In the fighting game world, the two biggest hitters are of course Capcom's Street Fighter series and SNK's King of Fighters franchise (at least back in the day, anyway). It's a real Coke or Pepsi situation, you usually pledge allegiance to one or the other. Much like Mia Wallace's quote about the Beatles and Elvis, there are Street Fighter people and King of Fighters people. King of Fighters people can still like Street Fighter, and Street Fighter people can still like King of Fighters, but nobody likes them both equally, somewhere you have to make a choice-- and that choice tells you who you are.
It's unfortunate, though, that while there's definitely fun to be had here, SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy isn't going to convince anyone to be a King of Fighters person.
In the interest of transparency, I am a King of Fighters person. While I do enjoy a Street Fighter, I've always preferred SNK's zanier, more interesting, and off the wall cast of characters to Street Fighter's multi-cultural cavalcade of bruisers. I mean who wouldn't want to play a fighting game with a guy who wears pants that are strapped together and laughs like a maniac when he wins? I thought for sure I was in the direct niche audience this game was targeting-- and on top of that, a lot of SNK's female fighters are my favorite to chose from! It's too bad SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy sort of has a crisis of identity on its hands.
You see, it plays like a Super Smash Bros. game -- it's super accessible, has simplified controls, and wacky items that pop in randomly. You won't have to memorize a bunch of button combos (no quarter circle heavy punch to a back charged light kick or whatever here), your specials are mapped to one button plus a direction. No separate punch or kick buttons, just a light attack, a heavy attack, and a throw, all on their own individual buttons.
Now I'm in no way knocking this-- as a matter of fact, I think it's great! Memorizing a bunch of inputs is a bizarre way to gatekeep becoming skilled at a game, but I also think it is at odds with what SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy is at its core-- a heaping helping of ridiculous fanservice.
It is a fanservice game through and through. The costumes are skimpy, the camera shots in the cutscenes can be leery, heck the heroines themselves are constantly commenting on how ridiculous and shameless the whole situation is. That being said, the fanservice content is never too extreme. It never feels overtly gross like a Senran Kagura game or like Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. The cast of characters are still there to fight and that's what they do.
It's the meeting of these two elements that confuses me the most about SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy. You've got a fun and new player friendly simplified control scheme buried under a pile of ridiculous fan-service content. This game would be an excellent place to introduce new players to the cast and characters of SNK's world and The King of Fighters but have fun trying to get new (non-pervy) people into a series or to take that new series seriously when a character's default costume is a cosplay fetish-y cow costume bikini (that's right, Mai's cow bikini costume shown in all of the previews and trailers isn't some kind of unlockable, it's her default outfit). The whole situation is at odds with itself. It's too weird and self-referential to be accessible to new players, and the fighting system is too simplified to be all that interesting to longtime fans of the franchise.
Despite all this, it still can be a fun game with some fun ideas at play. The tag-team aspect is fun and having the two tag team characters share health is an interesting choice and the fact that a match is won only by hitting the other player with your finisher move (accessed just by pressing one button, of course) changes up the formula and keeps matches from ending too quickly. I didn't have time to test it out for myself, but I'm sure the game would be pretty darn fun to pass back and forth between friends in a party setting. The items are great fun and are pretty funny too, with stuff like banana peels to slip on and pie pans to drop on the other player's head. I'd love to see items like this be a thing in a regular fighting game-- it really spices things up.
So we've got a really self-contradictory game with fun, solid gameplay here, but unfortunately there just isn't enough content here either. You got stuff like a story mode (which you can blast through with one character in like 20 minutes) and a not terribly interesting survival mode for single player and then, of course, regular local multiplayer and online multiplayer options. I couldn't get connected to another match in online multiplayer, so I can't really tell you how well that works, but I can't see there being a huge online following sprouting up here-- it's just too shallow. There's plenty of costume parts to unlock with money you earn from playing, but not enough to make it interesting or to make the characters seem super customizable or anything. Everybody has a couple of unlockable full costumes (one of which is usually just their regular outfit too) and then everything else is just an accessory or a hat. You won't be playing full-on dress-up with your favorite SNK ladies here, so the quest for the perfect outfit isn't going to be the big draw that keeps you playing.
The whole experience just feels kind of barebones, which is a real shame. If they're going to change things up and get weird with it, why not go all out? Give me a challenge mode with interesting objectives to complete, give me a goofy beat'em up game made in-engine, stuff like Tekken did back in the day. This is a spin-off so they really shouldn't have been afraid to just throw everything at the wall!
At its most basic, core experience, SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy is a solid and fun game, it just finds itself in a real identity crisis, and while what is there is good, they're certainly not enough of it, unfortunately.
3 out of 5
SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy was reviewed using a digital download code provided by NIS America.