Developer: Marvelous Entertainment | Opus
Publisher: Marvelous AQL
Half-Minute Hero provided a innovative breath of fresh air when it released on PSP back in 2010. Half full-fat JPRG, half time trial puzzler and utterly charming to boot, Marvelous' marvelous hybrid resonated with gamers looking for a new and exciting take on the genre, packing a variety of gameplay styles and freely subverting everything we thought we knew about traditional grind-heavy adventures. Following a slightly skinny XBLA revamp that excised much of the content last year, the elaborately-subtitled Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy edition brings a comprehensive definitive version to the PC.
As always, the meat of the game is found in the Hero 30 mode, which skilfully disassembles the quintessential 8-Bit JRPG experience and rebuilds it into a thirty second format. All the elements are present and correct: a level one hero, a castle containing a nefarious villain (or similar objective) and a two dimensional swathe of land teeming with random battles, NPCs, 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 face off against the boss. Reaching and defeating your adversary can often be accomplished in a number of different ways, frequently featuring optional companions with benefits and subquests of their own. Each level is a morsel of RPG goodness, a tiny yet perfectly formed game bookended with its own title screens, introduction and credits, boasting a story and identity of its very own.
However, you're constantly under the cosh of a continually-ticking thirty second timer. The mercenary Goddess Of Time makes a welcome return to even the odds and increase the time limit for a price, 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. You'll soon realise that Half-Minute Hero is as much a puzzle game as an RPG, with each level acting as an individual brainteaser that needs to be solved in the most time-efficient way. The RPG mechanics are just the means to an end, though acquiring equippable gear through plot progression and beating par times adds a welcome sense of persistent progression.
An anarchic and unpredictable sense of fun and humour will keep you grinding away at the campaign, as will netting leaderboard-worthy times and new gear by replaying earlier levels. If you love classic RPGs but just don't have dozens of hours at your disposal, Half-Minute Hero is an enjoyable (if hectic) way to enjoy the genre at your own pace (though with sixty replayable stages ready for action, it's still a meaty proposition).
The XBLA version stopped there - but Ultimate Boy massively ups the ante by including all of the extra campaigns from the PSP original. Princess 30 acts as a frantic shoot 'em up, with the titular royal wielding a vicious crossbow against hordes of foes, while Knight 30 provides traditional hack & slash fare with a trap-setting and defensive twist. In contrast, Evil Lord 30 is an exquisitely difficult RTS experience where you'll summon monsters to save your cursed lover. Though these extra modes play second fiddle to the Hero campaign, they're a welcome burst of variety and value, providing many extra hours of adventuring in completely different genres.
Should you crave an even sterner challenge, the unbelievably tough Hero 300 Mode is on hand to comprehensively spank you with its deceptively tight time limit.
Much of Half-Minute Hero's charm stems from its authentically detailed 8-Bit art style that evokes the likes of Final Fantasy and other classic RPGs. However, you can optionally choose to ruin it by activating the 'Neo ' graphics mode, which makes the experience resemble an incredibly cheap and rushed flash game. Though characters look attractive in battles, an ugly lack of detail and personality on the overworld maps damn it beyond all recommendation. Play it the way it was intended or not at all.
It's worth noting that Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy doesn't allow you to change the resolution beyond running it in a windowed mode, which I'd actually urge you to do. The visuals, especially text, can appear slightly fuzzy when viewed in fullscreen, and it's a shame that the experience hasn't really been given a full HD makeover. Menus could have also used some attention, with the UI feeling a little cheap and tacky until you get into the game proper.
Value is also a relative term. Though the £14.99 price tag will grant you many hours of replayable fun in a variety of genres, it's essentially just a prettied-up port of the PSP original. If you played Half-Minute Hero on Sony's handheld, there'll be nothing particularly new for to experience here. I'd have liked to see the Japan-only sequel receive the localisation treatment, perhaps, or even a brand new game on current-gen handhelds. The time, as they say, is right.
PC players, on the other hand, can now enjoy the definitive version of a handheld classic.
- Hectic and cerebral take on classic JRPGs, shooters and more
- Charming visuals, humour and music
- Loads of content and campaigns, great value for newcomers
- Ugly Neo graphics mode
- Boring and functional front end, lack of resolutions
- Nothing new for franchise fans
The Short Version: If you have yet to experience the frantic hilarity and cerebral adventuring of Half-Minute Hero, Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy provides the definitive version of Marvelous Entertainment's quirky hybrid.