Developer Roll7 has a particular knack when it comes to making frantic and challenging games. Their previous outing, the OlliOlli series, was a critical success that proved skateboarding games can still be fresh and fun even on modern systems. Their newest game, Not A Hero, takes things to a more familiar run-and-gun setting, for the most part anyway. The game starts out with a very simple premise: BunnyLord, a purple anthropomorphic rabbit from the future, wants to get elected as the city’s mayor. Things get rolling with a man named Steve being tasked by BunnyLord to up his approval rating and improve his chances of being elected. How is he supposed to accomplish this? Why, by brutally murdering the city’s criminals, thereby reducing crime and making people view BunnyLord favorably, of course. Sounds simple enough, right?
Not A Hero is presented in a 2D Side-Scrolling isometric perspective with a colorful retro-esque 8-bit stylization. The graphical presentation, while simplistic and a bit cliché in its use of overly-simple pixel characters and environments, definitely works to the games benefit. The game is structured as a cover based run-and-gun shooter at its core, and being able to identify where to take cover can mean the difference between getting a kill in or being killed yourself. The environments are vibrant and have the right amount of detail to mesh with the character sprites, all while pointing the player where to go and where to hide. Controls are extremely tight, and are part of what the make the game most enjoyable. Running, Jumping, Shooting, and Sliding into cover all feel as they should, and are easy to grasp even for newcomers to the run-and-gun genre. Traversal through each level is accomplished by going floor to floor and building to building and taking out baddies, similar to how retro classic Elevator Action is laid out. It’s such a simple premise, but in hand the game plays with a larger amount of depth than one might expect.
In addition to taking out criminals, there are other tasks that players are given at times. For example, hanging campaign posters amidst your rampage or even destroying a gang’s entire base of operations. There are also optional tasks that players can accomplish in each level, such as getting a certain amount of kills in a certain amount of time or finding special items in each level that will further increase BunnyLord’s approval rating. The higher BunnyLord’s approval rating gets, more characters will be available for you to choose from, each with their own unique personality and playstyle. This further adds to the game mechanics depth, and gives players more options that might suit their preferred playstyle.
Personality drives a lot of what makes Not A Hero what it is. With Roll7 being a UK based developer, players can expect loads of British humor. While this may not be to everyone’s liking, and admittedly didn’t have me laughing the whole way through, it definitely adds to the charm of the overall experience. The amount of violence present belies the cutesy pixel graphics as well. Shooting enemies results in lots of blood splatter, much like Hotline Miami, but not quite as extreme. There are also plenty of special weapons, such as grenades, available to further maim your enemies with. Players can also rush up to and slide into enemies and execute them for a swifter kill, which can also tie in to optional goals at times. The controls coupled with the action really add to the frantic nature of Not A Hero.
If there’s one feature of this game I could give unanimously glowing praise to it would be the soundtrack. I had a feeling I was in for a treat when Dubmood’s Cydonian Sky greeted me at the title screen, and my hunches were correct as the game’s soundtrack didn’t disappoint throughout my time with it. Popular European Chiptune artists like Dubmood, Zabutom, and Fracteur, among others, are among the artists whose music is featured in Not A Hero, and they all fit extremely well. Hard driving techno chiptunes are what await your ears in each level, with goofy lounge music backing up the banter between BunnyLord and his growing entourage afterwards. It’s a genius sampling of music to add to the overall experience of the game. It might be a little biased of me to say so, as I’m a huge fan of Dubmood and many other artists featured in this game, but I have to give huge props to Roll7 for having great taste in music.
While the humor was hit-or-miss for me at times, perhaps the biggest downer was the overall difficulty. While it is common knowledge for Roll7 to make challenging games, Not A Hero can be unyielding at times. While it starts out easy enough, the game does ramp up the difficulty quite a bit after a few levels. In addition, while the game is kind enough to give you regenerating health, there are zero checkpoints. Meaning that if you die right at the end of the level after busting your butt to get some difficult optional tasks done, you have to do the entire level over again. The regenerating health can make this difficulty curve less steep, some of the tasks are time based, which can really put the pressure on you to move quickly, where mistakes and in turn, unwanted deaths happen. It can be an unfortunate frustrating point in an otherwise brilliant indie game.
Roll7 hit many of the nails right on the head with this game. While the clichéd use of pixel graphics in an indie game, humor that might not be for everyone’s pallet, and at-times brutal difficulty give it some marks against it, Not A Hero is a fantastic entry in the developer’s portfolio. If a solid run-and-gun with an absolutely amazing soundtrack and tight controls is on your wish list, do give this game a go, it will most certainly be worth your while.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Devolver Digital ; Developer: Roll7 ; Players: 1; Released: February 2, 2016; Genre: Action ; MSRP: $12.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher, Idea Factory International.