Too many modern games developers try to fashion their products on things that aren’t games. Take a look around: we’ve got oodles of trendy titles that want nothing more than to imitate the look of the coolest movies and the pacing of the most nail-biting TV shows. There’s a place for that – usually at the top of the sales charts – but you won’t find it in Half-Minute Hero, a game which opts to go the opposite route and dress itself with equal parts homage and send-up of retro Japanese genres.
The gimmick of each of the game’s four modes is simple: to distil expansive, sprawling experiences into concentrated, ADHD-friendly chunks you can easily play whilst sitting on the loo or waiting for a PS3 game to install. It’s in accessible bursts that Half-Minute Hero is at its best, with the experience wearing a little thin when ploughing through great chunks of content in a single stretch. I can forgive it for that: it makes perfect sense that compact play sessions bring out the best of the ultimate bite-sized game.
Each of the game’s four modes has an imposing 30 second countdown timer at the top of the screen, although a way to add time to the clock is always provided. Hero 30, an unashamed take on the JRPG, takes up the bulk of the game, with the Hero taking on a group of villains who have learnt a world-destroying spell that takes 30 seconds to cast. It’s a bit of a one trick pony but, by Jove, what a trick. With the protracted storyline chopped out and the dreaded grind placed in the short-term – you level up in seconds, but start each stage at level 1 – Hero 30’s long haul consists of picking up tidy bits of loot and swish titles.
Perhaps surprisingly, Hero 30 contains a fully-formed game that requires an economic and judicious use of timing. It might mimic the JRPG, but there are entirely different systems at work under the hood. There are inevitable repetitious patterns – I found it invaluable to spend a few seconds at the start of each level grinding up a bit, for instance – but essentially it’s a game that rewards memorisation and effective time-management over strategy and working out the right time to get your White Mage to cast Cure.
At times I wondered why other RPG’s can’t be more like this. Hero 30’s automatic random battles, relieving you of the need to keep your finger forced down on the attack button, are over in seconds. Its dungeons exist to provide a quick flash of visual spark instead of hours of tedious wandering. Its design shortcomings, namely simplicity and repetition, are easily forgotten because the staccato pace keeps throwing up fresh sights. It even has an excellent sense of comedic timing: when fighting a talking clump of rocks, for instance, the game admits that the designers were having problems coming up with ideas for enemies.
It pokes a fair bit of fun at the genre, but reveres its source material. It’s frequently hilarious, from the tongue-in-cheek writing and ludicrous plot – this is your typical tale of unspeakable Evil forces fighting valiant Goddesses, only the Goddess here is obsessed with making money – to the flashing “YOU > EVIL” message that pops up on the screen from time to time. One of my favourite visual gags is how, mocking the JRPG’s penchant for using beautiful high-resolution portraits to accompany boxes of text, Half-Minute Hero just enlarges the sprites to fill the screen.
The 8-bit presentation, other than providing an aesthetic blast from the past, combines with heavy guitar riffs to turn the game into a flashing symposium of colour and sound. Each level also ends with an entire credits sequence and a lengthy prologue to the next chapter, although you’re encouraged to just skip these. It’s absolutely barmy.
The other modes are less significant but no less joyous. Evil Lord 30 throws up a condensed RTS, Knight 30 gives you what I can only describe as a survival action brawler and Princess 30, transformed from a timid and shy princess into a brazen warrior after receiving a crossbow, turns the shoot-em-up into an abrupt dash. Her overworked knights – who ferry her about on giant pillows – are the stars of the show, treating their bizarre quest like a completely normal occurrence.
There are also two further unlockables in a 300-second Hero mode with no rewinds and an extreme 3-second stage that YouTube videos make look significantly easier than it actually is. These extras will satisfy the game’s more devout followers, but none of the game’s superfluous content proves to be as entertaining as the deceptively lengthy, and brilliant, Hero 30 mode. It’s being billed as a niche title, but there’s enough joy within Half-Minute Hero to make the game an entertaining experience for anyone.
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