Little Town Hero review – dreaming too big

I’ve recently discovered that wanting to like something, no matter how badly, does not always translate into actually enjoying said thing.

When I first saw Little Town Hero in a Nintendo Direct presentation, however many moons ago, I was intrigued by its premise. You’re tasked with defending a, well, little town from a steadily recurring monster invasion with the help of other townsfolk. The whole game revolves around just this one village; the idea being that you’ll gain familiarity with the surroundings and your neighbors thanks to an extremely bright and lush cartoon visual style. Knowing it was also being made by the Pokemon developer Game Freak just added to the mystique and instant endearment of the whole thing.

At the outset, I wanted to believe. The game does a fantastic job of making your berg this living, breathing place, and it teases you with the mystery of what’s going on outside its walls. You live in an enclosed valley, with the only way in or out being blocked by a gated castle. The story doesn’t perhaps go where I expected it to, but all the while I found myself growing fond of protagonist Axe, his clichéd allies, and his very similar-looking neighbors.

Then I played the actual game part of Little Town Hero.

In theory it sounds cool: less an RPG and more an amalgamation of board games and collectible cards. But from the get-go the game beats you over the head with inane nomenclature like “izzits” (ideas) and “dazzits” (do… its?), then the tutorial then adds further befuddlement – to the point where struggling through the first few battles taught me more than the lackluster and confusing explanations. The gist is you are given a random allotment of battle options, each of which has a cost to execute. Then you use these moves to destroy your foes’ menu choices in the hope of clearing them all and attacking. You move around town with each turn, with the occasional environmental hazard or helper appearing on certain squares. Again, a pretty neat idea, and a unique set-up that a vaunted developer should have knocked out of the park… but didn’t.

The flip side of the board/card game-like structure – randomness – often deflects you from finding a solid strategy because you’re dealt a shitty hand. You have some options to nab things from the pot, but much like the battle system itself, these other systems (which use a different currency) feel just as obtuse. At first I felt inadequate when playing Little Town Hero, but after two of my kids started the game and struggled just as much, I realized it was a design flaw and not down to my inability as a player. You can learn the system through brute force, but the sheer confusion and messy nature of it all takes so much away from the game as a whole. I enjoyed soaking in the details of world-building and side quests, only to groan every time another fight came up, realizing I would have to slog my way through a battle for, on many occasions, up to an hour.

Even with the story, trope-y as it is, egging me on, I couldn’t look past how dreadfully uninterested I was in Little Town Hero‘s main mechanic. What’s worse is that the plot let me down at the end, too.

I’m all for developers experimenting, especially ones who continually dip into the same series, as GameFreak does with Pokemon. But Little Town Hero feels like it’s missing a few key ingredients that might have made it great. Even after beating it, I still wanted to like it: the artwork is fetching and the titular town is very fun to run around in. But the combat system is, frankly, boring. So much so that I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. Oof.

Little Town Hero was developed by Game Freak and is available on Switch.

Disclosure statement: review code for Little Town Hero was provided by Rainy Frog. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.