Not A Hero spells out its morality right in the title. It’s not your average game, and its protagonists aren’t your average do-gooders, or even anti-heroes. No, Not A Hero isn’t a game about saving the day. It’s mostly about murdering your way through a series of technicolor apartment buildings as a diverse cast of psychopaths, using an array of explosive weaponry. Oh, and there’s a giant purple bunny running for mayor.
Yeah, Not A Hero is a strange one. Your murder spree is motivated by mayoral candidate Bunnylord, who is unequivocally the best part of Not A Hero. He hires the game’s characters to clean up the town’s infestation of drug lords, murderers and scumbags - and by “clean up”, we mean destroy with shotguns, pistols and plenty of high explosives.
The game is split into a series of worlds and levels, just like classic action games. Each world is a section of town, and each level is an apartment complex or warehouse filled with ne’erdowells. Before each level, Bunnylord gives you an overview of your objectives, complete with oddball PowerPoint-style presentations that he projects up on the wall. After each level, he takes your character for “a moderate breakfast” at the diner next door, where he continues his off-key tirades. His madcap dialogue and the bizarre imagery that accompanies it is the most consistently entertaining - and oftentimes hilarious - part of the game. Or, as Bunnylord might say, “on a scale from repugnant to mega rad, it’s definitely between a 7 and staggering”.
Given how odd the game’s characters are, the relatively straightforward gameplay is a stark but not unwelcome contrast. Not A Hero is a sidescroller inspired by both the fast-paced action games of yore, and by the more recent trend of cover shooters. The action plays out entirely in 2D, but by tapping X you can initiate a slide, which will bowl over most enemies and automatically stick you behind cover if you make contact in the duration of your slide. While you’re behind cover, you’re safe. Enemies can take cover too, though, so you’ll have to time your attacks carefully, or slide into them to knock them out. Once you’ve knocked an enemy down, you can perform an execution to kill them instantly.
As you progress, many of the enemies will become immune to your slide. This, coupled with the game’s unique projectiles and power-ups, does lend the game some variety. You might pick up a Fatboy, which turns your next clip into explosive shots. Or maybe you’ll grab a Cat Bomb, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like - A poor cat with a bomb strapped to it.
You’ll even unlock more characters as you progress. Each character has their own weird personality - the game certainly isn’t short on memorable psychopaths - along with their own weapon and playstyle. Cletus, the hillbilly who thinks he’s Scottish, carries around a shotgun and can’t reload while moving, for example. Unlocking a new character does freshen up the gameplay momentarily, but you’ll generally stick to your favorite characters after a brief trial run.
Ultimately, despite its power-ups and multiple characters, Not A Hero feels like it’s missing just one layer of gameplay, something to make it stick to your ribs as it goes down. It could use a character progression system, a larger variety of levels, or some additional mechanic besides the simple running and shooting. As is, the core gameplay (even coupled with Bunnylord’s ravings) isn’t quite frantic or satisfying enough to bear the weight of the entire game on its shoulders. As is, you’re just plowing through the same kind of apartment buildings over and over.
The game also has odd difficulty spikes peppered throughout. Certain levels, thanks to the specific objectives assigned to each, just feel tougher than they should. When you die and have to repeat the same level over and over again, complete with the same enemy patterns and side objectives, the game can become frustrating.
Not A Hero is pretty upfront about what it intends to deliver. There are no heroes here, just as there aren’t any deep mechanics or unexpected twists in the gameplay. What the game does have is an incredibly memorable cast of villains, most of whom you’ll be controlling throughout, and a solid core mechanic that unfortunately gets stretched a little too thin. Still, for fans of oldschool action and madcap humor, Not A Hero falls right into that middle ground “between 7 and staggering”.