The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Released in 2009 for the PSP, Half-Minute Hero celebrated the absurdities of the JRPG genre by stripping the concept to its 8-bit roots and warping it into a hyper-speed parody. I never realized how ridiculous hours of grinding for levels looked until I saw numerous 40-plus hour RPGs fast-forwarded into three-to-five minute chunks of gameplay. Super Mega Neo Climax takes the same concept and most of the same adventures, adds a few new embellishments, and trashes the bonus modes that didn’t work well in the original.
Hero 30, the first and bulkiest mode in Half-Minute Hero, follows the story of a plucky, young adventurer recruited by a cash-obsessed Time Goddess to help save the world. A mysterious evil force is traveling the globe one step ahead of the good guys, teaching evil lords a spell that will destroy the world in 30 seconds. The premise sounds goofy, but developer Marvelous Entertainment uses it to great effect, creating increasingly tense scenarios where the hero is required to explore the surrounding area, run quests for townspeople, and grind out levels to defeat the evil lord before the timer runs out. Battles are mostly mindless affairs where the main character rushes through enemy opponents without any direct input from the player; the real challenge is figuring out how to solve each scenario under the added stress of the timer.
Though each individual adventure lasts a couple minutes or less, the game is packed with over 50 levels laid out on a Super Mario World-style world map. You’re encouraged to replay levels to discover new allies and gear – your level and stats reset at the beginning of each level, but there is some progression in terms of being able to bring new armor and weapons with you. Super Mega Neo Climax also includes leaderboards, a major upgrade from the PSP version that allows you to see how quickly your friends conquered a level as you’re playing through it.
The real time-sink comes in the form of alternate paths. Some levels allow the story to split off into new directions if you perform the right actions. Unlocking every possible level and storyline requires some serious outside-the-box thinking, and I found myself obsessively puzzling over certain levels repeatedly in an attempt to discover a new path. With a handful of super-difficult levels new to the XBLA version, Half-Minute Hero goes well above and beyond its name with the amount of in-game content it delivers. In case it’s not enough, the menu has a DLC option, so we’ll hopefully have even more time-conquering adventures soon.
Sadly, if you want to enjoy all of that content, you need to overcome one troublesome hurdle: the visuals. The HD overhaul of Super Mega Neo Climax includes a new cartoon art style featuring flat, jerky characters that looks like they’re right out of a Flash game thrown together by a 14-year-old. There is a ton of loot for you to uncover, but almost none of it looks good in this new mode. Marvelous has kindly included an option that allows players to switch to the PSP game’s old-school pixel graphics, but that isn’t much better if you’re playing on a larger HD screen.
Fans of the original game may be upset to discover that some of its subsequent modes have been tampered with. In the PSP game, Evil Lord 30, Princess 30, and Knight 30 all offered unique gameplay that wasn’t as fun as the RPG core but at least gave some variety. In Super Mega Neo Climax, those modes are shrunk to single large levels that play out like Hero 30, providing the same gameplay with a different main character. While extra modes now last a much shorter time than in the original, they fit into the game better and won’t leave players who came for an RPG frustrated that they now have to play through an RTS or a shoot ‘em up.
Xbox Live Arcade hasn’t seen very many RPGs in its nearly six years of existence, much less traditional Japanese RPGs. While Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax messes with the formula, it embraces the wide-eyed heroic journey and anything-could-happen nature that makes the best JRPGs work. By the time you finish all of the 30-second stories, you’ll have teamed up with a nun, made a deal with a demon, collected (and squandered) millions of gold in ancient treasures, made friends with a zombie, and lived through an avalanche. The game’s greatest accomplishment is that these simple little tales are as effective as many full-length JRPG releases this generation.