110 OK KO! Let’s Play Heroes
Developer Capy Games Publisher Cartoon Network Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release Out now
PC, PS4, Xbox One
We spend a good five hours waiting for an ‘All Your Base’ gag that never comes. The Cartoon Network animation on which Capy’s latest outing is based is clearly made by a team in love with videogames, but there’s little of the pandering nodding and winking you might expect here. Yes, there are references to games, such as the line about them being better than real life (“You get points!”), but OK KO! Let’s Play Heroes is cheeringly matter-of-fact about its inspirations, preferring to build its own world rather than remind you of someone else’s. Little wonder, really, given the set-up, which is arguably better suited to a game than a kids’ TV show.
The denizens of Lakewood Plaza Turbo, a small, colourful strip mall, are all heroes – officially so. It’s proven by their Pow card, a gleaming foil effort that shows their hero level, built up over a lifetime’s worth of doing good. Protagonist KO’s mother, a burly martial-arts instructor, is a lofty level 11. Rad, a dudebro alien who works with KO at the local mini-mart, Gar’s Bodega, is a respectable level three. KO, however, is yet to get his card. He spends his days running errands for his boss and co-workers, pumping his daily wages into the bodega’s Pow vending machine in the hope of finally getting a card that’s adorned by his dinky frame. When it finally comes out, it’s a level zero; immediately, every other hero has their card progress reset to the same number. Suddenly KO’s path to true heroism is clear: he must find out what happened, then help his friends get their hero levels back – while, hopefully, also gaining one to call his own. The culprit is Lord Boxman, a classically trained cartoon villain based across the road in a factory that specialises in wise-cracking battle robots. KO, despite his supposed lack of heroism, is wonderfully adept at fighting them. Combat is the beating heart of Let’s Play Heroes, set on a scrolling 2D plane using a system that owes more than a small debt to versus fighting games, and the Marvel Vs Capcom series in particular. It’s there in the simplicity of normal attacks, mapped here to a single button, with D-pad modifiers hitting low or launching. It’s in the air too, where you’ll quickly realise you can dash after an opponent you’ve just knocked away to continue the assault – but try to loop it too many times and they’ll flip out to safety.
It’s especially obvious in the Powie Zowie system, a sort of hybrid of assist move and super combo. Once you’ve helped out an NPC a few times, you’ll unlock their Zowie for use in battle, its cooldown timer shortened by successfully landing attacks. Some of the earliest acquisitions are the most useful: Rad’s floats KO high the air, invincible, his finger-gun motions producing volleys of damaging ordnance. Mommy’s equivalent sees her rush on the screen with a charge punch, uppercut and ground slam. Others offer handy, or just weird, buffs – if you’ve ever wanted to be turned super-small by a rabbit named Potato, you’re covered.
When used in combination with KO’s steadily expanding moveset (a charge punch, a shoryuken, a ground pound), they reveal a combat system of depth and flexibility, which is surprising given how gently kid-friendly the rest of the game is. Zowies can be activated at any time providing you’re not recovering from taking a hit, and enemies are politely standoffish for the most part, attacking one or two at a time. They seem happy to let you experiment, the combo counter quickly reaching the dozens as you get in a few hits, knock them up in the air then away, calling in one friend to keep up the combo while you close in for your next assault. Developer Capy increases the challenge not with harder hits or bigger health bars, but with irritants – small flying robots with spinning buzzsaws, for instance – and the occasional puzzle (putting an enemy on a high platform you can’t reach by jumping, say). It’s an effective blend whose only real disappointment is its boss battles; each has only a handful of attacks, and fights are over almost apologetically quickly.
Battles account for around half the game, and unless you’re a fan of the TV series it’s much the better one. While the cast of characters are an affable bunch and frequently very funny, the things they ask you to do in order to help restore their Pow cards to their former glory are a different story. The Plaza starts out small and doesn’t get much bigger, and KO spends much of his day running endless laps of it looking for whichever misplaced MacGuffin or wandering NPC he’s been asked to track down this time. Some of these fetch quests can feel laboriously drawn out, while others are padded further by paths being cruelly locked off; if someone’s forgotten to unlock a gate or loading-bay door, you’re forced to take the long way round, the game punishing you for trying to be efficient. It’s needless padding in a game of already generous length that’s at its best when you’re fighting or talking to people. Sadly, you’ll spend a little too much of the game doing neither.
Yet there are few moments of irritation in a game which goes out of its way to be so likeable. KO is an easy fellow to root for, and while you can theoretically stomp through the main quest without helping out the various wackily designed denizens of Lakewood Plaza Turbo, you’ll be scuppering yourself if you do. That’d mean missing out on a beast of broccoli made flesh that’s afraid of its own shadow; on a skeleton whose low self-esteem is holding him back from his dream of being a magician; on a sardonic cashier with an eye on musical stardom; and on, for heaven’s sake, a rabbit called Potato. Heroes, one and all, and all of them in need of your help. So long as a punch-up’s involved, you’ll be only too happy to oblige.
Battles account for around half the game, and unless you’re a fan of the TV series it’s much the better one