No, it's not the title of a warped Japanese Hentai game. Half-Minute Hero is a new twist on old-school gaming. Think back to the original Legend of Zelda. Now, take all the gameplay elements, distill them down to their most basic forms and put a 30 second timer on the clock. You've just envisioned the concept behind Half-Minute Hero.
An original game for the PSP, Half-Minute Hero is half puzzler and half homage to the 8-bit generation. Visually, Half-Minute Hero is clean and sharp, yet the precise pixel art looks as though it could have been inspired by any number of NES classics without lifting anything directly.
Split into multiple parts — you'll get to adventure as both the traditional hero type and a plucky princess, among others — Half-Minute Hero is all about delivering high-octane gameplay in bite-sized chunks. Think of it as the video game equivalent of espresso shots. No single level lasts very long, but each packs a kick.
Playing the hero story, we quickly realized that the trick was figuring out the proper order in which to do things. After all, with a limited amount of time you can't afford to dawdle. A successful hero is an efficient hero. Thankfully, the timer pauses whenever you enter a town (because towns are idyllic places) to give you a chance to rest and recuperate. Within a town, the hero can purchase item upgrades and health potions and, of course, pray to the goddess. The goddess is kind and merciful, as she can reset the timer, but she's also materialistic. Every time you ask her for a favor, she practically shouts, "Show me the money!" While it is possible to get a freebie from her, it's not really free (she steals your clothes in retaliation).
Combat within Half-Minute Hero is styled just as simply as the rest of the game. All you have to do is run into the bad guys. Hey, it worked for the Koopa Troopas in Super Mario Bros., so why can't it work for you here? Turnabout is fair play. There is also something oddly amusing about watching your hero belly-bump his way to victory.
When time is of the essence, your ace in the hole is the ability to run, but just as with any super power, there is a cost. When you run, you make good time, but your health drops like a rock. In short, it's good for quick sprints if you're trying to make it to a town or avoid danger. You don't want to make a habit of running, though, or the bad guys will have you for lunch.
Switching over to the princess story, we got a taste of a different style of gameplay. You see, the princess can only leave the castle for a short period of time — she is a princess after all — and as such, she is always running. Time is the biggest obstacle for her, as anything that slows her down could cause her to be locked out of the castle forever. Yeah, her parents are pretty harsh with that curfew stuff.
Thankfully, the princess isn't alone. She's surrounded by a phalanx of archers who can all run as fast as she can — and they can shoot arrows in any direction. The net result is a story that looks like a RPG but plays a lot like a shooter. Once the princess gets moving, the screen scrolls automatically. Hitting enemies, obstacles or getting off the road slows her down. The best way to ensure the path is clear is to shoot everything in sight and then collect the coins that they drop.
Coins are good because the greedy goddess of time once again makes an appearance. This time, she's hip to the princess' speedy ways, so she doesn't require a stopover in a town to use her services. Nope. All you have to do is run over a red carpet. Time will go in reverse, and the appropriate amount will be deducted from your coin bank. It's essentially drive-thru divinity.
Interspersed between each of the levels are cinema scenes that reveal the story through a combination of text and detailed still images. Everything has a distinct anime influence, and the images are most certainly of a higher quality than anything 8-bit, yet they still fit within the context of the game. The same can be said of the music. There are no basic blips and bleeps here; Half-Minute Hero features a fully realized thematic soundtrack.
It's a concept that was likely difficult to pitch to publishers, but we're glad that Marvelous persevered. In practice, Half-Minute Hero appears to be an enjoyable (and addicting) little game. The biggest risks with this one are variety and replay value. Assuming the level designers can keep the challenges fresh and interesting, our first concern will be moot. As for the second, only time will tell. Expect a full review after we've had a chance to invest more than a half minute into the game.
More articles about Half-Minute Hero