Rain-slick streets reflect the glow of the city, boots slam into the pavement as three men grapple for their lives. The Hero, red shirt thrashing across the landscape, slams his fists through a duo of suit-clad criminals. They produce firearms, shuffling back a pair of hesitant steps to line up a shot, only for the Hero to close in, fists raised, and deal a terminal blow.
Men fall, slamming their bodies on top of the wet asphalt, black suits fading into the night sky.
I Am The Hero is a kinetic experience, powered by the fury of punches and kicks. The average play session will see players lancing bodies into the air in flurries of blows, set to the beating pulse of electronica. At first glance, I Am The Hero is everything it needs to be: a barely restrained festival of violence, set to the percussion of fists. Enemies fall from the sky, The Hero rushes forward to engage, bodies fall, and The Hero continues forward.
In practice, I Am The Hero only sets expectations high. On observation, I Am The Hero is beautiful. The sprite work is exceptional, with every little motion and aesthetic choice a buffet of good design. The Hero himself is kinetic, a little cartoonish, but very centered around his own body. When major attacks connect, the entire world stutters for a fraction of a second, the screen flashes, the entire view jumps a few pixels, before snapping back. For that tiny fraction of a second, it’s impossible to avoid just how world-jarringly powerful the hits feel. Combat never escapes the realm of cartoonish violence, but it doesn’t sacrifice a hint of power. Everything The Hero does is meaty. The little details, like reflections in the rainy streets, glow of neon tubes in the background, and the distortion of body smears in the game’s sprite models are genuinely a feast for the eyes. The entire game is on a tilted plane, where the left side of the screen is squished, and the right side is expanded, giving a roguish tilt to every level. I Am The Hero is aesthetically exceptional.
The game is driven by an endless barrage of electronica, dubstep, and rock. There’s never a dull moment musically, the player is always driven forward by a never-ending drum beat. Combined with a punchy sound design for hits and powers, I Am The Hero sounds exactly like one would expect it to, without being remarkable in either direction.
Sadly, the game stumbles on most other metrics. The story of an unnamed hero righting evil the world over has the side effect of wallpapering over any meaningful story. There’s no real meat to any narrative elements in the game, and though it’s not exactly necessary for a game in the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre, the remote lip service paid to the story before being quickly discarded for more fisticuffs feels a little vacant. Even if it is, to a degree, justified by narrative elements later on, it still feels like it’s making sacrifices it doesn’t have to in order to jam more discordant guitar and stereotypical enemies onto the screen.
Piggybacking off of the previous point, the enemies themselves can leave a kind of bitter taste in the mouth. Dialog is shorter more often than not, and as such, characterization is managed almost entirely through quick stereotypes, to the point of being offensive by most modern sensibilities. Most enemies can be described as “offensive stereotype of” and then a fill-in-the-blank noun, and players particularly sensitive to any of the nouns the game chooses will have to just power through the offense for no narrative payoff. Any of these decisions could’ve been reworked or excluded with little effort or loss, so one has to wonder why it wasn’t challenged at any step during development?
The slap-dash nature of the narrative isn’t aided by the little errors in grammar throughout the game. Although it’s by no means incomprehensible, the game makes a lot of style or structural errors in dialog at random intervals. Skills like “Phantom Dash” are “cast” by The Hero, despite not really being spells. The Hero is castigated for wrecking the car of a local crime boss, despite there being no destructible cars up to that point in the game. Without much context or awareness for why these errors are present, they just feel jarring when they crop up, and don’t seem to have much rhyme or reason beside being oversights.
But the most jarring part of play is combat. Action games thrive on a kind of flow-state, where the player is as unaware of the controller and their non-digital bodies as possible, and instead immersed in the experience of living by proxy through the player character. The Hero, for his bravado and really meaty melee prowess, is awkward to control at times. Inputs are buffered rather than only happening as they are pressed, so if a player presses a button one too many times during a combo, particularly before transitioning to a different combo input, the later input is swallowed by the first string of inputs. It means combos are often dropped by a rogue button press three inputs ago, and the precision timing of delicate situations are often discarded in favor of a button pressed seconds ago in the brawl of elbows and regrets as The Hero attempts to punch his way into a flying knife or continues kicking fruitlessly into the empty air inches from a ticking bomb.
The buffered inputs combined with a really meaty punches ends up making combat feel surprisingly lethargic, where the gravity of every button-press is palpable. In a slower game, this would give the world a very considered and weighty feeling, but in the high-energy world of I Am The Hero, it makes the game feel unnecessarily heavy, and leads to a lot of unintended action as the player has to reset and spare some of their mental bandwidth of their controller rather than the action on-screen.
Overall, it leaves I Am The Hero in a somewhat strange place. In motion, the game feels exactly like it’s supposed to. Punchy, kinetic, and full of cartoonish fury as bodies fall over bodies and The Hero defeats evil with just his wits, martial arts, and a handful of special skills earned over time. In play, the game feels a little too fast while feeling a little disconnected, almost like a dissociation the player can never really escape. It’s a game that feels really good to watch, kind of weird to experience, and lukewarm to play.
I Am The Hero is, all the same, an interesting game. Where it works, you can feel the potential thrumming with the vibe as the visuals, soundtrack, and texture desperately want you to internalize. Sadly, the game is weighed down where it doesn’t work, and those hiccups in the experience are hard to shake, even after the credits roll.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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I Am The Hero Review
Gameplay - 6/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 6/10
Replay Value - 6/10
I Am The Hero is a game that feels really good to watch, kind of weird to experience, and lukewarm to play.
- A visually arresting buffet of martial arts goodness.
- An energetic landscape that encourages a “just one more level” feeling.
- A solid, familiar aesthetic without feeling too rote.
- Meaty combat struggles to get past a lethargic sluggishness in the controls.
- Style and structure errors permeate a lot of the tool tips and dialog.
- Offensive stereotypes are abundant for no apparent reason.