Saturday, July 10, 2010

Half Minute Hero

Half Minute Hero
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
Publisher: XSEED Games
RPG / Variety - Playstation Portable
1 player
Half Minute Hero

First thing you need to know is that PSN hosts a decent number of PSP demos, and for the most part, made me NOT want to purchase the full game. Half Minute Hero was the exception. It was quirky, brilliant, and most of all entertaining. I was sold after, well... 30 seconds.

Half Minute Hero isn't really -a- game, and more of a collection of games tied together with an overall storyline. The games themselves are all quite different, but they all have the recurring motif of a 30 second time limit.

Hero 30

This fast-paced RPG is the principle mode. The premise is that an evil lord is casting an apocalyptic spell which requires 30 seconds to complete. So your job as the Hero of the story is to race to defeat the lord.

Just like a "real" RPG, you can purchase items, talk to townsfolk for advice, recruit party members, grind for levels, solve puzzles, and explore dungeons. Of course, these activities are much more basic and streamlined than the typical RPG (battles are largely automatic and average 1.5 seconds, purchasing EQ automatically equips, etc), but the content is there.

That begs the question... how can you do all of that in 30 seconds? For the first few scenarios, it's all a matter of speed and efficiency. You have to figure out how much to fight / level up and balance that with the ticking clock. Luckily time stops when you're in towns, so you can take a breather, talk to citizens, heal and improve your equipment. On the world map, you can make mad-dashes which eliminates random battles for the duration, but costs you HP. So there's a time management aspect to making a beeline to your intended destinations, stopping only to fight when it's necessary, and balancing that with how much HP your hero has.

Later scenarios have the same balancing act, but gives you ways to extend your 30 second time limit. There's a time goddess that will reset the clock to 30:00 at the cost of gold. The catch is that the cost of gold increases everytime you use it, so it becomes economically unfeasible past a certain point. But what it does is present you with larger and more complex game scenarios. In fact, this little game has "achievements" that trigger when you meet certain criteria (2 per scenario) and even multi-branching paths that introduce new scenarios. An amusing touch is that each scenario is considered a game in of itself and has its own set of credits once cleared.

Evil Lord 30

From what I gathered, this "real time strategy" game isn't a particular favorite among players. Although it's billed as a RTS, I actually feel it's more accurately described as a summon action game. Basically it's like an ARPG where your character, the Evil Lord, cannot attack directly, but needs to summon monsters to fight for you. You can summon 3 types of monsters, with rock-paper-scissors affinities. That's where the strategy component comes in.

You can summon as many monsters you want and as often as you want, but the faster you summon them, the weaker they are. The monster strength is determined by the size of your summon circle. Once you summon one monster, it shrinks and then grows over time. As you defeat enemies, you do gain experience points. Once you level, your max summon circle expands, allowing you to make bigger monsters. Get hit by an enemy, and your circle shrinks.

The premise of this game is that the Evil Lord is trying to save his beloved Millenia, who has been turned into a bat. But after 30 seconds, daylight breaks and they are doomed. Just like Hero 30, you can find the Time Goddess and turn back the clock. This is a necessity since later stages are all about throwing you in mazes full of enemies, so you'll need every second you can get.

Princess 30

Princess 30 is absolute silliness. The story is that the King has fallen ill, and the naive Princess ventures outside of the castle in attempts to get help. Naturally, this worries her parents, so they give her a strict 30 second curfew.

The actual gameplay is closest to a shoot-em-up. The screen will autoscroll in a predetermined direction, but you can influence its speed based on the path your princess takes. Surrounding the princess is 30 bodyguards which has a dual purpose: more bodyguards = more offensive strength, but more bodyguards = larger hitbox. Enemies will come from all four directions, so you have directional fire mapped to the buttons. But the essential goal of each stage is to collect a person / item, and then race back to the castle before the 30 second limit runs out. The time-extenders here are red-carpets, which turn the clock back a little for as long as the princess is on it.

Guard 30

As you may have guessed, Guard 30 is a protection game. This time, it's your group that is casting the spell of destruction. A Sage is being targeted by all sorts of monsters, and has asked you to provide protection until the spell of destruction has been cast. So within those 30 seconds, a flood of monsters, demons, and bosses will try to thwart the Sage's plans.

You have a few resources at your disposal that can help. You can choose some one-time use tools before a stage begins. These items range from bombs to barriers. You can also pick up weapons on the field. And foregoing that, you can ram your body into monsters to push them away. Unfortunately, monsters don't "die". They only get knocked out for a few seconds, before they start coming for the Sage again. So you'll have your hands full here.

Unlike the other games, there's no time-extender because you actually want the clock to run out. But since the Sage just stands there chanting the spell, it will often put your group in peril. So another valuable tool is being able to pick up the Sage and relocate. The cost of doing this is that the Sage cannot chant while you're in motion, and so the clock is not progressing. But considering the layout of the stages, you pretty much have to move around to avoid the masses of enemies. Luckily, there's another benefit to moving the Sage around. There are hotspots on most stages which double the speed at which the spell can be cast. So there's another positive incentive to move around.


The games in Half Minute Hero are all quite distinct. I don't think any of them are bad. Hero 30 has the most meat and is the most fun by far. But there were really good moments in each of the games, where the gameplay elements came together in a entertaining, this-is-awesome way. I know that the gamer community was not as enthusiastic about Dark Lord 30, Princess 30 and Guard 30 and to be fair, they are uneven experiences. There generally isn't a progression of difficulty or complexity, so the challenge and design feels unbalanced. They're also really quick to blast through, compared to Hero 30. But as a whole package, it offers variety, a lot of content, brilliant fun and never takes itself too seriously. It resembles nothing else on the market. This is my favorite PSP game thus far.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Killzone Liberation

Killzone Liberation
Developer: Guerilla
Publisher: SCEA
Action - Playstation Portable
1 player / 2-6 player Ad-Hoc & Infrastructure
Killzone Liberation

Killzone Liberation was one of the first titles recommended to me when I purchased my PSP. I didn't know much about the KZ series, other than the fact that it was an exclusive that Sony fans praised. Unlike the first-person perspective of the PS3 series, Killzone Liberation took a different path by being presented top-down. I'm always down for a hearty action game, and because of the view, I was looking forward to something that distinguishes itself from the pack.

Indeed, KZL sets itself apart for a few reasons.
- The top-down perspective did make it play very differently than other shooters. For one thing, there's no jumping. You can still crouch behind objects to gain a defensive advantage, but because there isn't much of a vertical axis to the camera, height isn't emphasized much.
- The game is hard. The enemies are pretty accurate with their bullets, and aren't afraid to spray you. The few bosses that are here are also throw-your-PSP-out-the-window hard, which while frustrating, is quite respectable.
- Although there are some segments with allied AI, which I hate, you have some control by being able to designate your partner to specific locations on the screen or to follow you. The great thing is your allied AI partner listens to you, so if you tell them to protect themselves behind a barricade, they will remain there, even if you wander away from their area. You can also command your partner to do certain things, such as setting up bombs and clearing the way. It's nice to be able to exert some control over the computer controlled characters.
- The game shipped incomplete, so you can only receive the final 20% of the game and the ability to play online through DLC. Luckily, the DLC is free, but when I "finished" the game, I thought it was weird that it ended on a cliffhanger. It was then that I learned that the DLC wasn't a bonus, but a fix for what really ought to have been there in the first place.

Ultimately it comes down to whether the game is fun, and I think this is where Killzone Liberation slips. I never got the sense that it was anything more than clinical and generic. There isn't much variety in the types of foes you face. They only come in a handful of flavors. For the most part, I felt that the waves of enemies were only there to keep you occupied, rather than an integral part of the game design. A common scenario is that you'll face 3 enemies. So you kill them, and out comes another wave of the same enemies. It gets repetitive. That's what made the challenge harder to deal with too. It seemed like it was hard for the sake of being hard, and left me with no satisfaction when I overcame those challenges. It was a soul-less experience.

Probably the biggest complaint of mine is the lock-on targeting system. Theoretically you kinda point your character towards an enemy and then your gun is locked onto that individual. Since you don't have the precision of a 1st person shooter, the lock-on certainly helps a game like this. And this totally works when there's one enemy on the screen. Where things go bad is when there are several enemies in the same direction. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get your gun to lock onto specific enemies in these situations. Worse yet, even if you're targeting one enemy, once you knock them to the ground, your auto-aim will then lock on to another enemy. It is extremely annoying when you want to finish off an opponent, but the game sometimes decides to just shift targets on you. And this is where most of the frustration came in. Your auto-aim goes wherever it wants to. Yes, the game is hard, but a large part of that hard is because you are at the mercy of the finicky targeting system. If the mediocrity in design wasn't enough to ruin the game, the lock-on targeting system definitely did.

On paper, Killzone Liberation is a great game. It's intense, fast-paced, challenging, and relentless - all very good things for an action game. It's got a bunch of challenge stages that make it feel very different from the regular campaign mode too - and more content is always a good thing. But no matter what the game offered, I never quite enjoyed playing it. If the rest of the Killzone series is like this, Sony fans can just keep it.