You can love someone and still be disappointed in them, and so it goes with One True Hero. You will struggle to find a more endearing platformer this year, but, by golly, does it test your patience.
One True Hero spends most of the length of its story with a tongue in its cheek. You play an anonymous hero, handed a sword by a creepy spirit, and nudged out the door to fight a bloodthirsty Baron, who happens to be the twentieth tyrant to take over the kingdom in recent memory. While you might be dressed in green and vaguely Link-like, you’re barely able to tie your own shoelaces. Yet here you are, sword in hand, and the fate of humanity is in your hands.
One True Hero has an awful lot of fun with the premise. The narrator does their best Deadpool impression and takes little stabs at the tropes of the genre, the limitations of the game, and anything else it can get its hands on. Characters eye you with suspicion and send you on wild goose-chases to get bottles of water from the top of towers. Even the audio signatures and graphics get in on the action, having fun referencing Link, Assassin’s Creed and others. It’s all good natured and sporadically hilarious.
As a game, it’s somewhere between Ocarina of Time and a Poundland Tomb Raider. It’s at its most Zelda-like in the dungeons, when you’re led into 3D rooms stacked with combat encounters and puzzles. Well, we say ‘dungeons’, but they’re just as likely to be orphanages or barracks, as One True Hero prefers to stay in the light, offering a world that’s more colourful than it is dour. It’s refreshing, in all honesty.
Puzzles are often of the push-block variety, as you are finding and moving blocks to reach new areas, which in turn gives you access to a switch that opens up further options. One True Hero loves an environmental puzzle, and they are generally of a high standard. Often you’re tinkering with levers, fires and switches just to see what they might do, and the solutions slowly reveal themselves. It’s better than it has any right to be, at least in puzzle terms.
You might reach a platform and a circle of fire appears around it, which is the signal that combat is about to start. This is not quite as good. A reasonably limited cast of enemies, all looking like Orko from He-Man (old-school take for you there), attack you in waves, and your job is to dispatch them with your light attack, heavy attack, dodge and block. You can lock on too, just to make the Ocarina of Time comparison complete.
But boy is it a slog. The waves, certainly in latter sections, are interminable, as dozens of enemies get chucked at you in sequence. There’s no real way of knowing when it will finally end, so there’s a building sense of dread as the encounter progresses. Are you going to survive long enough? There aren’t enough enemies to warrant the focus on combat, either, so you’re carving up Orko after Orko and getting numb to the sheer Orko-ness.
The combat doesn’t feel satisfying. It’s unnecessarily difficult, for one, as enemies have too many unblockable attacks that are also near-impossible to dodge. There are mages who fire three-projectile barrages, and those spells act like homing missiles. Quite how you’re meant to duck them, we don’t know. There’s a litany of other issues that add up to make combat gripeworthy: arenas often have precarious drops around the outside, so rolling out of the way becomes a dice with death; enemy AI is bizarre, as they often stop bothering to fight and chill out on the fringes of combat; and you get surrounded to the degree that blocking and rolling becomes impossible to manage.
When we say ‘Poundland Tomb Raider’, it mostly applies to the exterior sequences, where you’re jumping over floating islands to get to the next dungeon. One True Hero has a reasonably fully-featured wall-climbing repertoire. You can grab ledges, shimmy, sidle along thin platforms, swing on flagpoles and even perform the backwards jump from a ledge. Like Tomb Raider, you ‘lock into’ a wall-climbing state, so that you don’t accidentally swan-dive off, and your little Hero does all the Nathan Drake-patented arm-reaches and sidelong glances to indicate that a platform can be reached. It is surprisingly ambitious for a debut platformer.
For the most part it works quite well, and there’s some novelty to pulling off these moves in something other than a AAA game. Puzzles get additional layers, as you aren’t only solving puzzles or fighting in them: you are searching for the scuffs and vines that signal a wall-climbing bit, too.
Ambitious really is the word here. One True Hero bites off so much, and has a go at swallowing it too. This is epic stuff, with a long playtime, plenty to do, a level design that never sits still – you will go from Shadow of Colossus-style bosses to Crash Bandicoot into-the-screen platforming races – and attempts at platforming, combat AND tomb-raiding. It shoots for the Moon.
The problem is that it hits a satellite on the way up, and then crash-lands near Albuquerque. Because the ambition is ultimately too high. It’s most evident in the bugs, and we’re not sure we’ve played a game this year that has so, so many of them. We’ve fallen through scenery, created impossible-to-solve puzzles, played infinite combat sequences, and listened to the audio crash until it became a pneumatic drill for thirty minutes. We’ve stared vacantly at puzzles, wondering how to possibly complete them, only to learn that the game has failed to fully generate them. Equally, we have skipped whole sections of the game by glitching through walls and jumping onto window-sills that we really shouldn’t have jumped onto.
The camera wants what the bugs are having. It swings about like a drunkard, ducking beneath the hero’s feet and crunching into walls. It can’t handle confined spaces, so One True Hero does what nobody would do in that situation, and creates umpteen confined spaces. And that’s without mentioning the graphical bugs: the constant stuttering, the awful pop-in.
We’re not angry, just disappointed. Because One True Hero is endearingly charming and funny. It’s ambitious, and when there’s a miraculous few seconds when a bug doesn’t ruin it, it can also be as well-designed and taut as a modern Zelda. But you’re walking a tightrope over lava, and the tightrope is made of cheese strings. Whether through bugs, extreme difficulty, or a combination of the two, you can find yourself dead and cursing the developers for not reigning things in more.
With some editing and focus, One True Hero could have been a true success. As it stands, this is a likable, sprawling mess.
You can buy One True Hero from the Xbox Store
- Occasionally hilarious
- Colourful and endearing world
- Ambitious and successful puzzles
- Bugs, bugs, everywhere
- Combat is grating
- Plenty of difficulty spikes to get impaled on
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - No Gravity Games
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 20 October 2022
- Launch price from - £11.99