One of the arcade games I sunk the most time into (and spent the most quarters on) as a kid was Taito’s incredibly popular title, Puzzle Bobble. The cheery music and cute little dragons I already recognized from my time with another Taito title on the NES with that same basic theme and feel, Bubble Bobble. “My” Puzzle Bobble cabinet was at the pizza place I worked at in high school, and I spent lots of my break time sending giant clusters of bubbles to their demise in the search for high scores. It’s part of the reason why I was excited when I heard about Lightslinger Heroes. Lightslinger Heroes takes the fun, familiar gameplay of Puzzle Bobble and combines it with RPG elements and a collectible card game feel to, at least in theory, create an epic mobile game with a fantastic story. Unfortunately, it fails on almost every level, and instead of taking something already fun and making it more strategic and part of a larger story, it adds in most everything awful about mobile games and marries it with a soulless, directionless RPG whose story is so ambiguous as to be nonexistent. It further infuriates by forcing players’ hands in tutorials and cramming your experience with so many adds for microtransactions that you’ll end up feeling like you’re inside a pop-up ad rather than playing a game.
The concept of Lightslinger Heroes wasn’t bad on paper. It uses the puzzle element to drive your team of various fantasy RPG characters in battles against a standard set of fantasy RPG villains. Each color bubble corresponds to a different hero on your four or five-person team, so that when you rack up combos with red, for example, you’ll be able to activate your healer, or get your archer to shoot a volley by bringing down a stack of greens. You can shield, attack with various elements, heal or even create bleed effects, and as you progress through the game, you’ll ostensibly collect more summons and be able to create a more customized team of creatures. You’ll either fight with five of your own characters, whose descriptions go only as far as the text on their cards, or be forced to add what seems like a fellow player’s team leader as ally, and then pestered at the end of every encounter to add them as a friend.
Every tutorial the game throws at you is forced, and must be completed fully before you can do anything else. I can understand this in the beginning, but later on, when you unlock the arena, for example, it’s immensely frustrating that you must complete arena battles before returning to the story, or that you must consume lower level characters to level something in your team, even if that’s not what you wanted to do at the moment. Even with tutorials though, things are never very well explained—only glossed over briefly. You can summon different heroes, you can level up or upgrade, but to what end and in pursuit of what are never particularly clear. Worse, tutorials aren’t the only thing that’s forced , as Lightslinger Heroes can’t seem to go more than a few moments without reminding you that you can purchase all manner of in game currency with your real-world dollars so you can get rare fighters, open up more slots by “going premium,” get more tickets to use in the arena so you can play sooner, or spend on various character upgrade elements.
Even worse, the “story” mode has story in name only. I kept thinking I was missing text or dialogue, having turned off the overly obnoxious “fantasy” music the game throws at you, only to discover the story just isn’t there. I have no idea what the ultimate goal of Lightslinger Heroes is at all, despite having spent hours trying to make sense of it. Instead, story mode is a series of battles with pretty samey villains, and the only progression is to different types of islands, which despite names that’d indicate some sort of really notable scenery change, don’t change much from forest to tundra. Each section has a boss, named something like “So-and-So the Wicked Beautiful,” and each of these bosses has some sort of pretty easily avoidable trick up their sleeve–vortexes that suck in bubbles you’re shooting, electric barriers that can disintegrate them, or portals that redirect them. Nothing takes more than a few seconds to figure out, so you’re left with a fight against something with a little more HP that’s exactly the same as any other fight you’ve already conquered, every time.
There’s some comfort in this though, since if you do fail a fight, you’ll be subject to a wait unless you have enough “energy” to continue. How do you get energy to continue, you ask? Pay the money, or wait until enough time passes for your energy to fill back up on its own. Lightslinger Heroes could have been something I enjoyed, and in fact, I did enjoy the chance for some straight up Puzzle Bobble-esque action. In general, though, Lightslinger Heroes made me mad more often than it did anything else. We’ve come so far from playing Snake on our cell phone, and for what? Games like Lightslinger Heroes, unfortunately, are what many people think all mobile games are like—just money grabs with no passion or soul. It’s far from the truth in an era where developers are making unique, interesting games (Like Limbo, TouchTone, UpGolf, and emotionally affecting The End of The World) that aren’t out to drain your pocketbooks in pursuit of something to play while you’re waiting for the train. Skip this one.
Lightslinger Heroes is available now on Android and iOS.