Sure, the name sounds funny: Half-Minute Hero Super Mega Neo Climax, but reviewing this title was no laughing matter. Or, at least, it didn’t start out that way. Some games we review are ones we ask for, some are games we’ve bought ourselves, and some are handed to us to do. Often times the ones handed to us are shovelware, or worse. For the first 20 minutes of Half-Minute Hero, I was none too pleased for being in the latter category. See, the one game mechanic I hate is timed sequences. It’s not that I mind pressure, and I’m not horrid at most games regardless of the timers. I just don’t like them. It gives you a false sense of urgency and creates stress and anxiety. Truth be told, I had posted a message in our staff forum titled “Is it wrong to hate Ron?” – dealing specifically with this review. The reason? The entire game mechanic here IS the stopwatch, and the thought of that makes my teeth itch.
I like to think I can find the fun in games, and while there are exceptions to the rule, I rarely hate something outright. I can recall a moment when I looked at my 20 minutes of play and said to myself: “I guess you’re going to get to rip this one apart then, aren’t you?”. I even switched games to try and enjoy some gaming time, but in the back of my head was a reminder that I’d have to go back to Half-Minute Hero.
Basically, the game is broken up into levels that are “quests” to save the world. Following a rapid rolling of the opening credits and the prologue to each quest, you’re plunked onto a relatively small map where you can explore, fight to gain both experience and gold. Your play is timed to have exactly 30 seconds to beat the final boss. Each level contains at least one boss, village and generally one or more side quests. The clock counts down as you travel across the country side, fight in random encounters, or explore dungeons. The only place time stops is in friendly zones such as villages, towns, campsites and the like.
Did I just say explore, and 30 seconds? It doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but you can pray to the Goddess of Time for a reset of the timer at the statues in certain towns. If you don’t have enough money to pay her increasing prices, you can give up your equipped items and any remaining gold to get that extension. There is more to the stopwatch than just the time restriction, but more on that later.
I should mention that you automatically fight with almost no control of the outcome- your character automatically approaches the enemy and combat simply happens. The only actions you can control is hold LB+RB to flee, X to use an item like a herb or bomb, or B to dash headlong towards the enemy. Dash can also be used in the overland map, but in both cases it comes at a price. Whenever you dash you lose health, so while you save some time don’t expect to be able to dash everywhere right from the get-go.
The misery I began with somehow fell away as I realized that I wasn’t just playing an RPG – no, Half-Minute Hero Super Mega Neo Climax is a strategic puzzle game through and through. From secret level achievements, multiple paths and challenges for each level, it really grew on me. How is an RPG with automatic fighting considered strategic, you might ask? Most of the time you’ll need to plan when to use dash to speed through and sacrifice some health. Then, there is the time of day factor. When you pray, not only are the seconds on the clock rolled back, but so is the time of day (at 15 seconds you’re into the early afternoon) and it reverses any of the events that happened over the course of the day. Some examples include needing to wait for miners to return to their homes in the evening, allowing a forest fire to ravage a forest which reveals an alternate path, or even needing to wait for the tide to go out to be able to walk along certain water-bound paths.
The humor is also something that wore down my resistance- the entire premise is a tongue-in-cheek shot at the RPG genre and all its stereotypes. They frequently break the fourth wall to question the motivations of characters or archetype villains. I recall one villain who pointed out that he wasn’t a very good villain at all. The speeding credits that roll for each game add to the humor- and they never overstay their welcome.
As for the value, the game does have cooperative modes, although I wasn’t able to find any players to connect with at the time of this review, I have been able to compete with friends’ completion times. Much like having a ghost car in a racing game, Half-Minute Hero even lets you see your friends’ position on-screen during your own attempts to best their time. There are also more than just the 30 second modes, but they aren’t available until after you complete the 30 second hero mode.
It’s not all roses – timed gaming dependent on directional controls, something the 360 controller can only do with a spongy response, is a recipe for headaches. When you’ve .6 seconds left and just can’t seem to move left to the town, you will know this frustration. Also, unless you’re crazy for 8-bit graphics, the added mode that emulates the original isn’t really pretty enough to want to look at for very long – it’s a good thing they decided to up the ante when it came to graphics.
Besides my initial reticence to enjoy anything that involves timed gameplay, and the tragic hardware flaw we call the 360 D-pad, Half-Minute Hero actually brings an engaging puzzle mechanic to the Xbox Live arcade. There is a trial version available, but at 800 MS points it’s a pretty easy recommendation to make. From the games’ self-awareness, to the shots at RPG plot holes, it is well worth the ride, and let me assure you that there is more than just 30 seconds of gameplay. While I’ve yet to complete every mission, I can see myself enjoying this game a little at a time as a way to cleanse my gaming palette. Half-Minute Hero is a fun and quirky gem that is worth a second look.