Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
Publisher: Xbox Live Arcade
Half-Minute Hero made a splash when it released on the PSP early last year thanks to a deliciously insane premise. What would happen, postulated Marvelous Entertainment, if you were to crunch an entire RPG experience into thirty short seconds? As it turned out, the result was an exceptional game that managed to provide bite-sized roleplaying thrills on a handheld console.
Super Mega Neo Climax aims to bring the experience to the Xbox 360 with an entirely new selection of levels, storyline and visuals... but can the bitty structure possibly work on a home console? And can lightning strike twice?
Each of Half Minute Hero's numerous levels comprises a single self-contained RPG story. All the elements are there: a level one hero, a castle containing a nefarious villain (or similar objective) and a two dimensional swathe of land teeming with random battles, villages and dungeons. For the most part, players need to improve their character by engaging in quick automatic battles, earn money to buy new gear and eventually bring their furious maximum level vengeance to the big baddie du jour. All, I hasten to add, in thirty seconds.
Of course, the fickle Goddess Of Time makes a welcome return to even the odds. You'll have to pay a few coins to rewind the clock back to thirty seconds, but it's absolutely vital to cram in enough grinding, exploration and optional objectives before your time runs out for good and the world comes to a catastrophic end. Getting to - and even defeating - your adversary can frequently be accomplished in a number of different ways, using optional companions who usually dole out optional subquests of their own.
Each level is a morsel of RPG goodness, and feels like a tiny yet perfectly formed game in its own right thanks to the anarchic inclusion of separate title screens and credits. A hilarious, quirky and genuinely unpredictable sense of humour underpins the entire thing, making for an entertaining yarn that delights in breaking the fourth wall.
But Half-Minute Hero isn't really an RPG. It's a puzzle game - and a damn good one at that. Though it boasts all the trappings of a classic 8-Bit roleplaying title, players will gradually realise that each level poses an individual brainteaser that needs to be solved in the most time-efficient way. The RPG mechanics are just the means to an end, and managing to work out the best solution to each level is genuinely rewarding. Downloadable ghost heroes allow you to race against your friends - or yourself - in an effort to shave precious milliseconds off your record.
The (controversial) addition of multiplayer has been handled fairly well. Up to four heroes are technically supposed to compete with one another, but in practice, will end up actively cooperating to overcome the steep difficulty curve and shared time limits. One player will be crowned the "True Hero," but everyone will get a huge sense of satisfaction once the credits roll. I've never played anything quite like it, and I'd love to see a thriving community spring up over the next few weeks. Here's hoping.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax certainly isn't perfect. Diagonals are the sworn enemy of the Xbox 360 controller's crappy disc D-Pad, and if you don't have the Silver Edition, you'll frequently end up wasting precious seconds going the wrong way. Half-Minute Hero only uses cardinal directi0ns, and the controls would have benefited from a dead zone between them.
Not that you'll notice for a while, though, because you'll almost certainly be too busy trying to convince yourself that Super Mega Neo Climax isn't a cheap and nasty flash game. The original featured beautiful faux-retro pixel art that has thankfully made its way into the sequel... but rather than being the default setting, the visual style has been replaced by a genuinely nasty 'Neo' Mode. We don't care about graphics, for the record, but this cartoonish travesty looks shockingly poor thanks to pathetically bland backgrounds and a horrible lack of any personality whatsoever.
Yes, it really is that bad - and rather than finding out for yourself, I would urge you to select the original graphics from the very start. Your retinas will thank me, and with any luck the screenshot below should provide all the proof you need.
It's also worth noting that Super Mega Neo Climax only contains several versions of the Hero campaign rather than the range of gameplay mechanics and styles of the original. Though the RPG-lite was definitely the strongest part of the PSP game, this does admittedly create a fair bit of repetition and malaise. Not to mention the fact that you'll only get to know the other major "characters" for two minutes rather than two thirds of the game.
At the end of the day, though, Half Minute Hero doesn't fall prey to the one fault that it could have so easily succumbed to: poor value. Your 800 Microsoft Points will go an extremely long way and net you several massive distinct game modes (with different time limits) and plenty of optional objectives to strive for. If you can find a dependable crew to play online, Super Mega Neo Climax will probably tide you over for a few weeks at least... which isn't bad for a game that's supposed to last thirty seconds.
- Satisfying and unique gameplay
- Plenty of value - and replay value
- Excellent music, humour and 'Original' graphics mode
- Vomitously horrible 'Neo' graphics mode
- Weak controls (arguably the Xbox 360's fault)
- No Princess/Knight/Evil Lord campaigns
The Short Version: Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax is sweet, not short. The unique and quirky experience bridges the gap between depth and accessibility, making it perfect for quick sessions, hectic fun with friends or enormous solo romps. Since the trial version contains a full level, definitely consider trying before you buy if you're on the fence.