I’ve been waiting for this one. You can’t browse for three feet on the internet without running into a retro game these days. These are the consequences, I’m afraid, for a generation of kids who grew up playing NES games that cost around $40-$50 a pop: you never got enough, and now with a multitude of free tools and talent, free retro platformers are everywhere. You can afford to be picky, to wait for the game with just the right mix of difficulty, nostalgia, and creativity to come around.
Hero Core has been worth waiting for. I won’t waste your time with too many words, you should probably start downloading it now.
Gameplay is focused on exploration of a large world, with locked-off bits opening after periodic equipment upgrades, much like in the Metroid series. Your character controls like a fighter from a shoot-em-up: no jumping, you simply float around in the vacuum of the enemy lair, propelled by jets built into your suit.
For me, exploration is always the most fun bit of any game: exploring the mechanics, exploring the game world space. Hero Core lets me do that with a generous cushion of ease. The game has helpful tutorial text at the bottom, and frequent save points. You can warp to any save point at any time, and instead of dying, you simply flash back to your most recent save point, and the game doesn’t ‘forget’ any progress you’ve made. For the hardcore gamer, a stupidly difficult mode is available.
The music is appropriately dark, moody and somewhat cold, reflecting the emptiness of space combined with the knowledge that, much like Samus Aran, the hero of Hero Core is a lone sentient figure among stupidly hostile machinery.
If there’s a downside, it’s in the graphics. 1-bit graphics are nice for that ultra-ascetic look, but the deliberate crudeness may irritate some. Also, white on black can make the eyes bleed a bit after a while, and it does lend a sense of coldness to the game. Overall, though, the enemies are varied enough in design, and the novelty of a 1-bit style in 2010 lasts long enough to at least complete the game.
Final note: Hero Core’s passing similarity to Metroid will probably earn it the genre mashup name of “Metroidvania,” an obnoxious term applied to just about any platformer these days. I’d rather call it a shooter-explorer, not because that’s a pleasing term, but because it’s descriptive without being smug.
It’s free as hell, and a fun diversion. It’s sure to be game of the week on sites like Bytejacker. Get it now, while it’s still cool to do so.