I don't think I've ever reviewed, or even previewed, a mobile game before. That's probably a good thing for developers, as I don't tend to like them. Now, I do have one or two mobile games I actually enjoy; Kingdom Rush and Angry Birds and that's about it, really. But I was given the opportunity to preview a new upcoming mobile game - AllStar Heroes - a game described as a MOBA, although it's closer to an RPG or strategy game really.
In Allstar Heroes you command a group of heroes you gather over time, levelling them up, equipping items, and taking on waves of enemies as you work through each stage.
The overall look of the game is cartoonish, bright and colourful, and looks polished. The in-game heroes you command all have their own attack and ability animations, individual looks, and it all appears to be well made. However, even just a glimpse at some of the heroes and I began to immediately see similarities between them and the heroes of Dota 2, along with Blizzard's Warcraft 3, from which DotA started out as a mod. Now, if you know me, you'll know that I spend far too much of my time playing Dota 2, so to see that the developers have outright copied the characters from that game here is frustrating and disappointing to say the least.
Let me give you a quick rundown of the similaraties I spotted. First up there's 'Captain', the first hero I acquired to play with. Any Dota 2 player will notice he has a distinct look of Kunkka, a seafaring captain from the aforementioned MOBA. 'OK, he looks similar, I can live with that', I thought. But then the simillarities continued. As I played, and Captain fought, he began to use an ability called 'Gusher', an exact copy of Kunkka's 'Torrent' ability which casts a pool of water under the target and flings them up in the air under a gush of water. Dammit, even Captain's ultimate ability - 'Cursed Ship' - is a ghost ship that crashes into enemies dealing massive damage, just like Kunkka's ultimate in Dota 2 - Ghostship.
Nine out of ten heroes I've encountered in the game so far can be directly attributed to Dota 2 heroes. There's 'Ember', who looks like Dota 2's Lina, and even has the same abilities as her. 'Naeria' is Drow Ranger, 'Eva' is Enchantress, and so on. 'Spike' is the latest hero I've acquired, who's basically Bristleback. There is one hero in there called Odin, who is a dwarf-like guy in golden armour wielding an axe and a mace, but his abilities are just like Zeus' from Dota 2. Suffice to say that Allstar Heroes severely lacks originality with it's character design, from the aesthetic all the way through to abilities. And it's a shame. I wouldn't be surprised if Blizzard or Valve came knocking on the publisher's door over copyright infringement.
I do like the art style Allstar Heroes uses, though, they're kind of like chibi versions of Dota's heroes. Each hero has their own type of 'trading card' which shows an image of the hero in more detail, and they're really well-drawn. It's just too bad the developers didn't use original ideas for their designs.
Above is an image that perfectly demonstrates my gripe with the character design. Who have we got here - Axe, Bristleback, Clinkz, and a female Lich? Invoker, Medusa, Luna, and Abaddon. I haven't played with any of the characters here, save for Spike, but I would bet that they all have abilities similar to, or exactly the same as, their Dota 2 counterparts.
If you're not put off by the clear Dota 2 and Warcraft copies, then perhaps the gameplay will interest you. Allstar Heroes isn't a challenging game - you basically work your way through the campaign mode, moving along a set path to the next enemy encounter. In each encounter you face three waves of enemies, with the third being the toughest and usually including some sort of boss that you can later pick up as a hero for your own team. Your heroes relentlessly auto-attack, and auto-cast their abilities when available, gradually building up an ultimate meter. Once the ultimate meter begins to flash you can actively tap on the chosen hero's ability to cast it, simple.
Allstar Heroes doesn't demand much from you in terms of gameplay, you just wait for the ability meters to charge, and fire off the ultimates whenever suits. As you progress you will find that the timing of your ultimate casting is a little more crucial, like when you notice an enemy charging up for a devastating attack, you can get ready to cast an all-party heal directly afterwards, if you've saved that ability for such a moment.
I unlocked a 'Heroic Mode', which I assume is meant to pose a deeper challenge than the regular campaign mode. However, I'm currently breezing through it.
As this is a free to play game there are micro-transactions involved, although I've never felt pushed to actually use real money to buy anything in game. I progressed steadily and seemed to unlock new heroes, and pick up new items at a welcome rate to stay interested, without feeling I had to dig into my wallet to get the most of out the game.
In-game currency consists of gold and diamonds, both of which you can use real money to buy more of. The in-game store refreshes its stock every so often, or you can use diamonds to re-stock whenever you like, to buy various items for heroes or EXP boosts and so on.
Hey, look, another image. Allstar Heroes is pretty, colourful, and I love the cute character designs. I just wish they were a little more unique.
Items can be equipped to heroes to increase their stats, and once you fill each of a hero's six item slots you can 'promote' them, which consumes all the items and boosts your character's stats permanently. Then you can continue to equip more new items, promote, and repeat.
Allstar Heroes does include some PVP elements. There is an Arena mode which allows you to pit your own team against the teams of other players, for a chance at moving up in the leaderboard rankings.
Quests set you challenges, such as having a certain number of heroes, or replaying a specific stage, to receive rewards. Rewards include items, gold, and sometimes diamonds. I did feel I was receiving a lot of rewards, which spurred me on to continue playing. But, with games like this I tend to find that you're actively meant to feel like you need to purchase extra in-game currency to progress more quickly, however here I didn't. Which was a welcome relief. Sure, you could buy a load of gold and diamonds, then boost your heroes levels and items, but you don't need to do that.
It's a fun game if you don't want anything that's too involved. Yes, it has lots of items, heroes, and different things to do, but all you're ever really doing is tapping when something lights up, and then equipping items on your heroes. If you want to pass the time on your daily commute, or like to purely level up characters, Allstar Heroes will see to your needs. If the combat was more involved than it is I'm sure I would have enjoyed the game much more. But, it's free, so there's little excuse not to try it out once it's released. Although, if you're wanting more than a simple tap-fest that has uninspired character design, look elsewhere.
I'll be interested to see what the game is like when it's fully released, as there are some clear balancing and progression issues to be looked at - and that's assuming the developers want to make it slower to progress in favour of selling in-game currency.
Allstar Heroes isn't yet available in the UK, and we haven't been given a date for release either. I've been playing a preview build on iPhone 5S, however it will be entering closed beta in the UK on 26th March (tomorrow) for Android devices. Publishers Allstar Games are offering the chance to enter the beta, along with an in-game gift pack, over on their website here, so take a look if you're interested.