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H.E.R.O. (Activision)



Hype. I don’t get it, I don’t get it one bit. I constantly hear from my coworkers about the newest game they’ve pre-ordered and I just can’t help but wonder, “what if the game sucks? You just wasted 60 dollars on a game you’ll never play more than a few times.” I know I’m one to talk, I’ve spent more than 60 dollars on games that I’ve barely played as well but I got them for collecting purposes and the fact that the games I’ve bought are more than download codes is a bonus as well, so I can resell them to recoup my money. Hype extends to more than just new games though, there are plenty of classic games that have built a reputation for being absolute classics, think the Mega Man Series or Super Mario 64. But let’s bring it back even further to the Atari, games like Yars’ Revenge and Atlantis, actually just about anything from Activision and Imagic get the moniker of ‘classic’ thrown on them. But as longtime readers probably know, I don’t particularly like the ‘classics’, I like the obscure and weird so games like Karate, Motocross Racer, Polaris, and Marine Wars appeal to me more than Yars’ Revenge ever will. Okay so I’ve talked all about games that people like that I don’t particularly understand, so which game will I talk about today? Atlantis? I can’t talk about Yars’ Revenge I’ve already done that, so which game? Well it seems I’m in an Activision mood recently because I’m going to talk about H.E.R.O. and why I don’t particularly like it.




My gripes with this game are not with the graphics, I can’t actually in good faith complain about the graphics whatsoever. Since this is a Silver Era Activision title (1984-1985) the graphics are quite superb. Despite the blocky nature of the environments themselves, which is entirely understandable, everything is complex and well defined. I can actually tell what is trying to kill me, which isn’t as common as you think with a 2600 game, spiders, bats, tentacles, and wall snakes will all attempt to murder you as you trek to rescue stranded miners. That’s about it, the levels will change color and occasionally everything will go dark and that’s about it. Also am I the only one who thinks that HUD is very reminiscent of Seaquest?




Sounds are fairly minimal, just sounds for explosions, shooting, and propeller noises with a few others here and there. There is one small detail that I do appreciate; the TNT has a fuse noise which also acts as a rudimentary time for how long you have to get clear. Alright so sounds are minimal but work well with the game, but my main issue is not about the looks or sounds of the game, it’s with how it plays.




H.E.R.O. is an incredibly unfair game, and it seems it was intentionally programmed to be unfair. Difficulty in a game is fine as long as it’s done well; Castlevania for all of its crushing difficulty is consistent with how it applies difficulty, everything follows a pattern (apart from those damn hunchbacks) and even a first time player can quickly get into the swing of things. The same goes with games like Mario or Mega Man, the player is eased into the game. To an extent H.E.R.O.  does this as well, the first two levels are comically easy, unless you manage to blow yourself up with the dynamite, which has a stupidly short fuse by the way, but once you get to levels three four and five your game might as well be over, because you’re now introduced to branching pathways. Branching pathways are most often used as a means to introduce variation to a game, add a little bit of challenge to what might otherwise be a monotonous trek, but H.E.R.O.  does it all wrong. In the worst case scenario you’ll find a head end or a bonus item, useless or otherwise, at the end of a pathway, in H.E.R.O.’s case it’s usually an instant kill trap. Did you go down the wrong hole? Well now you have a fraction of a second to get back up before you hit an enemy filling up the hole or fall into an instant kill magma block, and since you have no idea these things are coming up you’re walking on eggshells for the whole game and it’s just not fun. Enemies and instant kill blocks are placed in some of the most dickish locations I could have ever thought of, oh you’re falling from the ceiling if you don’t move to the left immediately you’re going to lose a life.  Most of the time you can predict which hole in the ground leads to death, but the programmers must have been aware of this because later on the more high effort holes become the ones that lead to instant death. And here’s where it all leads to, you get three lives as far as I can tell you get only those three lives, three mistakes and it’s all over, at least with Castlevania or Mario you get multiple hits before you lose a live. That’s what this game needs a health bar or multiple hits per live because this game is just no fun otherwise. And once you memorize the layouts of each mineshaft the game becomes no fun since you know exactly where everything is located, I suppose if you want to speedrun this game that would be beneficial but otherwise I think it’s just boring.




I don’t like H.E.R.O. I think it has elements of a good game but the overall package is a frustrating bore to play full if instant death traps and constant game over’s that leave me feeling hollow instead of fulfilled. I never felt that any of the deaths were my fault and that it was the game just being a dick towards the player. If you really want to get a copy of this game then prepare to pay for it, the cheapest copy currently on Ebay if 40 dollars with the only boxed copy being 140 dollars, call me crazy but I think that’s a little but too much. If you like the game good for you I’m glad you can enjoy something that I can’t, but I’m sending H.E.R.O. to the Collector’s Zone for just being a not very good game with a substantial price tag tacked onto it.




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Amen! Really well written article and review here. H.E.R.O. reminds of Dragon's Lair. Trial and error... and once you memorize where the baddies are, what to do and where to go, there really isn't much of a game left. Overrated is how I'd describe H.E.R.O. 

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I know I've got a copy of H.E.R.O. for the C64 but doubt I've loaded and played it more than thrice in my entire life, probably not even that.

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Good points, I have played this game A LOT in my lifetime and I generally consider it the best game on the 2600 (I actually first played it on the C64), but I've often wondered at what point in the development they put those instant kills in there.  Did they think it was too easy?  Maybe players were wasting too much time going down the wrong path, so they figured "Let's just kill 'em?"  I dunno, but FWIW, I think the "wrong path" tends to be fairly predictable.  In most cases, the harder to reach path is the correct one.  Meaning, if you have to destroy a wall to get to a shaft then you better destroy it because that is the correct path.  This isn't always the case though.


When you say "crushing difficulty," in my mind, I'm not thinking of Castlevania, but I'd compare this to earlier platformers like Miner 2049'er along with its sequel and then the "Miner Willy" series out of the UK.  Those games demanded harsh memorization and absolutely pixel perfect precision to navigate.  I recently played a game called Tales from the Arabian Nights that is similar in that it demands a tremendous amount of perfect memorization from the player.  HERO wasn't like that.  It let you screw up and explore a bit.


I give HERO a lot of credit for designing a 2d platformer that uses a single button in an excellent way.  Ideally you have two buttons, one for jump and one for fire, but here the designer eliminated the need to jump by allowing the player to slowly (at first) fly upward.  I think this is an amazing game design decision that keeps the game interesting and different to this day, and while I do still have most of the levels memorized, I enjoy trying to run all through 20 ever few years.  There are always a few things I forget and have to re-learn along the way, so it keeps me coming back.


Note, if you hate HERO, you'll also probably hate Dark Caves, although I seem to remember them going a little easier on the player in the instant kill department.  It has been a while though.

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I always liked HERO but never mastered , or even reached, all the levels. I played more of HERO a month ago during the 5200 HSC than ever before, and found it frustrating but learnable.   I think the instant kills are mostly preventable by mastering the hover, which I think is impossible with the 5200 analog control, even in emulation.  It's got to be easier to hover on demand on 2600 and A8 versions. 

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I bought H.E.R.O. BITD and still have my boxed copy but for ColecoVision not Atari....I'm not sure how far I ever got, but I remember liking it quite a bit back then...Reading your review though, I see your point.   I'll have to revisit it sometime and see what I think  of it now...My guess is I'd still dig it. :)

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I was lucky to buy H.E.R.O just before the rising prices. Interestingly I have both the 2600 and Colecovision version, and even though the Colecovision version has better graphics, I prefer the solid walls of 2600. Maybe unfair gameplay, but it was almost carved in our 80s brain to give a flash look to everything and move fast.

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