About a year ago I said that one of the reasons I enjoy playing and reviewing freeware games is that, since the games won’t earn their developers money, they’re made for love of games and game making. Because of this, it’s very common for developers to make tributes to the type of games they played as kids, such as today’s game: the purposefully cliché action game, Hero.
In the distant future, one man, “Flip Hero,” flies out, only armed with a jetpack and a laser gun to take on his mortal enemy, the warlord “Cruiser Tetron.” If he fails, the earth will be destroyed by Tetron’s mighty fleet… annnd that’s about it for the story. Yes, Hero is taking its cues from the Commodore 64/NES days of rather cliché stories, so there will be no deep philosophical discussions or characterizations here; just a man and his jetpack, gunning down robots. Then again, that was the point: Daniel Remar, the game’s creator, said “Hero is a very stylized game; it’s best described as a combination of NES, Atari2600 and C64 games but in pure black and white.”
This style also carries over to the graphics and design. Everything is black and white and the enemies are simple sprites that could have been done on a TI-83; the most complex one being Tetron. Also, enemy layouts are the same every time you enter a room and you have to start at the same point every time you die; the only thing that is saved is if you unlocked a door or not or picked up a power-up. Also, while you do use a jetpack, you don’t have to worry about gravity: not pushing any buttons will just leave you suspended in the air. This simplistic style is pretty charming, though unfortunately it carries over to the music, which is almost nonexistent and rather forgettable. The sound effects, on the other hand, are a delight with little plinks and “pe-chews” really bringing back the nostalgic feeling.
This brings us to the gameplay, which is the title’s greatest strength. The game is split over 6 nonlinear levels where you have to shut off a shield generator to take down laser barriers and, in later levels, fight a boss to take down physical barriers. You can also find one power-up per level that lets you fire double shots. The levels, especially the last two, are labyrinth-like and, with no map, take some time to learn… a bit like Metroid, which is a game that Remar took inspiration from. Admittedly, the fifth level is a rather tedious and players will likely get lost for several hours without a map and only five lives a shot. Luckily, each time you reach a new level, you can select it from the title screen; a real boon considering how difficult the game can get.
Speaking of the difficulty, that and the control scheme are what most gamers will remember about Hero. During my playthrough, I died no less than sixty times, despite the game being rather short. However, the difficulty is fair: play enough times, and you will find the way through each screen. There are no cheap shots or game-breaking glitches here. The control scheme is also rather memorable for its shooting controls. Like a lot of games, ‘z’ and ‘x’ are used for firing but in this instance, ‘z’ fires left while ‘x’ fires right. This does take a bit of getting used to but it does make sense. Since you are playing what is essentially a side-scrolling shooter in an exploration-style game, a method needed to be made for firing in more than one direction and, due to the claustrophobic enemy encounters, tying the aiming on the arrow keys would have caused a lot more deaths. However, since there is no auto-fire, it does get tiring to keep tapping the keys.
Finally, the game does have some decent bonuses. After beating the game, you unlock development maps, a music test, the ability to see the ending, and most importantly, a super-tough bonus level. The bonus level is especially nice since, despite being one of the shorter levels (only 9 screens in total) it shows some rather creative design.
Overall, Hero is a little gem that is successful in providing a difficult but fun retro experience that has some satisfying gameplay and a cheesy storyline to keep most gamers entertained. However, Hero takes the retro style a bit far and modern gamers should note that there are not a lot of conveniences like in-game maps or auto-fire. It is still a fun ride, though it could have gone a lot farther with its gameplay style… something that would eventually be done in the sequel.
Freeware Friday is a weekly column by Gabriel B. that spotlights exceptional (or exceptionally weird) freeware games made by indie developers.
Bonus! It’s October isn’t it? Well, I think I have a little treat for you that will tickle your craving. Pumpkin Patch is an arena shooter where you play a cute little pumpkin that must protect its patch from waves of ghosts, witches, pumpkin eaters, and hell gates. You can’t die, but you lose if all of the pumpkins are stolen and you are stunned every time an enemy hits you. The background music is very catchy and perfect for the Halloween setting. The game has a very cute aesthetic and there are some really great power-ups (the bat gun and the PUMPKIN LASER OF DOOM being my favorite). You should definitely give it a play if you want a fun shooter for Halloween.