Roll7 made a great name for themselves when they launched OlliOlli last year, and the hype continued with their bigger and better sequel that came out back in March. Now the team is taking their knack for polished pixel gameplay and applying it to a 2D cover-based shooter that draws more inspiration from Hotline Miami and Gunpoint than Tony Hawk or Skate.
In Not A Hero, you play as one of several characters that are helping BunnyLord – a giant purple bunny-person from the future – run for Mayor in order to rid the town of evil crime bosses and possibly prevent a catastrophic world-ending apocalypse. You start out with only his campaign manager and best friend Steve unlocked, but as you clear levels and raise BunnyLord’s approval numbers, more characters with varied personalities and unique skills on their resume will be unlocked.
The game doesn’t take itself very seriously at all and for the most part that works in its favor. Characters and enemies are ridiculous caricatures and stereotypes but always with an awkward twist, and under the guise of the vibrant and playful pixel art of the game, it comes off more silly and playful than offensive. All of the plot progression is done via pre-mission and post-mission reports from Bunnylord himself.
It’s in these moments that the charm of the game is fumbled. The writing for Bunnylord is far too determined to be oh so random – to the extent that it’s actually randomly generated – and that combined with his use of British slang which, from an non-British point of view, made it hard to connect with or enjoy most of what he says. Combined with the fact that it’s all delivered through text boxes that you’re not able to quickly skip past individual lines of text, and I found myself skipping the scenes and past most of what he had to say before the first third of the game was through.
Thankfully, that’s one of the only harsh negatives I drew from the game, as the rest of the experience is incredibly polished and addictive. Each level sees you selecting a character and then drop into a mission area of 2D buildings with stairs and breakable windows incredibly similar to the layout and style of Gunpoint. Unlike Gunpoint, however, you are not expected to be calculating and stealthy; Not A Hero expects to to go in guns blazing.
Delivering shots while right next to an enemy grants a critical blow, and sliding past an enemy will trip them over to allow you to quickly dispatch them with a finishing move. It’s hard to get used to this kind of play style because of one of the game’s cover system. If you tap the dash button, you’ll quickly dive behind a piece of cover, like a security panel or a dumpster, but it’s much more rewarding to be in the thick of the action rather than glued to cover.
The positive to this is that it lets you hide from enemy fire and recover your health, which is important since you can only take a few hits before dying. It gives you good breathing room, but attacking enemies from the other side of the room behind a computer desk is simply far less fun than delivering critical hits and dash attacks.
There are also a multitude of weapons and items available to the player. Each character has a unique starting weapon; Steve has a simple but effective pistol, while Cletus has a devastating shotgun that can even blast open doors. There are also some melee options with the katana wielding Kimmy and Ronald Justice setting out to fight crime with his hammer. But those are just a few of the characters, and top of this variety are the numerous collectable bullet types and special weapons available in each level.
Different bullet types like ricochet rounds or piercing bullets add great twists to your strategy, while special weapons like grenades or deployable turrets can help get you out of a tough situation or help you quickly clear out one room in order to get you to the next one even quicker. All of these weapon variables, on top of the multitude of entrances and exits to buildings and their individual floors, provide lots of different options and a wealth of replayability.
The areas themselves aren’t too varied visually. There are a trio of themed zones, each of which have 7 different mission levels, a level for each day of the week of the 21 day campaign. The first two areas are roughly similar in design, with the first being a European shipping area, while the second is a similar set of buildings in a lower class ghetto. The third provides much more variety, taking place in a Yakuza-run neighborhood with Asian aesthetics and unique architecture.
The lack of variety in the visuals is made up for with the strong level and mission design, thankfully. Each level feels different from the last, making you come up with new approaches and strategies every time. On top of that, each mission has 3 bonus objectives, from getting killstreaks to finding odd collectibles. Fulfilling these objectives improves your approval ratings, and you’ll need to approach the levels in unique ways each time to meet each goal. The difficulty of these objectives, as well as of the game’s combat in general, ramps up steadily as you progress. Fans of die-and-try-again titles like Hotline Miami or Super Meat Boy will be right at home with this game.
Not A Hero is another great title from Roll7, and another must play title for fans of games that make you pull out your hair with their difficulty, but give you the best feeling imaginable when you clear a level. The writing certainly gets a little too flavourful for its own good, but it still does a great job of connecting the experience and making you want to play the next level right away. It’s a short experience, but a memorable one, although if you go for all of the bonus challenges, it’ll be anything but a short experience.
Version tested: PC