The world of free-to-play gaming may be fraught with peril, but that doesn’t mean that there’s absolutely no fun to be had. Retro inspired puzzler No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! represents yet another foray into this potentially deadly minefield by Sony. But is its classic gameplay enough to elevate it above the competition, or should it be cast into the deepest darkest dungeon?

At its core, the Japanese giant’s latest internal effort is a match-three puzzler mixed with a Pokémon style role-playing game. You play as the 'God of Destruction', and must command a fierce regiment of beastly brutes to help protect the notorious Badman from increasingly deadly waves of heroes. Pursuing a truly sickening mission, these dastardly deviants want nothing more than to spread their filthy righteousness throughout the world. As you match together groups of your monsters, they’ll immediately spawn and attack the approaching protagonist. What’s more, every time you connect three of your little beasties together, they’ll morph into a stronger form, allowing you to string together devastating combos.

However, your opponent is not completely defenceless. Every so often they’ll fight back, forcing unbreakable blocks onto your playing field. Similarly, if they do ever make it all the way through the dungeon, you’ll instantly lose. Luckily, you can level up and evolve your minions, increasing their strength, and oftentimes giving them handy special powers.

One of the most impressive things about this tenacious time-sink is the way these seemingly disparate elements are cleverly strung together. For instance: in order to level up your army of monstrous minions, you must use captured fighters to mine resources that can be burnt for experience. But at the same time, you can only use your treasures if you have enough potency, a currency that can only be earned by getting high scores. In this way, every component of the game is skilfully contextualised and fits snugly within its counterparts.

This deadly concoction of classic puzzle tropes mixed with RPG elements is insanely addictive, and means that you'll easily lose track of time as you make your way through the title’s 64 levels, upgrading your team of monsters as you go. Put simply, this is really not the sort of title that you ought to be playing if you have any important or pressing matters requiring attention in the forthcoming weeks.

Make no mistake, then: this precocious puzzler is practically oozing with fun. But if you can’t stomach the free-to-play model, your best bet is to simply cough up the cash for the full experience. If you do attempt to play the game without spending any coin, you’ll definitely be able to progress, just at an infuriatingly slow pace. Almost every expendable item can be purchased separately for a small fee, and the temptation to do so can be suffocating.

The creators have made an attempt at softening the blow of these micro-transactions by employing a bit of meta humour. And while we do appreciate the transparency, it really doesn’t do itself any favours by having non-playable characters constantly make snide and almost arrogant remarks about the tantalizing prospect of handing over cash in exchange for progress. At first their comments come off as humorous, but if you do opt for the F2P route, they’ll eventually just make you feel gross.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only issue that plagues the experience. Most glaringly, the way in which you capture heroes is infuriatingly random. When you complete a level, you’ll be gifted with a couple of daring and stupid individuals to add to your collection. Inexplicably, you have very little control over which particular type of champion you’ll actually receive. This can become incredibly annoying, as you often need one specific hero in order to level up a monster, forcing you to replay a level several times until you get the one that you require. There are items that allow you to capture a specific adversary, but they are few and far between.

Luckily, the title’s presentation is charming enough to gloss over many of these imperfections. It opts for a gorgeous pixel-art style that gives the whole affair an amiable retro feel. Most impressive of all, though, is the puzzler’s soundtrack, which is surprisingly robust and memorable. You'll often find yourself humming along to many of its rousing melodies.

Conclusion

No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either! is an engrossing and devilishly entertaining experience. Absurdly tight gameplay coupled with charming presentation and surprisingly memorable music mean that it’s likely to eat at away at your spare time with gleeful abandon. Some regrettable dialogue choices and an overreliance on luck hold the title back, but not enough to stymie its otherwise stellar core mechanics. Now hand over that COLD HARD CASH!!!