Hero Academy – Review

Platform | Release Date
PC | August 9, 2012
iOS | January 11, 2012
Developed by Robot Entertainment
Published by Robot Entertainment

The Pitch:

Enter a world of swords and magic, and challenge friends old and new to a contest of tactics and skill. From the human Council to the mysterious Dark Elves, every team needs a fearless captain to lead them to victory. Only those that leverage their team’s strengths and capitalize on their opponent’s weaknesses will protect their crystal and win the day. The Academy extends a warm welcome to all – whether they’re already heroes, or simply heroes in training!

Hero Academy for iOS is easily one of my favorite handheld titles. Asynchronous multiplayer has been colonizing different markets, from Facebook to mobile, and is beginning to pick up PC on the Steam. I mean, pick up steam on the PC.

The appeal is strong. Not everyone has the dedication for a 4 hour game of Civilization V or the time for a 45 minute “Comp Stomp” in StarCraft 2. But anyone can spare two minutes to play a turn in Hero Academy, especially if it can be done from their always accessible iPhone. If some players want to game more intensively, they can start a couple dozen at once. As long as a handful of your opponents take their turns in a timely manner there will always be one more turn for you to make.

The core game of Hero Academy is fun and if you have an iOS device it is completely free to try*. The gameplay is a cross between a deck-based game and wargaming-lite. Each race/team has a pre-built and shuffled deck. You draw your cards/units then play them onto an intimate battlefield grid. Each deployment, movement, or attack takes an action point and you have 5 points to spend each turn. It’s fast paced and each turn feels important. Despite its listing as a single player and multiplayer title, Hero Academy is a decidedly multiplayer only affair. The single player challenges are fun, like the challenge puzzles found in the recent Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers games, but can be beaten in very short order. The random nature of the hand of cards can swing a match, but it is not as much an impact as you would think. The pro players seem to know when to “swap”/discard items; I haven’t figured this out yet. The recent Steam release allows iOS-less players an opportunity to play the game everyone was talking about a couple months ago, but unless you have an iOS device, I cannot recommend it.

As an iOS app, Hero Academy has a very serviceable interface, but the translation to PC has not been kind. For example, there are no resolution settings, just an option to play in “Compact View”. Both Normal and Compact views play in a Window with no full screen support. There is also no volume control, only the Sound toggle in Settings to mute both sound effects and music. The improvements are things like an ever-present chat pane and generally using the extra screen space, but it feels like an iOS port.

One great feature is that your Robot Entertainment login allows full cross-platform support. People can play on either their PC or iPhone, continuing games against players on either system. Background notifications are ever-present on the iDevice, but the PC version is required to be running minimized in the background to gain access to taskbar notification balloons. Any microtransaction purchase, such as one of the many new Teams/Races, unlock in both platforms. Overall, I like being able to take turns on either device. What I don’t like is the lack of parity between platform pricing.

On iOS, I can purchase the additional teams for $2 apiece at normal price, or pick them up for a $1 on sale. Since the initial game was free, this would make the total price about $3 to $6 for the three previously available teams. This doesn’t include the buck to buy custom team colors or extra avatar portraits. The Steam version of Hero Academy launches at $5, but includes the Council (normally free) and the Team Fortress 2 team. It also includes some additional avatar portraits and I can frankly understand that the TF2 team might demand a higher price point than generic Orcs or Elves. What I don’t understand is that each other team is also $5 on Steam. This brings the total price to buy all the teams up to $20 (versus $8 to $11 to purchase them on iOS then buy the Steam App). Are the included TF2 hats worth $3 to $4 each?

If you enjoy Hero Academy on your iPhone, $5 for the TF2 team and the ability to play on your PC is recommended. If you are a PC player looking for a quick strategy fix thoguh, spend your $20 elsewhere. The PC version is a fun companion application, but the odd decision that PC players should pay the Apple Tax pricing, while iPhone players get a much cheaper deal, is a sour note. Instead of a Fun-Per-Session graph, will we need to include multiple charts of how to buy your “free to play” titles?

Hero Academy for the PC has a variety of flaws, but $5 to get the TF2 team, some avatars, and the cross-platform gameplay is a fair shake. I do not approve of the PC-specific pricing for the DLC, or the lack of polish porting to PC, but the core game is still as fun as it is on your iPhone. It remains one of my favorite mobile games; and now I can play it side-by-side while typing out this article on my desktop.

*If you go this route, I do recommend buying at least one team (either through an In-App Purchase or the Steam version’s TF2 core-included version), as the free version is aggressive in its advertising until a team other than the Council (Humans) is purchased.

About Aaron Phokal

Aaron is a staff writer for Splitkick.
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