I’ll be honest, I had no idea what OK K.O. was until a few days ago.
Turns out it’s an animated series on Cartoon Network that has talent behind it that has worked on the likes of Adventure Time and Steven Universe, two shows I quite enjoy. Not only that, the show is heavily inspired by video games, with tons of references including one Mr. Gar, who is basically Mike Haggar of Final Fight and Marvel vs. Capcom fame, only without proper licensing. How could a video game based on this not be great? Unfortunately, the show and the game, OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes, suffer from essentially the same problems.
First off, let me say that while OK K.O. features a lot of references to the 80s and 90s, it feels more like a show designed for younger kids than something like Steven Universe, as the plot isn’t very deep at all. I mean, how could it be when the entire show (or at least the first 16 episodes I saw) take place in a small shopping plaza called Lakewood Plaza Turbo? The Plaza is a bodega ran by heroes in training and owned by Mr. Gar. The main character, K.O., gets a job there, even though he is young enough that he still calls his mother by “mommy”. Across the street is Boxmore, a corporation that makes evil robots and sells supplies to supervillains.
Boxmore wants to destroy Lakewood Plaza, and often sends robots there to fight. These robots consist of only a handful of models, which means in OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes you’re fighting the same robots over and over. While repetition comes with the beat ’em up genre, the extremely limited setting makes it even worse here. Just like the show, you’re limited to fighting in the plaza and occasionally inside Boxmore, so even the backgrounds are reused endlessly.
While exploring the plaza, K.O. can move about in three dimensions, but battles in OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes are 2D affairs, meaning you don’t have to line up punches, just make sure they connect. The combat here is certainly below average for the genre, as outside of mashing one button repeatedly there’s an uppercut, a mostly useless sweep, a dodge that can be done in the air, a charged punch, and one super move where K.O. spawns a giant fist that can be navigated around the screen temporarily bashing robots.
Additionally, Pow cards can be acquired via blind packs bought via in-game currency (no microtransactions here) that allow K.O. to eventually unlock a Powie Zowie move that can be used in combat that momentarily calls in the pictured hero to help with battles. Just acquiring the card isn’t enough to use these moves, and instead, tasks must be completed for each of the characters. These tasks involve buying an item from one of the plaza shops, finding an item hidden somewhere in the plaza, or beating up robots that will randomly drop the required item from shipping crates around the plaza. Unfortunately, most of the Powie Zowie moves don’t feel all that useful or powerful, even when upgraded with hidden cards unlocked by using passwords found hidden in episodes of the actual TV show (the game was developed at the same time as the show it seems).
While there are plenty of cutscenes, which include voice acting from the very same actors on the show that do a great job, the story doesn’t go any place or reveal anything new to fans of the show apart from maybe a character’s full name. The show suffers from this same issue, as there is only so much story development you can cram into what equates to a strip mall, so it’s unsurprising that the game has the same ailments.
Where OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes shines is in its graphics and soundtrack, both of which are great. Instead of going for the exact same look of the show, characters are drawn in such a way that they don’t have outlines and are a bit amorphous at times, and it works. The soundtrack by the artist known as Doseone is poppy, synthy, and even has a smidgen of chiptune if my ears serve me correctly.
As a seasoned beat ’em up player, I feel disappointed with OK K.O.! Let’s Play Heroes. For an IP with a lot of references to video games, including the legendary beat ’em up Final Fight, I thought I’d find a more competent and enjoyable game. That said, I walked away from the show after watching 16 episodes, as I found it repetitive and rather boring, so perhaps if you like the show, you’ll like the game, as they have nearly the exact same problems.