A different way to play a traditional fighter, wrapped in an extraordinarily glamorous package.
SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy is definitely a one-of-a-kind game. It takes combat cues from party games like Super Smash Bros. and implements them into a more traditional fighting game setting, all while being focused on absolute silliness and all-out fan service.
Know this up front: SNK Heroines is not for everyone, it’s targeted for a clearly-defined market. Those who appreciate the title’s tone will find a unique experience with accessible gameplay and a strong emphasis on resource management that’s absolutely shameless. It is important to note that this is also not how SNK typically handles their fighters; if this is your first SNK title, think of it as SNK’s version of Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball.
SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy takes familiar characters from SNK’s franchises like The King of Fighters and Fatal Fury and blasts them with an overly-potent fan-service ray. From the menus to the special effects in battle, everything is full of sparkles and glitter.
The main menu is easy to navigate, and specific modes are given shortcuts through individual button presses. System voices are available through completing in-game tasks like story mode, giving players a large amount of choice when it comes to changing the default announcer — who sounds like he belongs to SoulCalibur due to his mysterious grandiosity. SNK Heroines has a sound test mode which allows players to listen to every single song in the game, along with all the character voice tracks of which each character has four variations. There are also instrumental and voiced versions of the opening and ending themes that are incredibly catchy.
Customization is Queen in SNK Heroines, with hundreds of possible customizations thanks to a variety of costumes, accessories, and colors available for the entire cast. SNK icon Mai Shiranui trades her kimono for a cow bikini, Kula Diamond transforms into an ice-skating Swan Princess, and Shermie (who hasn’t been playable for years) takes the crown as a demonic dream queen. For those who prefer the characters’ classic looks, they are available for purchase with in-game currency, earned easily through completing matches online or in story mode or survival. You can also unlock additional accessories, voices, and artwork with gold as well.
The cast is well-rendered and appears to be based on the models from The King of Fighters XIV. That being said, textures aren’t very detailed and most things can appear flat, but the use of strong colors help alleviate this issue to a degree. Stages are well-detailed but tend to be blurred out and suffer from the same problems. The title was developed for both the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch, so there were bound to be some shortcuts made to have the title perform well on both devices, but it makes one wonder if it would look any different if it was exclusive to the more powerful system, or PC.
One thing is for certain, not everyone will find the visual style appealing. Some of the designs, particularly of the younger members of the cast like Kula Diamond, Mui Mui, and Nakoruru, definitely bring a level of discomfort. Others may find the clothing choices fashionable and creative, from Sylvie Paula Paula’s Harajuku style, Zarina’s Aztec-inspired toucan garb, and Love Heart’s hilarious cowboy outfit.
The unfortunate thing is that the game’s character presentation is such a mixed bag, ranging from from being cute to voluptuous, its difficult to find this game garnering a broader audience — but let’s be honest, that’s not why this game exists.
SNK Heroines offers accessible gameplay with its own take on the party smasher. The controls are like the recently-reviewed Blade Strangers, with light attacks, heavy attacks, and a special attack button, instead of requiring complicated inputs (which SNK titles tend to be notorious for!), and a super attack button. What’s more unique to this title is its block button that creates a shield which players can dodge out of like Super Smash Bros., a grab button, and its tag system. Characters are designated to “Attacker” and “Supporter” roles and are alternated with a button press.
Where SNK Heroines really shines is how it changes the rules for what it takes to win in a fighting game. Players don’t win the match by simply reducing their opponent’s health to zero, they must be taken to a certain range of low health and hit with a super move. The player’s health is shared between the two characters, but their special meter is not. This is an interesting feature because players are encouraged to switch between characters when their special meters are low to make the most out of their special moves. This focus on meter management will assist players familiar with “vs.” titles like Dragon Ball FighterZ or Marvel vs. Capcom become more accustomed to managing their resources, making them not only better at SNK Heroines but at these other titles as well.
Items are an additional feature to the game, and are accessed by hitting yellow orbs that grant a random item with various effects. These items range from the classic banana peel to a giant rolling ball à la Indiana Jones and potions that grant buffs and cast debuffs on the opponent. There is even an item that creates an artificial corner to trap your opponent with — it can also be used to create distance, forcing your opponent to either jump over or break through the obstacle. Items are a fun addition to the title, but there is no way to turn them off for a more competitive bout.
When selecting characters for your tag team, its assumed that both choices need to be different, but players can actually select the same character twice if they feel more comfortable with their playstyle. This is a nice option that I haven’t noticed since Marvel vs. Capcom 2. This can’t be done in the game’s story mode however — it may be crazy, but it’s not that crazy. Team synergy is always important and while there aren’t tag attacks, players can switch pretty immediately between fighters, allowing for extended combos and better management of the dream meter.
There is also the option for co-op and four-player matches. Survival mode allows players to tag in a friend through local multiplayer. SNK Heroines released on Nintendo Switch as well as on the PlayStation 4, and while it is always wonderful to have the option to play together with one set of Joy-Cons (something I did personally during my time with the title at Evo 2018), it’s much more comfortable to play on a full-sized controller, which is how this title was reviewed (in this case, on PlayStation 4).
If the fan service of SNK Heroines alone is enough to ruffle your feathers, Story Mode is definitely not for you. The plot centers around Kukri, the mysterious hooded character from The King of Fighters XIV and his dastardly plan to kidnap the female fighters and force them to fight one another while using their despair to fuel his evil magic. Its silly, it’s ludicrous, and it’s a little disturbing if you look at it too seriously — which the writers obviously didn’t.
I don’t think story mode was intended to offend; Kukri is definitely a weirdo, but this kind of plot isn’t too unlike typical anime side-stories. In the end, Kukri gets pummeled and all is well for the Heroines. The characters may appear uncomfortable when building suspense, but the playable characters never seem out of control during cutscenes or gameplay, cracking jokes at each other and at the expense of Kukri, who gets a taste of his own medicine in the ending cutscene.
What’s nice about story mode is that every pair has unique interactions with one another. There aren’t a whole lot of them, but its an appreciated touch. The subtitles are super tiny with no options to enlarge them, so it can be hard to make out what exactly is said in these interactions, though.
Aside from story mode, there is a fairly basic tutorial mode that details the different attacks and techniques available to the title, and survival mode. Survival mode starts out pretty easy but once you get past 20 wins the difficulty spikes quite a bit, so don’t let your guard down. You can earn quite a bit of gold from survival as well, so keep trying to beat that high score. There is also a training mode with the usual bells and whistles like gameplay recording and some appreciated features like deciding which side of the stage to start on and the ability to change characters from the pause menu.
Perhaps the main attraction to the game — customization mode — brings a seemingly endless amount of content for players to personalize. Here players can unlock costumes, accessories, poses, backgrounds, and more. There is a lot of room for creativity in customization mode, but some of the costumes simply don’t work with the accessories available. They either clash entirely or there’s no room to notice, since quite a few of the costumes are already pretty ornate. That being said, players can create a seemingly limitless number of scenarios like magazine covers, battle sequences, and photo shoots through the available poses, expressions, backdrops, stickers, and more.
There isn’t an arcade mode, which is a strange omission — but to be fair, arcade mode is really just survival mode with a finite number of matches, or story mode without the cutscenes. There isn’t a challenge mode, which again, falls in line with the game not wanting to be competitive… but learning a handful of bread-and-butter combos would be nice to offer from the game itself.
There are two main online modes; Quick Match and Room Match. Players are able to gamble gold to strike big with victories and on that same token, lose it all with failure. Quick matches work as you’d expect, when they are found quickly that is, matching two players for a one on one battle. Room matches allow players to search or create a lobby with up to eight players for a round table of party frenzies, but sadly I wasn’t ever able to experience this, due to never finding a room.
Matches are won with a single victory, making battles go by very quickly. No best-of-three sets here, but players can rematch one another as much as they would like. This is convenient and since there isn’t a ranking system, this isn’t an issue when it comes to level-boosting. The only kind of ranking the game does is show your track record of wins and losses.
It’s a little strange that there is no traditional ranking system, but that seems in line with the title’s decisions to shy away from being taken too seriously. The tic-tac-toe line of wins and losses is enough to show whether you’re going up against a pro or someone with a bad run of luck.
You can queue matches from the online menu and either wait at the match-up screen, or pass the time in training mode. This is a great option to have from the online menu and makes it convenient when searching for matches.
There is a menu option that takes players directly to the PlayStation 4 share page to see all of the videos and screenshots posted by players around the world, which is a nice feature. I personally forgot that the PS4 had hubs like this for titles, so SNK Heroines integration is appreciated.
My time online has been less than stellar. Matches are rare to find even when all searching specifications are open. There is a considerable amount of lag from time to time as well, even with a full connection. It’s never cool to blame a loss on netcode, but with the issues experienced during multiple online matches, its hard not to mention it. I’ve also had zero success finding a room or having players join my room. Perhaps with a few patches and a growing install base, these issues will be resolved.
SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy isn’t the greatest party game out there, and its design choices are certainly polarizing at best. This shouldn’t keep it from getting credit where its due, however, thanks to its fresh take on fighting game fundamentals and easy-to-learn combos and special moves. There is a lot to be said about SNK Heroines, but it certainly succeeds in what it set out to do. It’s a fan service-filled fighter that focuses on fashion, fun, and SNK fantasies.
SNK and NIS America have already announced its continued support for the title through updates and DLC like the Thief Arthur guest character and the new mystery fighter. There is certainly a community for the title already, and perhaps additional surprises are planned — like that female Terry Bogard. And it will be interesting to see how the development team takes what they learned from making SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy and apply it to their next title, the highly anticipated Samurai Shodown.
NIS America provided Shoryuken with a review copy of SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy for the PlayStation 4.