Not A Hero: Super Snazzy Edition

Not A Hero: Super Snazzy Edition tells the story of an anthropomorphized, suit-wearing bunny named Bunnylord. He is on a mission to become mayor as a stepping stone to eventually take over the world.  In order to achieve this, Bunnylord seeks to increase his popularity with voters by taking on crime, and the player (initially Steve, the “campaign manager”) is tasked with killing everyone involved in criminal activity.  Each level represents a set period of time before the election, so the scope of the story and gameplay progression is evident from the outset.

Not A Hero stands out through interesting gameplay that uses tired mechanics in a refreshing way.  The cover shooter has become a staple genre, and is often criticized for the way it facilitates slow, tedious gameplay.  Despite being a two-dimensional game, Not A Hero utilizes cover shooting as its primary mechanic.  Unlike most other games, cover shooting is used to incentivize a fast style of play, which is compounded by the inclusion of regenerating health.  You can slide into and out of cover nigh-instantly, and taking cover serves as a period of invincibility from bullets in order to reload or close gaps on enemies.  Enemies can be shot with a variety of weapons at both long- and short-range, or executed after knocking them down.  There are also multiple power-ups and forms of equipment that can be collected throughout the level.  Some are more conventional, like grenades or quick reloads, while others result in instant room-clears with fiery bullets and exploding cats.  There is a surprisingly large pool of characters in the game that are unlocked, and can be selected for any level.  The attributes of these characters are very well-designed, because they each have next to no explicit weaknesses, while they all have clear strengths.  As a result, every character is suitable for every level provided that you know how to play to their strong points.  The addition of being able to play as Bunnylord in the Super Snazzy Edition is also welcome.  He is suitably overpowered compared to the other characters, but also faces heavier resistance.  It’s a short adventure of just 3 levels, but it ultimately delivers what it promises.

The combat itself is simple and relies on a sense of rhythm.  It can be played very restrained by picking off enemies at safe distances and remaining in cover; however, the game makes this more difficult by having enemies rush whenever you reload.  A more reserved approach gets punished severely in later levels when enemies are capable of blowing you out of entire rooms or the building itself.  Speaking of buildings, one element that really hurts the sense of variety in the combat is the fact that the vast majority of the levels are functionally identical.  Only in the late-game levels are the colors and style significantly changed to a Japanese-inspired aesthetic, but the mundane aspects of the office buildings are still present.  The game sells itself as being far wackier than it really is, and would have benefited from some completely nonsensical environments, yet in practice this isn’t capitalized on.

It is unfortunate that some of the novelty is lost before the primary missions are completed.  While the combat has a great sense of flow, style and consistency, the core gameplay never really changes.  New enemies and surprise events spice up the gameplay somewhat with escort or rescue missions, but the sliding, shooting and executing eventually becomes rather formulaic.  Each mission has multiple side objectives, but if the base mission isn’t fun enough to keep playing, they effectively add little, if any incentive to go back.  Even diving out of an exploding room through a window and into an adjacent building becomes mundane after the first few tries.  The gameplay has something of a silly action movie quality, yet never strives to be anything more.  This style wouldn’t be a problem if the cutscenes and promotional material weren’t channeling such a high level of ridiculousness.  If there are unicorns spitting lasers in a cutscene, riding one in gameplay should really be implicit.  Yet many of the wacky inclusions essentially act as collectibles with no gameplay implications.  Level names like Vodkaville or Sushi Central represent the unsubtle and comparatively boring environments to traverse and enemies to fight, which really highlights the wasted potential.

The pixel art style is fairly well-refined and visually appealing, but it doesn’t do much to separate itself from similar games.  Luckily, the animations are fluid and always convey a strong sense of momentum, facilitating Not A Hero’s fast-paced style.  In matching the aesthetic of the game, the music has a strong retro feel that has been very well polished.  The title and briefing room themes in particular convey an upbeat, enthusiastic feeling, while the combat themes have a stronger but still carefree rhythm.

While Not A Hero is thematically consistent with the setting and humor it portrays, it stumbles due to the nature of its delivery.  The off-the-wall brand of humor is naturally going to be unconventional, but many of the jokes are effectively just lines spewed forth from a random insult generator.  Calling someone a frog-head isn’t so much funny as it is boring and unimaginative.  Some lines also involve identical jokes with a slight tweak.  For example, Bunnylord was impressed with my performance in an early level, and requested to touch my spine; a line that confused me more than anything else.  After completing a few more levels, he requested to touch my ass, and I discovered that many lines are just a base joke with a handful of interchangeable words.  While this adds some semblance of variety, the jokes aren’t funny or clever enough to have an impact with a swapped keyword.  It doesn’t help that many punchlines are immediately followed by Bunnylord saying something is, or will be hilarious; as if the game is trying to convince you that the joke was actually funny.

Not A Hero is at its best when it’s being more subtle and self-aware.  Bunnylord will comment on how the player character is the least talkative person they’ve ever met.  A character named Cletus confused me with his accent until I saw the description of his abilities which included the phrase “pretends to be Scottish”.  These aren’t hilarious details, but they contribute to a sense of enjoyment derived from the absurdity of the situation.  For the most part, the humor in Not A Hero will live or die based on the player’s predisposition towards bizarre wording.  If the phrase “a yucky apocalypse of fiery sex” makes you chuckle, you’ll probably find the humor on-point.

Not A Hero: Super Snazzy Edition is a collection of interesting ideas that, while refreshing, deserved to be used more ambitiously.  The style and presentation convey a truly ridiculous setting, yet the gameplay doesn’t follow suit.  Tight controls, challenging level design and catchy music make for a solid title; however, the overall gameplay experience fails to live up to the potential that could have been achieved in this setting.