As Cartoon Network begins losing the major cartoon shows that brought the network to the forefront of animation over the last decade, they’re going to need to turn to shows with a great amount of promise and throw all of their support behind them.
One such show is OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, a series as perfectly fitted to a video game as one can be. A charming, electrically charged show with an infectious energy I couldn’t wait to see play out in a game. But despite its perfectly tailored premise and personality, OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes falls prey to the trappings of every other tie-in beat-’em-up.
OK K.O.! Lets Play Heroes (PC, Xbox One, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Capybara Games
Publisher: Cartoon Network Games
Release: January 23, 2018
OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes follows K.O., a boy working at a bodega in Lakewood Plaza Turbo with his friends Enid, who hates being there, and Radicles, who takes advantage of K.O. when he can. Everyone in town is a recognized hero, and have thus been awarded a special Hero Card. But when he finally gets a card himself, the evil Lord Boxman (their business competitor) buys the company that makes hero cards and brings everyone to Level 0. Now in order to raise everyone’s levels, K.O. must make friends, complete quests for them, and fight in battles along the way.
Using Lakewood Plaza Turbo as a hub, K.O. walks around to pick up quests and get into random battles (which must be directly selected to enter, rather than have them pop up randomly). The main crux of the title involves picking up quests from other characters, so K.O. basically clocks in for work and sees how many quests he can accomplish before the end of his shift. Although more of the plaza opens up the further you get in, it’s hard not to sense the tedium kicking in when you have to walk across the bodega again and again in order to talk to a specific character. Couple this with an unfortunate lack of mission variety (it’s either going to be a fetch quest or set number of battles), and this tedium does kick in sooner than you’d hope.
Set on a 2D plane, K.O. fights tons of Darrells and Shannons with a variety of moves. His set-up includes a standard punch, low kick, uppercut (which allows for a good amount of juggle opportunities), an attack that let’s K.O. bounce on opponent, and a dodge roll. The main draw of battle, however, is the Hero Cards. As K.O. fulfills quests and gets hero cards from a vending machine, he eventually unlocks a hero’s Powie Zowie. A Powie Zowie is a special move K.O. can use in battle that calls in his friend for help when a meter is fully built up. You can equip any two of these, and the rate at which they fill doesn’t feel sluggish. Though enemies can feel a bit like damage sponges until you level up (via breaking a pinata, natch) and unlock stronger moves.
Luckily Let’s Play Heroes makes up for its lack of mission variety with a fantastic presentation. It’s a game made with fans in mind first, and developer Capybara made sure to incorporate the series’ voice as much as possible. The art style is incredibly fluid and adorable, the pause menu brings up K.O.’s card binder while beatboxing can be heard in the background, and each cutscene and character interaction is fully voice acted. That last detail is the most important, as a game like this could have easily fallen apart in the early hours if only some of the scenes featured voice acting from the series’ wonderful cast. Not to mention that the full voice acting allows non-fans of the series to get to know the characters and form bonds with them.
Though there is some variety in how battles can be fought and even boss fights to be had, it’s hard to shake the monotony after playing OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes for more than a couple of hours. The difficulty is fair (and rewards players who effectively use the dodge roll), but its reliance on a rigid schedule of completing quest after quest in mostly the same ways does eventually feel like clocking into work every session.
Fighting can be incredibly fluid and fun, but it’s like Capybara took an idea they had for a side-scrolling beat-’em-up and stretched it beyond its limits into an ill-fitted action RPG. In that same breath, you’ll be hard pressed to find a game more faithful to its source material.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]