There has been a recent influx of games with extreme difficulty. Whilst Bloodborne continues to bring a hard-as-nails element to the current AAA scene, there has been an even larger explosion of hardcore games in the independent circuit. The roguelike boom has seen the likes of FTL: Faster Than Light become hugely popular, while the indie horror scene gives players dozens of particularly vulnerable protagonists.
Now there is another addition to the trend, joining the likes of Crypt of the NecroDancer and Titan Souls. It comes in the form of Not A Hero, a 2D cover-based shooter from Roll7, the creators of BAFTA-winning indie skateboard title OlliOlli. The developer’s new game, however, is an entirely different beast.
Not A Hero tasks players with helping BunnyLord, a human-sized purple rabbit (from the future) in the running for an upcoming election. The bizarre candidate has a month to push his approval rating through the roof, and tasks the player with proving that BunnyLord is tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime. This, of course, leads to ultra-violence.
Players must run through maze-like buildings, diving from cover-to-cover and taking on a variety of enemy types. There’s a strong hint of Grand Theft Auto‘s sillier elements, with outlandish mob bosses and overpowered weaponry. Not A Hero has other similarities to the earlier GTA titles, with over-the-top violence detached from reality through its sprite-based graphical style.
Not A Hero plays very differently to crime-focused titles like GTA and Saint’s Row, however, with fast-paced, twitch-based gameplay. Indeed, it feels closest to a platforming spin-off of another Devolver Digital-published release. Not A Hero comes close to Hotline Miami, but with the title’s ’80s-tinged sleaze removed and replaced with more ridiculous scenarios and character models.
This is perhaps the biggest area where the two titles differ, as Not A Hero offers up a very different tone and a much more upbeat and silly atmosphere. That’s not to say that the title is more laid back, however. Not A Hero offers users a chaotic playground of violence, and gamers have nothing but their wits and the game’s fluid snap cover system to see them through.
Indeed, players need to watch out, as Not A Hero is a tough title to master. Each of the game’s enemies offers a different challenge, and with a measly five hits to take from even the weakest opponent, the title can certainly be unforgiving. Gamers will need to think on their feet and quickly work out strategies to defeat the more difficult enemies in the game – particularly those who can take down the player with a one-hit kill.
Unfortunately, not all of Not A Hero’s mechanics and levels can be worked out on the spot, and there is certainly some trial and error required. Levels have scripted events that happen within split seconds, with additional enemies appearing from stairwells and jumping through windows. Replaying levels is sometimes a necessity, as the player memorizes events to be able to better take on the hordes ahead. It has to be said, Not A Hero sometimes borders on the grounds of frustration.
This flaw, however, happens to be the best indicator of the quality on show: in spite of the occasional bought of rage-inducing deaths, players will want to keep playing. Roll7 has managed to make Not A Hero delightfully moreish, with extremely fun gameplay and fast respawn times. The title is the naughty puppy of the indie game circuit: even though it may make players angry, it’s impossible to stay mad at it.
Part of the biggest reason why the game succeeds in this regard is that it manages to keep a light-hearted tone in spite of the violence. There is a strong vein of humor running through Not A Hero, stepping back from the seedy underbelly of Hotline Miami with cartoonish bright visuals and ridiculous, over-the-top set pieces. Although the comedy sometimes falls a little flat, with an occasional over-reliance on wacky statements for laughs, there is still a strong enough pull to give Not A Hero the edge.
This element is enhanced by the game’s story and characters, particularly the charismatic horror that is BunnyLord himself. The anthropomorphic rabbit is the kind of candidate that the characters of Nathan Barley would vote for: psychotic and trivial, but equally hilarious. Tasking the player with ridiculous sidequests such as rescuing turtles or acquiring milkshakes in the name of his political campaign, BunnyLord gives Not A Hero an impressively strange dynamic.
BunnyLord’s charisma is not to be trifled with, as the candidate has managed to woo several playable characters into the service of his campaign. Each of the characters offers something different to the player, with different weapons, movement speeds, and abilities. There is not much by way of characterization, aside from different stereotypical accents and a vague backstory delivered by BunnyLord, but there is enough to differentiate the characters by way of mechanics to make choosing the correct character an essential part of the gameplay experience.
Players do not just have to rely on the character’s own mechanics to survive, however. Each of the stages will give gamers different secondary weapons and ammunition types to help in clearing the stage. Amongst these power-ups are the likes of cat bombs, laser ammo, and ricochet shots. Much like The Binding of Isaac’s tarot cards, the effects are limited, and need to be used sparingly.
The additional weaponry is required to complete the stages, however, and items have been carefully placed in stages to help with the more difficult parts. Players will need all the help they can get to beat the fiendish levels on show. Not A Hero takes players up against a vicious Russian mob, the delinquent Bredren Park, and eventually in a fight against the Yakuza. It’s a lot to contend with, and gamers have to be up for a serious challenge.
Thankfully, Not A Hero makes players want to take on all comers. Roll7 has made an addictive, if occasionally frustrating, title that packs plenty of punch, and the satisfaction felt when completing a level is terrific. Not A Hero may not constantly tickle the funny bones, but its lighthearted satirical moments and thrilling combat make the game something special for players after a challenge.
Not A Hero is out now for PC, with a PS4 and PS Vita release set to come at a later date. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.