What can a person do in thirty seconds? Fill the kettle perhaps? Or post an amusing Facebook message/tweet on the internet? How about attempting to play an entire Role Playing Game (RPG)? That’s the task facing those who rise to the challenge of Marvelous Entertainment’s Xbox Live Arcade title, Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax.
Originally released on the PlayStation Portable, Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax (HMH: SMNC) is the absolute antitheses of the Japanese RPG – those labyrinthine, often tedious affairs, that last for tens of hours and drain the fun out of the experience along the way. HMH: SMNC takes this notion and turns it on its head, designed to be played in thirty second chunks. Our hero must locate his foe, level up, aid in side quests AND vanquish a boss, all within the titular half minute time scale.
Initially this chaotic pace will cause many to panic and fail miserably, even with the very gentle introduction. Thankfully, much like plastic surgery obsessed 80’s singer Cher, there’s the ability to turn back time. By visiting the Goddess of Time statues, the player has as many opportunities as they need to complete their quest within thirty seconds. While this might sound like cheating it soon dawns that this is a core element, with each millisecond becoming increasingly precious.
By visiting towns and settlements that play host to her effigies, the Goddess of Time can be offered a “tribute” that initially costs 100 coins. The caveat being that each subsequent visit in a stage causes the price to double and forces the player to effectively manage their time / coin balance. Towns also play host to Non-Playable Characters that can offer hints for progress and, in some circumstances, aid our intrepid hero in his hasty quest.
Combat is an automated process, with hit points given out on both sides, and coins automatically added to the players balance after successful battles. If unsuccessful the player will be warped all the way back to the starting position for that particular area. There is the ability to flee any combat scenarios if they prove too problematic but, on the whole, Marvelous Entertainment have managed to make each area instantly approachable as long as the need to level up is born in mind.
The process of leveling, just like everything else in the game, is hyper-accelerated and some minor grinding (albeit rapid-grinding) will be required to bulk up before facing the climatic boss battle. Some players will look to maximise their hero’s strength, while some will attempt to beat them with the bare minimum of health and weaponry. That there is such flexibility within the game’s system is a testament to how well it all works. Thankfully each area cleared doesn’t reset the armaments acquired (unless replaying an older level) so he advantage is given to the player, but never overpowering them. There’s a nice balance at play here, taking on board the familiar tropes of RPG’s, but with none of the nasty excess or bloat.
There’s also a great deal of humour at play all the way through, with the tone being set firmly at tongue in cheek. It suits the game perfectly, pricking the bubble of the pretentious stories that often inhabit RPG’s, making it fun and extremely approachable. From the quips by the Goddess of Time, to the utterances of the boss fights, it’s cheesy and light, perfectly in step with the tone established from the outset. There’s also something incredibly funny at seeing the credits whizz by with a press of the button before moving onto the next area, and the mini-adventure is repeated all over again.
Graphically HMH: SMNC is simple with clean lines and a unique art style. For those who want to revel in a sense of nostalgia, the sprite-based art style found in the PSP version can be selected at the main menu, but not on the fly (which might arguably have been a better compromise). The choice that pleases most will of course be up to the individual. The most noticeable gripe is that the controls can be slightly problematic, in as much as the invisible grid that divides the levels and which the hero runs along, can sometimes be unresponsive – especially irksome in a game that is so centered on the concept of every second counting. This means mistakes are made through no fault of the player, which is always something a crime regardless of how enjoyable a game is.
Multiplayer mode, Super Hero Wars, sees players attempt areas in a weird mix of co-operative play and self-interest in their attempt to be anointed the “true” hero once the fighting ends. The same rules from single player apply online, so the need to seek out Goddesses to offer up tributes and turn back time are still in play, as is the need to find superior weapons to complete the task. The twist is there is often only one of certain items in town, making for a truly chaotic experience as the balance between helping and hindering a fellow hero is exposed to these finite conditions.
As an experience Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax is second to none. Once the appropriate mindset has been put in place, the player soon adapts to the frenetic pace, the gentle humour and the wholly unique take on a tired genre. It’s a sheer delight, even at full speed.