| paleface [sys=PSP; cat=Platformer; loc=JPN] |
|A rebirth of "Hammerin' Harry," an old arcade platformer in which a Japanese kid smashed his way through colorful modern-day levels with a massive wooden mallet; this original version was ported to various platforms back in the day, including the SNES (see entry 1128). This new PSP game is coming to the States as "Hammerin' Hero."|
PSP Harry is an odd one. You still smash your way through colorful modern-day levels, yes, but the dozen or so levels are extremely short (about two minutes each if you don't die; one was a single room! that took about 30 seconds), and at times very sluggish (having to wait for a merry-go-round to spin to a stop so you can get off, for instance), with unintuitive challenges. Mallet-wielding Harry is just the first of ten or so costumes you can switch into, ranging from a baseball player (the bat has a nice arc to it, very effective all around) to an undersea diver (the anchor has excellent horizontal range, but slow recovery time) to a business executive with a stun rod (short range, can't move while doing a combo strike, bleh). And there's a hefty collecting component, with thick between-stage menus tracking how many of three or four types of items you've managed to acquire in the very brief stages.
The collecting aspect didn't charm me at all, so I just powered through the levels--on Easy, which lets you take a few hits instead of just one. Why'd I cheap out like that in such a short game? Because you're constantly faced with deadly puzzles that don't make a lick of sense, and will just hit you dead over and over until you figure them out; it very often is not at all obvious what to do or in what way the next attack is going to come, and even with multiple lives it may take a restart or two (or maybe I'm just dumb) to figure out what's expected of you in the latest arbitrary challenge. I don't really like challenges of that sort, so: Easy mode.
Why'd I keep playing, then? For one, because the game is short, and I figured it might as well just get through it. But also because the stages, while aggravating on non-Easy-modes, are also extremely inventive, and it's just fun to see what the designers will show you next, although not so much from a gameplay perspective a lot of the time. Even though the stages are very, very short, many of the environments are memorable, such as the stage where Harry is rounding the bases of a baseball diamond with the pitcher throwing heaters at him while other players slide at him cleats-first, or the office stage where Harry can bluff his way past many of the gestapo-like guards if he's got his business suit on, or the beach volleyball stage where many female bathers have awkwardly lost their tops, a nemesis drops bombs at you from a hang-glider, and you have to spike out a volleyballer mid-boss who serves increasingly large balls at you, or the final stage WHICH IS AN R-TYPE LEVEL: it is actually a horizontal shooter! for just one level. (The maker of this game, Irem, also did R-Type.)
These stages--which follow old-style 2D gameplay, by the way, even though they're mostly rendered in 3D, and sometimes even wrap you around a corner so that the whole stage seems to rotate for a second until you're been re-oriented along the new axis--are packed with detail, and fun to look at. Aside from emphasizing surprise bang-you're-dead gameplay more than I would like--perhaps to artificially increase the play length?--they also suffer from a significant deal of slowdown, almost constantly. This gets carried to a ridiculous extreme in one mid-level encounter where you have to destroy a eh thingy on the ceiling while bombarded by poison gas, in a room flooded with water, and not only do you move in horrid slow-motion in the water, you even move in horrid slow-motion while jumping above the water. Ech.
Oh, I should say that while a lot of the challenges are unintuitive and frustrating, once you figure them out, possibly several restarts later, they're usually pathetically simple. The AI usually follows a single, very stupid pattern. For instance, one later boss, flying an R-Type ship, seems extremely deadly until you realize that if you jump up onto his windshield as soon as the battle starts, you can just sit up there and smash his ship for a minute or so until he finally dies; he'll try to shake you off once or twice, so obviously this was what you were meant to do, but once you've got the shaking figured out (probably after another death or two), he's no threat at all, and simply an annoyance that takes too long to die.
The game has bad sound. Each time you have to re-do that R-Type ship boss, for instance, you have to replay the room before him, in which a giant battleship launches fat little missiles at you, and you have to bat them back at it three times. The missiles make this inexplicably shrill shrieking sound as they *very slowly* pass by you. It's horrid; I had the volume almost at minimum, and that sound was somehow still really loud; it's like they discovered the sound that breaks the rules and is still loud even when it's quiet.
That room is also an example of some of the things that are wrong about the gameplay. For one thing, you have no idea what to do: huge missiles are coming at you, and can't be hit. Eventually you figure out that you can hit the last one in each volley with your alternate attack. The really odd thing is that none of the other huge missiles can hit you--they just go harmlessly through--and, to add insult to non-injury, the one you have to hit will often fly so inaccurately that it passes by the edge of the screen, where you can't even hit it. Even when it's inside the screen, hitting it is a bit of a toss-up because, like most things in the game, the hit box on the thing is unpredictable, and often when you think you'll hit it, you'll miss.
The last major gameplay aggravation I should mention is that some of the costumes initiate a combination attack if you press the attack button repeatedly, and this is not good, because while the combination attack animation is playing, you can't move. This is lame, and also makes the game feel even more sluggish than it already is.
There are a few odd elements encountered repeatedly that seem like kind of a waste, bizarre as they are. First, civilians you find in the levels often have little emotion balloons above their heads; you can hit these, and then the civilian likes you, and may help you, for instance by throwing something at a nearby enemy. You can also skewer enemies with the batted ballons, if they're aimed just right, although the chances for that are quite rare, and in fact the whole balloon thing seems like a waste. The other oddity is that before each level, your girlfriend (?) asks you to pick a lunchbox (?) for her to cook up for you (?) before you head out for the day. The boxes correspond to the costumes you have, and once per life you can tap a certain shoulder button to switch to that costume; this gives you a little health, I think, and may help you overcome some enemy that the weapon included with your previous costume just wasn't touching. Still, it's weird, and not really useful except maybe in one level where you can bluff past the guards in the first half with the business suit, then switch to a costume that's more effective for fighting the unbluffable enemies in the second half.
The game is short and awkward. They could have made lots of large platforming levels with easily comprehended enemies and challenges and lots and lots of fun smashing of them, but instead they made a dozen very short, creative, sluggish, and unintuitive levels (I'm still not even sure what happened in that single-room level; the floor was uneven, there was a bizarre spider (?) robot on the ceiling, and people in the foreground were pitching beer bottles into the room; I just mashed the attack button until it ended), then threw in lots of collectible stuff. It doesn't really make sense as a recipe for a successful game. I'm glad I saw the levels, since their ideas are amusing, but they weren't fun to play, and I wouldn't mind having the money back instead of having these strange memories.