[Pretentious Refuse is a weekly segment advocating excellent indie games that may be overlooked and/or otherwise dismissed as “low budget garbage” by “real” gamers.]
Creating a game in a retro style can be a very risky task. It’s easy to take shortcuts and skimp out on the gameplay, with the excuse being “it’s retro; that’s how it was back then.” Additionally, a good portion of retro-styled games claim to be a homage to previously revered games of the past, but end up being a straight up copy of their inspiration, with nothing new really added. The recent Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: The Game comes to mind; the style and production values were amazing, but it really did absolutely nothing new to separate itself from River City Ransom gameplaywise. If anything you could even say it did less than River City Ransom, as the combat system felt lacking without any of the badass wrestling moves.
For once I’d like to see a game that’s unbelievably retro in fashion, is inspired by a classic video game, and still has its own charm, its own appeal.
…oh hey Hero Core, didn’t see you there.
One look at a Hero Core screen and you’ll think, “is this an old Game Boy ROM?” The graphics are nothing but black and white, in a simple but aesthetically pleasing dot matrix style you’d find on your old Brick Boy portable. You’re not quite sure what the hell you look like as the main character, but it’s okay, because if you’re old enough to remember the original Metroid, you’re old enough to still have some semblance of an imagination. The HUD is something right out of an old Metroid game, which is appropriate, because this is old-school Metroid style gaming at its finest.
It’s the sequel to Hero, but in grand retro fashion, the continuity’s simple enough that it can be explained in a little minute long recap at the beginning of the game. You’re Flip Hero, a robot of some kind that was created on this alien planet to decimate the human race. The war’s finally ended, but the machine warlord, Cruiser Tetron, remains on the offensive, churning out more and more machines to fight a war that’s already over. As Flip, you’re the only one whose acquired sentience and realizes that Tetron must be put down once and for all.
From there begins a game in the vein of old school Metroid, where linearity is optional, and a map is essential to explore the vast robot planet. There’s about nine or ten areas, each with their own boss, but if you really wanted to, you could head straight for Tetron in the center of the map and try to take him out the moment you start the game. That’ll be hard as balls though, since your abilities get upgraded after every boss you defeat.
Speaking of which, you only really have two abilities, and simplistic controls that work to your advantage. Arrow keys control you, and Z and X shoot left and right, respectively. Or, if you hold one of them, you’ll unleash a saber/shield attack that’ll eventually deflect enemy projectiles and give you access to hard to reach areas.
Even with the relatively basic controls and gameplay mechanics, Hero Core can still be palms-sweatingly difficult at times, especially with the bosses that usually encompass the whole map and can transform the game into something akin to a bullet hell shooter. It’s okay though, as the bosses are entirely skill-based; if you die, you die because you couldn’t dodge that projectile in time, not because the boss had some sort of cheap one hit kill attack. Additionally, save points are prevalent, and you can warp to one at any time.
It’s apparent that developer Daniel Remar is a huge fan of old Metroid games, but most importantly, he has his own ideas at the same time. With Hero and Hero Core, he’s created a game series that is a true homage to the NES and SNES Metroids, but also has a personality and charm all of its own. In the three hours it took to beat Hero Core, I somehow ended up getting seriously invested in Flip Hero’s story, and by the time I finally beat Tetron, I wanted to know more about the Hero Core mythos, even though the gameplay and graphics were both from the NES/Atari era. I didn’t even mention the soundtrack, which is some of the best 8-bit music I’ve heard in a long long time, and really captures the feel of the game. If that’s not a prime indicator that you have something special on your hands, I don’t know what is.
You can download and play Hero and Hero Core, along with all of Daniel Remar’s other games here for the unbelievable price of free.