Rest assured, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy knows exactly what kind of game it is. Which is handy considering it’s being released in 2018, where any sort of game with this much of onus on unrealistic cup sizes and objectification is likely to have the social media mobs banging at the door, pitchforks in hand. Thankfully, it’s a game that’s constantly laughing at itself, with its roster of female characters from across SNK’s vast library often remarking at how stupid their oversized chests look and that their current outing must be the work of a serious creep.
By the same token, SNK isn’t presenting this is as the next, impenetrably complex fighter ready to enter your fighting rotation, either. This isn’t a core BlazBlue, Street Fighter or even a Tekken Tag. It’s one of the most arcade-style fighters we’ve ever played away from the bulky presence of a cabinet, offering a bright and vibrant experience that will instantly empower new players with just - and we mean just - enough tactical depth to potentially persuade more experienced warriors to give it their time. Fans of Gal Fighters on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, rejoice.
And what other game are you going to play that lets you battle some of the most memorable femme fatales from the likes of The King of Fighters, the Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury and even some super-obscure titles, such as Dragon Gal. Of course, these ladies look and play like caricatures of their purer selves but there’s bizarre fun to be had seeing them reinterpreted in a silly (if a little too over-sexualised) isolation. Oh, and you’ve definitely never seen Terry Bogard quite like this.
Following on from the release of BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle and Blade Strangers, SNK Heroines marks the next entry in a new wave of ‘simplistic’ fighting games that strip back the core necessity for elaborate combos with long-winded inputs reminiscent of Mortal Kombat’s arcade glory days. In that regard, they’re perfectly suited to the Nintendo Switch and its Joy-Cons, ensuring you’re not necessarily penalised for failing to own an arcade fight stick. So if you’re new to the genre in general, this 3D fighter offers all the accessibility you could possibly want or need, bar actually doing the fighting for you.
With two main attacks - ‘Y’ for a weak attack and ‘X’ for a strong one - you’ve got a basic array of moves. You can perform throws with ‘B’ while ‘A’ enables you to pull off character-specific Special Moves. These drain your colourful Spirit Gauge, but they’re a great way of causing serious damage with minimal fuss. It’s all very basic and clearly designed with empowering less confident players with a far more easily accessible arsenal, but there’s a little more to it than simple kicks and punches.
You can dash in the air to take out an opponent mid-move, evade an attack by passing right past your opponent to the other side of them (perfect for starting a counter-attack), cancel throws and even cancel tags. It’s not got the mechanical depth of BlazBlue or Dead or Alive when it comes to the nuance of its move-sets, but there are enough tools here to make the back-and-forth matches an intense affair - especially when you consider how different SNK Heroines is to its competitors.
At first glance, it looks just like a regular 3D fighter in the vein of the Dead or Alive series, but in practice, you’re getting a modern brawler that’s as much about resource management and tactical item use than simply depleting your opponent’s HP bar to gain victory. Sure, you’ll enter each fight with a duo (one fighter as the Attacker and the other as a Supporter, with the ability to change between them by pressing ‘ZR’), but SNK Heroines sets itself apart from other tag-team fighters in the genre with three very different systems - the Spirit Gauge, Dream Finishers and Items.
Each of your chosen fighters starts the fight with a separate Spirit Gauge, but they share the same health bar. So switching between them is no longer a preservation of life, but a means of using your Spirit Gauge more effectively. This rainbow-coloured bar fills automatically but will fill faster if you land hits or get struck yourself. You can then use it by pressing ‘A’ and a directional input to perform far more powerful (and often unblockable) Special Move - perfect for creating a bit of distance or closing a gap at speed.
However, you can’t beat your opponent by simply reducing their health bar to zero, and that’s where the more tactical nature of the game comes in. When your opponent’s health bar turns red, you’ll enter the ‘Final Phase’ where - if you have a large enough Spirit Gauge - you can press ‘R’ and activate a match-ending Dream Finisher. If it lands, it’s a KO, but it’s balanced by the fact you need a considerable amount of spirit to pull it off and it needs to land clean. If you’re not up close and personal or it’s blocked, you’ll be left with almost no spirit and an opponent with plenty of theirs. There’s also a considerable wind-up time so you’ll need to hit just after a combo or when an opponent is stunned to seal the deal.
It’s a system that’s not easy to spam - you’ll need to deplete a health bar to a certain level in order to enter a stage where your Dream Finisher can end the fight, but it affords the chance for a last-second victory as you throw your foe, leap forwards as their health goes red and grasp victory with dramatic style. Your Spirit Gauge also gets longer as your health bar goes down, so it’s usually all-to-play-for when a match starts to draw to an end. It’s an unusual premise and one that’ll appeal to players who want a fighting game with more of a puzzle element, but it’s unlikely to attract hardcore purists who want a new game to take to EVO.
Items are the other significantly different element, and they can make for both a tactically satisfying addition and a cheap way to halt the action. These Super Smash Bros.-style accessories come in many different forms - such as passive bottles that fill up your Spirit Gauge, defensive ones including a wooden board between you and your opponent and aggressive items like a giant bowling ball - and you collect them during a fight by kicking or punching glowing yellow orbs that appear at random. You then move the right analog stick to activate them. Some, when used correctly, can help extend a combo or provide a means of escaping an onslaught, but their inclusion often feels like one element too many and can turn some brilliant back-and-forth encounters into slapstick affairs. Again, this isn’t an oversight by the developers - it’s consciously selling itself as a ‘fighting party game’ - but they often feel like a distraction too far.
Mode-wise, you’re getting a Story mode that follows the same silly template regardless of which combo you choose, but there’s the chance to watch unique cutscenes depending on the duo you settle on, making for some corny interactions between the likes The Art of Fighting’s Yuri and The King of Fighter’s Love Heart. There are plenty of costumes to unlock, which are bought using gold unlocked through completing Story fights, competing the Tutorial, and other activities. There’s also support for local and online play, although servers for online matches weren’t live at the time of writing. We'll update this review if they're less than stellar.
If you’re new to fighting games - or you’re simply in the market for something that feels like a bona fide arcade fighting experience - there are few titles as easy to pick up as SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy. Its busty and over-sexualised characters might not be to everyone’s taste in 2018 - and the use of Dream Finishers definitely won’t be of appeal to purists - but look beyond the garish colours and there’s a tag-team brawler with real potential, not to mention plenty of hilarity.