Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
Publisher: XSEED Games
I am, I’d like to think, a very open-minded soul. I’ll try anything once (except, as the old adage has it, incest and morris dancing). However, my open-minded philosophy is generally tested to its limits by Japanese role playing games.
While I would never claim this job – I’ll add a “ha!” here on behalf of everyone I know, particularly my wife and my old career’s advisor – is tough, when you’re left completely baffled by a game that’s supposedly aimed at a 10-year old Japanese boy, and attempting to grasp the strategy and insane button combos while confronted by an interface in the colour of migraine, you start to think that maybe you should have become an accountant instead.
You can imagine my joy then with the announcement that there was a new one on the way and that this one – but of course – had a twist: every challenge had to be completed within 30 seconds. So, not only a RPG but one that needed more speed? I could feel the headache building already.
It’s not only a pleasure to advise that Half Minute Hero is an utter joy then, it’s something of a surprise. It’s also proof of something I’ve been saying for years: it’s not about the graphics, it’s about the gameplay. In the week that Heavy Rain is released and the gaming world is ooh-ing and ah-ing over the cinema quality visuals, along comes Half Minute Hero in all its – get ready for this – 8-bit glory.
As an, ahem, older gamer, there’s something oddly comforting about the old 8-bit appearance but the pleasures of Half-Minute Hero aren’t just nostalgia-related. It’s just a bloody good, challenging, frequently blooming funny game.
As the makers say, the “30 seconds to save the world” thing is a cliché in the movies but under-explored in gaming. And so, basically, your hero has to battle through many assorted levels – and I’m talking many levels, and tremendous assortment – as a Dark Lord appears to destroy the world time and time again. You have to run around and level-up enough to defeat the end-of-level boss. And always in 30 seconds.
It’s not always possible, of course, which is where The Goddess of Time comes in. If you worship to her, you’ll get extra time. She’s not about the faith though. She used to do it out of the goodness of her heart but now she’s all about the cash, as she explains early on in admirably blatant, cynical fashion. She can turn back the clock, give you extra time, give you some time-travelling red carpets, etc., but it all comes at a price: the gold you collect as you run around each level. Probably, if I’m anything to go by, with your eyes bulging and screaming and giggling like a girl.
You can also pick up fairies in the woods – insert own popular, drug-addled British popstar gag here – who’ll give you extra speed – er, see above – or double your time and such like.
Essentially, this is a decent collection of minigames, given that extra twist with the pressing timescale. Even the portentous overtones of the back story get a pleasing twist. Essentially, it’s all set in a world where the benevolent – but now cash-desiring – Goddess of Time has defeated the Ultimate Evil Lord, the destroyer of worlds. However, since that happened, humans have appeared and flourished and the Ultimate Evil Lord has been licking his wounds, waiting for his chance. And wouldn’t you know, that’s happening now, as explained in a number of highly amusing cut scenes. These generally last longer than the individual levels but, given the fabulous sarcasm, comedy asides and amusing, if censored, swearing – “I don’t need no ******* tutorial!” squeals the crossbow-carrying (and happily violent) princess if you decline a quick lesson on firing weapons in her game - it’s really not an issue.
Gameplay is the standard RPG stuff, such as collecting items, exploring landscapes, finding missing people, defeating strange beasties, tracking down treasure, etc., although the urgency gives them all a surge of adrenaline. Many of the levels are easy to complete within the Half-Minute timescale. Others though, will require precision, a good memory – is the time-travelling red carpet coming up at the top or bottom of the screen? – and a keen eye on the clock. Time management is often as important as button-mashing dexterity. I know that doesn’t sound like fun – what’s next? Cheque Book Balancing on the Wii? – but you’ll have to trust me on this.
There are four basic modes here/ Hero 30 is high-speed classic RPG playing. Evil Lord 30 is an actually quite tough real time strategy game. Princess 30 is the shoot-em-up (and she’s brilliantly, hilariously aggressive even if her mission is basically finding plants to heal her ailing father) and Knight 30 is straightforward action stuff, where you get to set traps for pursuing monsters.
There are flaws. Even with the variety on display, there’s a certain amount of repetition, the usual button-mashing and some of the animation is a little dodgy. But the positives and excellent value – you’ll need at least 15 hours to complete the main games – make the charming Half-Minute Hero a mostly quirky delight.