"How many heroes does it take to win an election?"
None, according to Roll7's follow-up to Olli Olli 2, Not A Hero. It'll take up to nine not-heroes though. The assembled members of BunnyLord's Fun Club take to the streets of local colour-coordinated neighbourhoods, ridding them of criminals by shooting them all in the face. This vigilante justice is an effort to push up the approval rating of BunnyLord, the time-travelling purple rabbit-man, who arrives on a mission to save the planet from destruction... by winning a local election to become mayor. Some departure from skateboarding, right?
The game is a 2D side-scrolling shooter, with a neat cover mechanic that has you avoiding the incoming hail of bullets by sliding up against nearby pillars, bookcases, dustbins, etc. Your chosen member of the Fun Club runs, guns and slide tackles their way through buildings filled with angry hoodlums. The tackling of most enemies gives the opportunity to carry out a swift, and usually rather brutal, execution. The controls are simple: shoot, reload, special weapon (various explosives and ordanance), and slide. The slide stands out as the most unique mechanic, and becomes increasingly important as the difficulty ramps up. And ramp up it does.
With three districts to cleanse and twenty-one days until the election, that's a week per neighbourhood, one level a day. The first seven levels, where the Fun Club are charged with taking out the Russian mob and their walking-stereotype-kingpin, Bogdan Nabatov, flew by, not presenting much of a challenge. The final two thirds are much more taxing, and you'll probably hit something of a wall. Both the hoodie wearing, drug dealers of Bredrin Park, led by the gold-laden Upgrayyd, and the pan-asian traid yakuza gang of Sushicentral, spearheaded by a sword-wielding Akemi Unagi, will throw untackleable enemies at you, as well as those that can instantly kill you if they get close enough. But push on through that wall, and you'll find a wealth of frenetic, entertaining twitch-gameplay.
As you progress in your campaign, raising BunnyLord's awareness, you'll find new members joining the gang, and each behaves differently from the last. Cletus is a Glaswegian in a trucker's cap who sports a pump-action shotgun. It takes an age to reload, but it's capable of blasting doors open and blowing enemies backwards into one another. Take Jesus on the other hand. He's a hispanic, hip-thrusting lothario with a high rate of fire and the ability to shoot while he's sliding. They're an incredibly diverse bunch of miscreants. Each is fully voiced and constantly spouting amusing, accented updates, reminding you to reload or rejoicing in a particularly cool kill. Plus it's genuinely surprising how much impact the movement speed or ammo capacity of a character can have on the playthrough of a level.
This crazy, mixed-up group of homicidal, but civic-minded, maniacs combine with a set of fantastic chiptunes, a simple but crisp and detailed pixelart-style, and a compelling gameplay loop. Particularly on the tougher levels, you'll die and restart multiple times, occasionaly attempting the same level with a new character to see if you'll find a better fit. You'll instead find yourself entering a trance-like state, as you hone in on the best path for whoever you're controlling - planning where to slide, when to stay in cover, when to reload, which enemies you can ignore. Finally nailing that perfect line and finishing a level that's been crushing you is an enormously satisfying feeling. Especially if you've ticked off all the side objectives too.
BunnyLord, his stilted mission briefings and the story in general are largely forgettable - this is pure gameplay, with lashings of violence and a sprinkling of humour. Though some of the intended comedy falls a little flat and seems a little try-hard, for the most part the characters you'll take through the levels are more than capable of making you laugh. Imagine a side-scrolling, funnier version of Hotline Miami, and you'll have something of what Roll7 have accomplished with Not A Hero. The more you play it, the better you get at it, and the more enjoyable it becomes. If you can get over that difficulty spike after the first third, there's a great but rather short game to be found.
GameDynamo's Score for Not a Hero (PS4)
Eoin has been gaming for twenty-five years, worries he might be getting a little too old for it all, but hopes that he isn't. In the midst of an effort to find a future doing something he loves, he has taken to writing about his one enduring passion - video games.
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