Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch

I feel dirty.

It’s not just because SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy, is a blatantly exploitative game that sells itself on fanservice. It’s not just because one of its major selling points is the ability to dress up characters in dental floss bikinis. It’s because I can’t even justify this borderline perverted behavior with the excuse “well it’s still a good fighting game.” Frankly, SNK Heroines is one of the most poorly thought out quick cash-ins on a property I have ever seen. I’ve played many a fanservice fighter in the past, from Arcana Heart to Nitroplus Blasterz and frankly SNK Heroines can’t hold a candle to any of them.

An insulting plot

Remember Kukri that new character with sand powers from The King of Fighters XIV? Well it turns out he’s a pervert. To satiate his lust he uses a super computer to create a pocket dimension and traps all of SNK’s greatest heroines inside it while simultaneously dressing them up in skimpy and embarrassing outfits. He then forces them to fight for his amusement. The embarrassment of these blushing beauties is then used to fuel his doomsday machine which will give him vaguely explained ultimate power.

Yes, the plot is real dumb, but most fighting game plots are dumb. The reason why SNK Heroines’ plot is particularly insulting is because, well, it points out what a creep you are for even playing the game in the first place. Kukri moans in a faux sexual manner in between lines of his evil villain dialogue while throwing lines at you like “MAXIMUM FETISHISM!” The game blatantly points out that its roster was chosen to satisfy kinks, from the loli, to the yandere, to Terry Bogard’s rule #63 appearance.

It’s blatant to the extent that it’s hard to enjoy. I’m not a huge fan of fanservice games like this to begin with, but loudly announcing to the player that the only reason they are playing this game is to look ogle at T&A is just a foul move. I can’t imagine anyone actually feeling good about playing this. It’s like it’s specifically built to make you feel the maximum amount of shame, and here I thought I had burned up all my shame in my Skullgirls tournament days.

Dumbed down mechanics

As insulting as the plot is, the mechanics don’t hold up either. The King of Fighters is one of the most interesting and technical fighting franchises out there. However, SNK Heroines is one of the most shallow and uninteresting fighting games in existence, despite being built on the same engine.

Let’s run down what we are working with. Players choose two characters to fight in 2v2 tag team battles. Every player has a light attack, a heavy attack, a special button, a super button, a throw button, and a tag button. Light attack throws out a quick move that will transition into a three hit combo if mashed. Heavy attack throws out a single slower attack that changes based on whether you are close or far away from the opponent. Special attacks do different moves based on what direction you are holding when you press the special attack button. Supers do the same but with “dream finishes.” Finally, throws go through blocks.

This is all a pretty standard set-up for a modern fighting game, but there are a ton of asterisks and caveats that reduce this formula to something braindead. There is no crouching, for example. This means there is no such thing as a high or low attack, or a high or low mix-up. You also don’t hold back to block either. There is a block button, meaning there are no left and right mix-ups either. In short, there are no mix-ups. You can’t make your opponent block wrong. There is no strategy in your offense beyond attacking and throwing.

Special moves cannot always be used. Instead, they cost MP. Your MP grows as your HP falls, so the idea was to make this something of a comeback mechanic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

If you use special moves at anything like the frequency you would in a normal fighting game, you will be constantly out of MP. This reduces you to doing nothing but throwing one of two attacks (light or heavy). Since special moves are the majority of your strategy in SNK Heroines, this results in both players just sitting there and doing nothing as they wait for their MP to recharge. Your MP recharges faster when you are tagged out, but even when tagging frequently it’s easy to use up all your MP reserves.

You also don’t win the fight when your opponent’s HP reaches zero, like you do in any other fighting game. Rather, when your opponent’s life is reduced to a critical level, you have to land a super or “dream finish.” The problem, these dream finishes take a lot of MP, and if you are out of MP it means you simply cannot win the match. This further dissuades you from using special moves which, once again, are the most varied moves a character has in their move-list.

It’s also worth noting that using a super any other time in a match basically does nothing. That’s right, your flashiest attacks do nothing unless you are ending a match with them. Even then, the screen fades to white in the middle of the move! You don’t even get to see its full animation!

Experienced fighting game players will find that they can craft some significantly long combos in SNK Heroines, but why would you ever want to? Combos scale heavily, far more heavy than any other fighting game on the market. You’ll find that you can more easily reduce your opponent’s life by spamming light and heavy attacks than with any manner of combos or hit-confirms.

This is the major problem. SNK Heroines tried to be “baby’s first fighting game,” a vastly simplified version of the KOF experience. However, we have a lot of games like this on the market, from Divekick, to Fantasy Strike, to Nidhogg, and all of them surpass SNK Heroines because of one simple fact. All of these other “beginner fighting games” teach you the basics of fighting games. Divekick teaches you the basics of yomi, Fantasy Strike teaches you spacing and simple mix-ups. However, SNK Heroines teaches you nothing. In fact, it actively teaches you bad habits, like spamming single attacks and only using supers when your opponent is already dead.

And the bitter icing on top of this burned cake, is that you can’t even use an arcade stick or hit-box to play it. Why? Because there is an item mechanic. At times, the game ARBITRARILY tosses you an item which you can then use by flicking the right analog stick. Since arcade sticks and hit-boxes don’t have a right analog stick, you simply cannot use them. This means that SNK Heroines cannot be played with the preferred control scheme of approximately half of the fighting game community!

It’s random, it’s dumb, and it’s just not fun.

Something to look at

When you hop into the customize menu, you finally get an idea of what SNK Heroines is truly about: playing dress up. You can customize the costumes of all the game’s fighters to an incredible degree.

Just choose your fetish. Want to put everyone in cheerleader outfits? You can do that. Dress them up as maids? Sure! Maybe you have something for cat-girls. Don’t worry, SNK Heroines has you covered you twisted dirty human being.

The problem is, you can’t even enjoy this basic fanservice, because SNK Heroines is too flashy for its own good. Every time you punch or kick, overfly flashy effects cloud the screen. Flowers and presents and bunnies scatter everywhere every time you press a button. Not only does that make it difficult to play the game, it makes it hard to appreciate the costumes that you spent hours designing for your perfect waifus.

The soundtrack doesn’t fare well either. All of the interesting tracks from KOF history have been replaced with glittery sugar pop tracks. While I understand that this might be the type of music that some fans enjoy (especially fans of magical girl anime) there isn’t near enough variety in the soundtrack to warrant listening to it. It kind of feels like you’re listening to the same shojo anime theme on loop, and that’s enough to drive anyone insane.

The voice acting is also… questionable. Quite frankly it’s just a variety of combat grunts mixed in with sexualized damage moans. That’s about it. Some clips are copy-pasted from previous KOF titles, and others are phoned in. It’s just not up to the quality of other SNK fighters.

Not for me

Look, I get it. I know that SNK Heroines is not designed for me. I’m the type of guy who wants my fighting games to be deep and competitive and this is very clearly meant for a more casual audience.

The problem is that I have no idea who this game is for. Yes, other games appeal to the competitive fighting game scene better. However, if all you are looking for is exploitative fanservice there are other games that do that better as well. I mean Dead or Alive practically built itself on fanservice and at least there’s still an enjoyable game underneath it. If you don’t want to deal with an enjoyable game and just want to see girls dressed in skimpy outfits, there are any number of eroges on Steam to check out.

I suppose SNK Heroines is exclusively for pad-using fighting game fans with no shame who’re looking for sexual fanservice, but also want a very mashable game with no depth to it that they can win by mashing buttons without any reliance on skill, but somehow are also fans of KOF, which is one of the most technical and hardcore fighters out there.

How big is that demographic? Really?

You mileage may vary, but I couldn’t get any of my fighting game buddies to play any more than a few matches of SNK Heroines, and that’s where the game falls apart. No matter how hard the fanservice, how many flowers and stars you throw at the screen, how many blushing beauties you let us dress-up, a fighting game only survives if people are willing to play it.