the artistry and psychology of gaming

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Hero Core

Hero Core

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

This week’s game answers a very important question: what would happen if we gave Samus a jetpack?

Hero Core

Heroes see things in black and white…there is no gray.

Genre: Zero-Gravity Metroidvania
Link to Game: http://www.remar.se/daniel/herocore.php
Game Info: Released as freeware in 2010 by Daniel Remar. The game is the sequel to the game “Hero” (also by Remar) first published in 2005.

If there’s one take home point from Duke Nukem 3D, or Beyond Dark Castle, it’s that most any type of game can be made better by incorporating a jetpack into the gameplay (Dark Void excluded). Jetpacks are great! They’re fun, they’re liberating, and they’re something that deep down, we all really want to own. In real life, of course, we won’t be getting commercially available jetpacks any time soon (people have enough accidents transporting themselves on 2D planes, let alone the consequences of strapping an ignitable fuel canister to one’s body), but thanks to the fantastical world of video games, jetpacks are something we all get to experience free of physical injury. Jetpacks can be found in all sorts of games ranging from racers to third person action adventures, to first person shooters, and with thanks to Hero Core, we now see how well jetpacks are suited to the world of the ever popular “Metroidvania” subgenre.

Hero Core is a side-scrolling action game that takes place across a grid of single panel rooms. The Character (Flip Hero) moves from room to room, blasting enemies, destroying gateways, and battling bosses in order to upgrade his abilities and progress further. The game utilizes a jetpack to allow for vertical lift as a regular part of the moveset, however as opposed to other side-scrolling rocket-powered exploration games like Solar Jet Man, or Sub Terrania, the map removes gravity from the equation, allowing for the player to remain idly in the air; in fact, I don’t recall Flip Hero ever setting foot on the ground for the entirety of the game.

Doesn’t matter how many heads grow back; they’re still fun to cut off. Amirite Heracles?

The game features Flip Hero’s final struggle against his former master turned nemesis Cruiser Tetron, and the fight against his robot minions before they’re unleashed on the world, or something like that. It’s not really that important.

What is important is that the game features tight controls, enjoyable game progression, and some frenetic action that truly needs to be experienced. Before the end, Flip Hero is put through a real gauntlet of enemies and bullets to evade, block, and destroy while he powers himself up. Attacks come from all sides in almost every room, making great use of the entire screen, as opposed to the limited movement range found in ground based side-scrollers. Boss fights are even more impressive, as they each have their own distinct playstyle, not just in visuals, but in their own bullet patterns to avoid and weaknesses to be exploited. In many ways, the boss fights become more akin to the shoot-em-up genre than your typical action adventures, a hybrid combination not really capitalized on since The Guardian Legend back on the NES (although that game kept its top down exploration and vertically scrolling shooter stages seperate, while Hero Core integrates the two together).

Navigation is also streamlined to clue the player in as to where they should head without hand-holding, as well as minimize backtracking (a pet peeve of many non-fans of the genre). Areas are coded by threat levels that increase numerically hinting towards the anticipated difficulty, and the player can warp at any time to previously unlocked save points across the map (letting you get right back into the action). Points of interest eventually become marked on the map, which can be brought up quickly to figure out your next move, and for the real gung-ho adventurers looking to maximize their pain and suffering (even above the existing hard mode which mixes things up even more), players have the option of proceeding right to the final boss room any time they’d like (of course you’d do good to power up a bit by moving around the map to even the odds).

While the game’s graphics are simply shown in black and white, you might just be surprised with how well constructed they are. Bosses come off very detailed in their monochromatic glory, and enemy movement patterns flow seamlessly around the rooms. Even with just two colors, the game is able to accurately portray the planet’s surroundings to clue you in to its navigation, from lava, to breakaway dirt, to metal, to laser beams. There’s been somewhat of a resurgence in black and white as a visual style, showcased in games like MadWorld and Limbo, and although Hero Core’s graphics are more on par with the NES than most anything else from 2010, it still showcases a fantastic “new school” approach to classic gaming in blending its scenery with moving parts in a reverse silhouette fashion.

Complete the game 100% for an alternate ending plus a host of extras including a Boss Rush!

Really, it’s games like Hero Core that make the independent gaming scene the treasured antechamber of the video game pyramid that it has become. Exciting gameplay, adherence to form coupled with simultaneous innovation, distinctive style, diverse options and replay value; this game has all that and more. It’s just great!

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