Does any sight in video gaming emanate quite so much tragedy as watching a perfectly entertaining creation sink beneath the waves of a poorly considered free-to-play monetization model?
Free-to-play games don't have to be terrible. They don't have to compromise their integrity for a quick buck. But far too often that's precisely the approach their publishers opt for, and a potentially excellent game all too often finds itself reduced to a thin dribble of content locked behind pay walls and time gates. Such appears to be the fate of the No Heroes Allowed series (originally known as "Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman" until DC Comics got their collective nose out of joint about the Batman allusion in the title).
Once upon a time, No Heroes Allowed was fairly remarkable simply for being one of the earliest pioneers of "retro" graphics among non-indie publishers. Originally a satirical take on the simulation/god game genre, it's seen a fair number of sequels and spin-offs since the series' 2007 debut. The latest of these, No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either!, takes the franchise into match-three game territory. This isn't the franchise's first venture into that format, though; in fact, No Puzzles Either! takes its mechanics, rules, and graphics directly from the obscure PlayStation Mobile game Yu-Nama: The Puzzle.
In fact, I'd go so far as call No Puzzles Either! a direct sequel to Yu-Nama. It takes the basic play of the older game (inspired by the monster-breeding mechanics of the original Holy Invasion of Privacy) and adds considerably more depth to them. Where Yu-Nama simply consisted of a string of increasingly difficult match-three puzzles, No Puzzles Either! adds in some elaborate evolution and crafting mechanics between rounds that bring it more in line with the core titles.
First, it helps to understand exactly how the puzzle mechanics tie in with the sim games. Blocks represent different tiers of monster, with the color denoting the tier. These range from weak green slimes all the way up to mighty purple dragons. When you match three or more colored blocks, they don't vanish; instead, they compact into a single block of a higher color and order. Three slimes become an arthropod, and three of those turn into a lizardman, etc. Meanwhile, a hero (depicted in the sidebar) steadily advances toward the bottom of the screen, where the evil overlord you're protecting lives. When blocks evolve through combinations, the creatures they contain are deposited into the sidebar to attack the hero; your goal is to toss enough critters over there to halt the hero's advance before he reaches your overlord.
To this point, No Puzzles Either! plays exactly like Yu-Nama. Where it diverges is in what happens after three rounds of play: Once you beat three heroes, you capture several of the do-gooders and imprison them in the overlord's mines. There, they're forced to dig for crafting goods, new monster types, and other items. At any point you can go to the overlord's lair and perform fell alchemy on your monsters by combining them with one another, or with crafting materials, or even with captive heroes to level them up and eventually evolve them into new, more powerful forms. Given the power curve of the encroaching heroes, you can't really move beyond the first world without spending some quality time in the crafting interface.
And here's where things fall apart. No Puzzles Either! offers an incredibly extensive monster-crafting tree, and you really need to work up the ranks in order to take on anything beyond the first world. Unfortunately, the game's free-to-play model is utterly ridiculous and turns the process into an impossibly glacial affair. I've been playing as often as possible for the past week and have barely made my way into the second set of levels – about a quarter of the game total. You're given a pickaxe (essentially, a credit) that lets you play a single three-round match of the game once every eight hours. A tough match might take six or seven minutes at most. Worse, if you jump back into earlier levels to earn higher rankings and collect that stage's heroes for your salt mines, your high-powered monsters can breeze through an entire match in less than two minutes. That's two minutes of play time granted once every eight hours – a balance that makes King's notoriously ruthless free-to-play games (Candy Crush Saga, et al.) seem downright generous by comparison.
Theoretically, this shouldn't be a total impediment. You should be able to buy more pickaxes or even an infinite pickaxe option, basically turning it into a proper pay-to-play game... except that for some reason, the pickaxe product is broken on the PSN Store and doesn't show up as a product, nor does it appear in the $10 "megapack" that transforms it from a free-to-play game to a normal one. The demo tries to make fun of monetization ("What does the G stand for? Probably greed!"), but that mockery falls flat on its face. The error seemingly doesn't affect everyone, but it's definitely taken the air out of my playthrough, and the publisher doesn't have an ETA on the fix despite it being a known issue.
It's heartbreaking, because No Puzzles Either! is (despite its title) actually a pretty fun little puzzle game. I'd love to be able to give it a proper play; there's enough substance and depth to it that it could take a while to play to completion, let alone collect all the heroes and monsters. Unfortunately, the combination of a horrendously unreasonable cool-down time on its play options and whatever PSN glitch has left its pay option inaccessible turn No Puzzles Either! into an exercise in pure frustration and disappointment.
No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! would have been a fantastic $10 game with all content available up front. As it is, though, it's nothing but a mess for me and for many others. Working correctly, it would be a solid three-and-a-half-star game, but broken as it is, I can't fairly give it a score in its current state. Give it a try, but prepare for potential disappointment.