. That is, until the Alien King comes.
The single-player mode may be the meat and potatoes of Square Heroes, but multiplayer is the dessert. The game is designed to be a party game, whether that means local multiplayer or online. Online multiplayer works between PS4 and PC, helping to keep matches full. Sometimes it is difficult to find many people playing online, but for the most part, you can usually get a game going. All of the game modes from the single-player campaign are available here, along with other additional modifiers, such as setting time limits and the number of lives. Once a game is set, it’s a real kick to rush around whacking each other with wrenches and lollipops.
So how effective are all of these elements together? Surprisingly, very. The simple gameplay is addictive, and the cute aesthetic lends itself well to the absurdity of the premise. I lost hours shouting at the TV and winding my body to try and avoid being hit in a dire moment, and I don’t regret a thing. It’s silly, engaging, and just pure fun. Perhaps Square Heroes is successful in the way most successful games are: It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but rather relies on solid and smooth gameplay to make for one entertaining experience.
One thing that I believe is important to note: While the gameplay is endlessly enjoyable, the game as a whole will probably not remain your go-to for longer than a few days. Matches do get repetitive, and while unlockables and customization do extend the experience, Square Heroes only has so much staying power when it all begins to feel the same. That being said, this game is absolutely one to break out with some friends and a couple of beers for a party.
A round of applause for Gnomic Studios, who has crafted an insanely fun and addictive piece which is a welcome addition to the PS4 lineup. Though the game may not have a lot of staying power, it should survive on your PS4 as a great party game, and while the online community may not be thriving, you can help fix that by picking it up yourself! Square Heroes is quirky and adorable, yet brings a serious approach to gameplay and arena structure.
Chris Penwell’s take on the game
I was able to sneak in a few rounds of Square Heroes as Gnomic Studios provided an extra code to look at. Not for a long time, did I laugh as much as I did with my time playing this game. Logan and I were playing against each other with AI over the online play (which is smooth, might I add). While he was trying to stay quiet, worried about waking up someone in his house, I heard him holding back laughter as we tried to blast each other with rocket launchers. I was also giving him a healthy dose of trash talk.
The maps are designed similarly to a MOBA. Through taking out aliens (minions), you are able to gain coins to get better weapons instead of improving your stats. There is also points in the map, in which you can get health and ammo crates. Both of these aspects make Square Heroes fun to play with friends. Logan was snickling to himself as I was running away from him, trying to desperately get a health crate and then taking me down with a rocket in the back.
The game is super satisfying to play, and while the online community isn’t all that active, this is best played with friends on the couch. Check this game out if you want a good laugh.
Gnomic Studios provided PS4 codes of Square Heroes for the the purpose of this review.