Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy
I am Half-Minute Hero. Why? – Well, picture this scene:
It’s midnight and a wintery cold air breeze shatters the warm atmosphere of my bedroom. I ready myself to retire for the evening under the welcoming confines of my bed covers when I suddenly hear an email notification – It’s my boss.
He says: “I have an urgent job - you need to review Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy before the end of the day.” While grueling and unnerving, the challenge was accepted.
Betwixt virtual in-game and real world countdowns, I fought endlessly into the night, with haste and lightning speed grace. Fighting off the insomnia, fuelled on Tropicana Red Grape juice (it's all I had in fridge), I claimed victory over the game, and now bring to you my review …how the hell I managed this, I’ll never know.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy, for the lack of a better term, is somewhat of a self-parody of popularized RPG genres, which encompasses most of Japan’s gaming market. It harks back to old school roots, displaying disciplines and mechanics that range from 80s/90s level-grinding JRPGs, Real-Time strategy RPGs and elements of Action RPGs.
Originally released in 2009 as simply Half-Minute Hero for the PSP, the game featured some of the most fast-paced RPG elements you will ever find in an JRPG that isn’t being run on an emulator at 400% boosted turbo speed. Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy is the PC re-release of the vastly upgraded and “improved” version of the game which was released last year on XBLA as Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax. The version I am reviewed encompasses ALL game modes, levels and extra features.
Gameplay largely consists of a top-down JRPG map sequence similar to the early DragonQuest and Final Fantasy games. Your character has five distinct control movements that will be utilized throughout the game: movement with the D-Pad or thumbstick, Use Item selection, Action button for entering places and talking to people, and dash/run button and purchase item button. This all sounds very simple, and you may be disappointed if you're a hardcore JRPG lover when you first boot up this game and think to yourself; “Where’s the customization? Where's the grinding” – these elements aren’t lost in this game, but we’ll get to them in a second.
First, you have to understand that the control layout simplified for a very important reason: you basically have 30 seconds to level up, collect enough money, not die, heal yourself, buy equipment and finally run off to a castle to kill an “Evil Lord” boss.
Now, you're probably wondering: “How the hell do I do that in 30 seconds”. Well, in theory you don’t. Unless you know the game inside out, its basically impossible to do this on most of the levels / challenges. The solution as to how you're able to complete the level in 30 seconds is very simple: you're aided by an almighty Time Goddess who you pay to rewind time back 30 seconds – makes total sense, right? Once you realize you can rewind time, and that time also stops whilst your in towns, you can then plan your grinding strategy to collect experience points and gold. However the penalty for rewinding time is that the cost for each rewind is increased by 100 gold. Before you know it, you'll have to save a lot of gold to pay off the Time Goddess for her services.
All battles are automatically completed for you with no user input required, except for the use of items like healing herbs that the player can use if their health gets too low. If your health runs out, you restart at the very beginning of the level.
In between the levels are towns that you enter to buy armor, weapons, healing herbs and talk to NPCs that often give you very helpful tips to completing the level, as well as side-quest challenges to complete. Completing these challenges actually has an end-game storyline effect in later levels, as companions end up joining you to take on final boss monsters in the latter half of the game.
As you play the game you’ll begin to realize that it''s not an RPG you are playing but a time-attack, real time strategy affair. I couldn’t help but think “Advanced Wars” as I was planning out my attack to beat the clock and win the level in record time. This is further confirmed when you complete a level, and the true nature of the game is revealed in the form of a ranking and leaderboard. Leaderboards are uploaded online and compared with other players so you can see how they performed in each level.
The fundamental control most gamers will have to grasp to win this game is the dashing control. When dashing, your character’s HP decreases dramatically - however he doesn’t encounter any monsters. Dashing will be the key to victory when you need to suddenly retreat back to a town and restore your 30 second time limit, or defeat monsters quickly in battle.
Completion of each stage rewards you with a piece of equipment, ranging from a weapon, head armor, body armor, and shield or feet armor. Various armors / weapons provide stats that you can use for the next level, which can either aid or hinder your progress. Although your character starts each stage at level 1, the equipment you earn helps you face the challenges ahead.
The basic story of the series is that these “Evil Lords” (Which range from anything from demonic blobs, trees, rocks, crabs, giant feet, dragons which have all become sentient for no reason) have all heard through the grapevine about a “Spell of Destruction” which, when cast, will cause a 30 second countdown to start that, when complete, will destroy the world. The reason as to why these “Evil Lords” are so evil is that they just want to see the world burn – one “Evil Lord” who was a crab wants to destroy the world because he wants to move forwards and not sideways anymore.
The most important element of this game is its charm factor (As if the title of the game doesn’t give you enough of a clue its self-parody!) There are several factors to this game series which make it a pure enjoyment to play. The general script in the game is extremely fast paced and very blunt. It’s as if all the characters, good and evil, were the actor-rejects from the DragonQuest and Final Fantasy series. Their tactless objectivity and in some cases self-deprecative nature brings a comedic and nostalgic reminiscence to gamers familiar with the JRPG era, parodying all of their character tropes.
Graphically, the game bolsters its charm-factor even more by displaying the entire world and characters in old-school 8-bit pixelated glory. Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax for XBLA saw a complete revamp and upgrade in graphics that portrayed a more “Chibi” Japanese anime design to the world and characters. This graphical update also meant certain different story modes were completely reworked gameplay wise to accommodate for the new graphical fidelity.
Another thing I found very funny was how fast this game actually is in every sense. If you skip dialogue it will zip by at light speed. Each level completed will end with a credit sequence, as if it was pretending that the short 1 minute level you just completed was an epic JRPG saga of some sort – yet again, you can simply press a button to watch the credit sequence completely annihilate itself at unfathomable speeds!
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy thankfully features both graphic options that you can switch out in the main menu. Incredibly, all versions of the games are included from both versions, effectively completely doubling a gamer’s potential gameplay time.
I've briefly mentioned the controls, but I have to mention here that despite this being for the PC, it adopts the XBLA control scheme, so will need a controller – I used my PlayStation 3 controller mapped to an Xbox 360 control configuration (it still freaks me out how weird this is; On a PC, with a PS3 controller, mapped to a Xbox 360 configuration.)
The game generally runs incredibly well and feels vastly superior to all previous versions. Loading times are very short and the graphics look absolutely marvelous for what they are on a large screen – Sound is also fantastically presented.
STEAM Achievements are also included, as well as multiplayer mode. Multiplayer is basically a time attack against other players who are competing under a non-stop 30 second time limit (which can be replenished but never stops even if you're in town).
As mentioned before, the graphical options make a very big difference to gameplay. The new graphics maintain a gameplay style that I've' outlined in this review, but playing this game’s story modes on the older more retro graphic option will open the gameplay style up to real-time strategy and rock/paper/scissor styled mechanics, Shoot-Em up style gameplay which is very close to games such as Zenonia.
With all its content, we still have to remember that this is a port and a re-release. Inevitably we’ll have to ask ourselves: Is it worth it?
To say the least, this game feels “right” on STEAM and on the PC. It’s always had a charm akin to indie-developed games such as Super Meat Boy or VVVVVV. I always feel PC gaming is the bastion of indie games, and a game like Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy will really flourish with the STEAM community.
While I can’t deny there's a replay-ability value there, it can be repetitive – however that's the intended nature of the game and, yet again, the game is aware of this and parodies the nature of this repetitiveness through character and story dialogue.
With its charm, indie-appeal, great controls, fantastic graphical presentation, tons upon tons of content and great soundtrack, Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy flourishes flawlessly on the PC as if it was made for it and its community. My only gripe is it took this long to finally appear on the PC – the community now swamped in a sea of indie videogames that copy the visual and personality of this game. However, by its own merits this game still stands on its own as one of the most unique, fast paced, arcade-like JPRGs. It''s fun, addictive, satisfying and excellent value for your money.
Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy will be available for £9.99 from Steam and Playism from 6:00pm today