If there is one thing that the PSP is lacking, it is an abundance of mindless action games designed for attention-deficit gaming. Most hardcore gamers are certainly aware of developer Irem and their classic franchises such as R-Type, Lode Runner and Moon Patrol, but they also created a twisted side-scroller that revolved around beating things down with an oversized hammer. Hammerin’ Hero is the spiritual successor to Hammerin’ Harry, and it delivers just the type of gameplay experience that PSP owners are usually denied. Like Prinny before it, Hammerin’ Hero is just the type of mindless beatdown that PSP owners have been clamoring for, but along with the old-school mechanics, come the unforgiving difficulty.
Don’t get me wrong, you will never feel cheated when you achieve death in Hammerin’ Hero. On the contrary each time you die you learn a little more about the intricacies of the combat. It’s like teaching you a lesson that carelessness will not benefit you in your quest to smash enemies with a hammer. It is this type of nostalgic learning curve that gives this game that certain panache that only Atlus games can deliver.
Each level in Hammerin’ Hero is broken down into a theme, and with it comes a new costume. For instance you have a baseball stadium, sushi restaurant, deep sea diving and an amusement park, all with their own outfits for our young Gen to wear. Once unlocked you have free reign to don whichever outfit you choose on each level, which does a nice job of adding style to the monotony of hammering people over the head. Each outfit also comes with its own blunt object to thump on unsuspecting people with. For example the sushi chef carries a giant frozen fish, while the baseball player wields his trusty bat. None of the outfits or weapons change the gameplay up at all, but the change of scenery is very welcome and a lot of fun.
The sheer amount of things to see and do in Hammerin’ Hero is where the fun is to be found. Outside of the outfits and extra weapons each level is chock full of Easter eggs that will have you coming back multiple times to discover them all. Changing classes mid-level is done by munching on Kanna’s specially made lunches, but these can also be screwed up creating unpredictable results. There are also job-specific tasks to complete each level, which will of course force you to replay older levels with newly acquired outfits and weapons. These are worth going back for as they hold the most interesting prizes in the game. Finally changing the game’s difficulty will obviously make for a more challenged play-through, but also it will modify enemy placement throughout the levels making their successive runs feel new and fresh.
It must be mentioned that unlike other games Hammerin’ Hero is entirely old-school. Levels are mere minutes in length, but there is a very good reason for that. The objective is to make an endurance run, and never take a hit. While this sounds daunting, it actually makes for a highly addictive challenge. Plus it is never frustrating thanks to the generous checkpoint system. In a day and age where gamers are used to saving every single step, this may sound appalling, but in practice it gives the game a certain charm that references back to the classics of the 16-bit era. What you will quickly learn playing Hammerin’ Hero is that stupid mistakes are generally the cause for your demise. Getting impatient while trying to breeze through a level will often times lead to a Game Over screen. However, once you get the hang of it, it quickly becomes an obsession and unlocking all the extras is a must.
Visually Hammerin’ Hero is a sight to behold. There is just so much color and animation that often times the PSP has a hard time keeping up with all of the action. There are regular bouts of slowdown, which is disappointing because when the game is moving at a brisk pace, it is simply gorgeous. Each outfit has its own style and animations, which truly add the visual flare. The levels all feel amazingly unique and sport some impressive 3D backdrops, complete with interactive objects. The slowdown also affects one of the cooler aspects of the game: multiplayer. Basically this mode allows you to go head-to-head with another player in a race against the clock, but the slowdown is so terrible that it makes this mode completely unplayable, which is a shame. Sound is also well done with both English and Japanese voices available out of the box. The sound effects and music however, are simply mediocre at best.
Everything about Hammerin’ Hero screams old-school good times. Enemies are highlighted in red, one hit can knock you out of the game, and there are a plethora of things to unlock. If you are a fan of this classic 16-bit style of action/platformers and own a PSP there is no reason to pass up this addictive little gem. The visuals are top-notch outside of the slowdown, and the quirky outfits and weapons will have you coming back for more for quite some time. It certainly isn’t the most advanced title on Sony’s portable wonder, but it delivers where it counts; fun factor.