I love Beat ’em ups. River City Ransom, Scott Pilgrim, Streets of Rage; you name it, I’ve probably played it. Or, at the very least, know enough to talk about one.
This genre provides an enjoyable experience for one or multiple players, while also being challenging, yet not too complex in terms of mechanics. So, now you can imagine my excitement at the opportunity to cover an upcoming title in one of my favourite genres. I Am the Hero is a 2D pixel-art brawler featuring a cool-looking character and a killer soundtrack.
Upon starting the game, you are greeted by a stylish neon-like menu screen portraying the main protagonist – Hero. Energetic synth rock music is playing in the background and you’re expecting the time of your life. These appealing visuals and music carry over into the game itself. Each level looks different – from a hospital to lantern-lit city streets, a subway and many more – with a range of detailed backdrops. Stages are further accompanied by a composition of energetic tracks which don’t become repetitive.
The game tells a straightforward tale of a hero who travels from location to location taking out dragons, ninjas, and other evil-doers. Those dragons, they never learn. His new mission involves disposing of a certain evil company, and that’s about it. Every character, including bosses, is introduced by several lines of boring, poorly-written dialogue after which a combat sequence ensues. The plot isn’t simply boring – it’s obtuse. A plausible reason for its simplicity is provided at the end of the game, but it still fails to impress.
Luckily, I Am the Hero isn’t about the story: it’s about combat. Hero has a range of fiery punches, kicks, combinations and special attacks in his repertoire. Special attacks, known in the game as EX skills, are powerful and often visually impressive moves which consume energy. In addition to storing energy, every successful attack also builds up a combo counter. Once a high enough chain is reached (100, for example), a huge block with that number lands on the level, damaging all enemies as a result. Hero can also incorporate an Endure mode, which slowly depletes energy, but makes him much faster and immune to any interruptions or knockbacks.
It all sounds good on paper, but many of these moves are too cumbersome to perform during actual combat. For instance, a critical attack can be executed when striking before being hit, but in the heat of a battle, this is often a random occurrence, rather than a planned out move. Worse still, they are seldom necessary, because the game is just too easy and doesn’t require much effort to complete. Or time, for that matter; I Am the Hero doesn’t take more than 2 hours to finish. Additional difficulties are unlocked after completing the game once, but even on Hard, I didn’t notice a substantial difference.
Both, the protagonist and opposing characters, are well-animated; they react to punches, kicks, throws and so on. Often, their eyes pop out of the sockets in a cartoon-like style. There’s a range of diverse characters to beat up; goons in suits, buff yoga guys, rappers who throw lyrics at you, scarcely-clad girls with whips, zombies, the list goes on. Certain environmental objects can be destroyed to obtain replenishing items. Kicking a delivery guy off his scooter and stealing his pizza is quite amusing as well.
Each level culminates in a boss battle. Alas, they aren’t any more engaging than any other regular encounter. Bosses present themselves as a dominant force by spewing several lines of unimaginative dialogue, after which they are promptly beaten up.
After completing any given level, you are presented with a choice: either a new EX skill or a new character. Additional characters consist of previously defeated enemies, as well as bosses, and can be chosen on the main menu. Afterwards, you can freely switch between Hero and the selected character during gameplay. Many of the unlockable characters are not nearly as good as Hero himself though; their movements and attacks feel stiff and they’re just not fun to use.
During my initial playthrough, I experienced significant framerate drops when a large number of enemies were on screen. While it was a 1 – 2-time occurrence, it did lead to some unnecessary frustration, which just shouldn’t be the case in a game of this size.
Two additional modes are available right from the beginning: Workshop-mode and Challenge Fight. In Workshop, you simply fight countless waves of different enemies, with every fifth wave being a boss encounter. Challenge Fight is even less original, though perhaps slightly more entertaining, in which you face off against a single powerful enemy. Both modes are supplemented by the inclusion of leaderboards, but I just can’t see competition being too intense. Lastly, a local co-op mode is available, and a second player can jump in at any time during a level. In this case, players are differentiated by the colour of their hero’s shirt, while the secondary character remains the same.
I Am the Hero isn’t the best example in the genre, but it isn’t among the worst, either. The story is forgettable, but it compensates with appealing, well-animated visuals and a varied musical score. Combat offers a galore of options, but the overall difficulty is just too low to incentivize their usage.
If story and length don’t put you off, then I Am the Hero will certainly deliver a few hours of action-packed entertainment.