Often times when we talk about our favorite video games, we usually don’t dwell too much on who’s actually making them. This isn’t a surprise, to be completely honest. Unlike the film, TV, or music industry, video games have done a pretty poor job when it comes to celebrating the people who actually make the games we love. Sure, the greats do get recognition from time to time (here’s looking at you Kojima), but for every Ken Levine or Sid Meier out there, there are thousands of developers who sit in the shadows, not getting the praise they deserve.
So let me take the time to say this: Roll7 has been absolutely killing it.
Now, I’ll admit, I really haven’t had the opportunity to dig into their older, and to be honest, lesser known titles yet. Granted, the reason I’m eager to shower Roll7 is because of one game: OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood. While I didn’t get the chance to review that one personally, I would by lying if I said that OlliOlli 2 hasn’t kept me glued to my Vita for the past few weeks.
While I won’t ramble on about it for much longer, I will admit that I was taken by surprise. OlliOlli 2 is nothing short of a perfect sequel, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that Roll7 had something special going for them. Despite being a relatively small team, I was eagerly looking forward to their next title, which surprised me even more when I found out it was due out in just two months later. Even more surprising was that it was a side-scrolling shooter, titled Not A Hero.
Granted, while Not A Hero looks and sounds a whole lot different from Roll7’s other games, in many ways it feels very similar. The OlliOlli games have always been centered around tight, twitch controls with gameplay that’s easy to pick up, yet hard to master. Not A Hero follows this design philosophy in pretty much the same way, and it is just as addicting as you’d expect.
But before I delve into the ins and outs of how it handles, I should take the time to mention that Not A Hero (or at least its entire style and aesthetic) is completely insane and a wild departure from what I had come to expect. The basic premise follows a time-travelling, anthropomorphic bunny from the future (aptly named BunnyLord) who is looking to win the upcoming mayoral election, in an effort to ensure that doom and destruction is not brought on by various gangs and crime lords. You take control of one of his many employees, and are tasked with ridding the city of crime in order to raise BunnyLord’s ever-important approval rating. Of course, when I say “ridding the city,” I mean lay a path of destruction by slaughtering everyone who gets in the way.
It’s completely bonkers, I assure you, but it’s actually quite refreshing to see some narrative in what would otherwise be a run-and-gun arcade shooter. BunnyLord talks about eliminating his competition with such a nonchalant and dry delivery, and his way of trivializing violence is worth a few chuckles along the way. The fun even extends into the different playable characters.
As BunnyLord’s approval rating rises, you’ll unlock different characters, with each one having their own flair and abilities. Cletus, for example, is an Englishman pretending to be a Scot who is pretending to be a hillbilly, complete with short, hilarious voice clips that show off his ‘Northern’ side. For those who aren’t that in tune with off-key British humor, you can also play as Jesus, who wears pink spandex and has an affinity for hip thrusting, not unlike the character from the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski.
These are minor touches in the long run, but the different characters do have an effect on how you actually go about running and gunning. Unlike most other games in the genre, Not A Hero places more of an emphasis on smartly moving from cover to cover, rather than running around guns blazing. Quickly tapping a button will move you into nearby cover, while tapping it again will move you forward into the next area of cover. Quickly moving between cover, taking shots, and managing your ammunition requires a careful balance, but there’s always a bit of freedom to simply brute force your way through a spot of trouble.
Much like OlliOlli (I’ll try to cut down on the comparisons, I promise), there’s a definite groove to settle into, a state of zen if you will, though it requires a bit more concentration than I would have hoped for. There’s a lot to keep track of when you are trying to avoid harm, and while I do admire the ability to traverse forward with a single button press, muscle memory will undoubtedly kick in for most and potentially cause a problem. The control stick (or arrow keys for those on keyboards) still allows for manual movement, and there were plenty of times where I inadvertently tried to use both at once, which made way for some less than graceful maneuvering.
Still, once you take the time to learn how to balance between the automatic cover hopping and manual movement, the game allows for some slick and stylish killing, assuming you’re willing to take the time to master it. Different characters also add a little variety into the mix; Jesus, for example, can slide and move around much faster than his compatriots, while Cletus’ shots cause a lot of blowback, allowing you to knock enemies into each other like bowling pins.
There are also a few tricks to master when it comes to manipulating your way around the environment. Should you be trying to shave seconds off your run, you can use the knockback from explosions to propel yourself forward, or you can simply jump out a window, drop down one floor, and crash back in through a window to save some time from using the stairs. With optional challenges peppered throughout each level, there’s incentive to replay each level in order to shave seconds off your time, or pick up collectibles strewn throughout.
While I’m a bit saddened by the slightly higher barrier of entry that Not A Hero carries, after a brief settling in period, I had completely forgotten my earlier woes. I can’t say I’m surprised, because it’s hard to stay disappointed with a game that’s this hectic, fast-paced, and just outright fun. While some might make the argument that Roll7 might have made a misstep this time around, I’d argue that you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that boasts this much style.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
Its fast-paced action might take a little while to come to grips with, but once you do, Not A Hero is a non-stop action ride, filled with all the pixel violence and dry humor you can handle.