Having launched for Nintendo Switch way back in 2018, Iro Hero has made its way to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, consoles with surprisingly few shoot ’em ups when compared to previous generations.
The fourteen chapter story mode finds our hero escaping an attack on Earth, killing his mother in the process, before setting off to kill baddies and save the universe. To do that he has a space ship that can fire two different coloured bullets. Blue bullets kill red enemies, red bullets kill blue enemies, and you can swap between colours with a press of a button.
This is a neat, if not unique, twist to a shoot ’em up and makes Iro Hero just as much a puzzle game as it is a bullet hell shooter. Most shoot ’em ups make you focus on your own ship, dodging bullets and spraying your own fire in the general direction of enemies. You are usually have such a fast fire rate that you’ll hit everything in front of you, even if you aren’t aiming too carefully, but Iro Hero requires to concentrate on both your ship and the fighters coming towards you, switching your weapons multiple times a second to get kills.
Your ship can also absorb bullets of the same colour fired by enemies, each projectile you absorb gradually powering up two super weapons which can be unleashed with square or triangle. If all that sounds familiar, it’s because the mechanics has been lifted from classic shooter Ikaruga, regarded by critics as one of the best shoot ’em ups available (and already ported to Switch and PlayStation 4).
Later levels add barriers that you can only pass through when your ship is the correct colour, and that also only allow bullets of the same colour to pass through, and mirrors that bounce shots round corners and change their polarity. What starts off as a simple vertical scrolling shooter quickly becomes a mental agility test as you have to make split second decisions and hammering the swap button to alternate between absorbing bullets, firing bullets, and sliding through barriers.
The colour swapping mechanic means you have think outside the box; one boss seemed impossible to me, a blue ship firing huge sprays of blue bullets so as soon as I swapped in to the red mode I died, but It eventually dawned on me all I needed to do was stay in blue mode, run into as many of his bullets as possible to power up and then unleash my super weapon. Job done!
Obviously the game makes things as difficult as possible for you, positioning red enemies behind red barriers so your blue bullets can’t hit them, and there are mazes of alternate coloured barriers in which you have to move, swap, move, and swap, which reminded me of Velocity’s teleport system. The game has a pleasing difficulty curve with just three lives in Story mode, sending you back to the start of the level if you run through them all. There are no options to change the difficulty, or indeed anything else other than the music, which you won’t want to change anyway as its a thumping upbeat tune that wouldn’t be amiss in a kids TV show.
Graphically the game looks rather odd, it’s blocky pixel spacecraft looks like a Commodore 64 or Atari game with chunky sprites rather the 16-bit era sprites favoured by most shoot ’em ups. It does work, but the palette is quite restricted due to the limitations of the colour swapping game mechanic. I’m not a huge fan of pixel graphics but going for the Commodore look is something I haven’t seen before, so it gets a pass from me on this occasion.
Trophy hunters should also take note of Iro Hero. This is one of the easiest Platinum trophies I have ever encountered. It less than twenty five minutes and all you need to do is play a few levels, not even complete the game. As soon as you start your first play through, the trophies spew forth from your first kill, I honestly though something had broken, the amount of trophy notifications I was getting!