The folks over at Roll7 are certainly an experimental bunch. Following the success of OlliOlli, the studio moved forward with a positively-received sequel. Here we are two months later and the team has launched yet another game. Not a Hero, which was released under the publishing banner of Devolver Digital, marks new territory for Roll7. This time around, you're trading in your skateboard and cool hat for a bunch of guns.
Not a Hero serves several purposes. It shows us that Roll7 is a creatively equipped company. It also proves that an indie dev can make different types of games that remain true to its particular brand. More than anything, this game does a great job of making the simple act of shooting dudes a hell of a lot of fun.
BunnyLord has spoken!
Politicians aren't known for their tact and credibility. There's a reason presidents and governors and senators are at the center of Saturday Night Live sketches and late night talk show opening monologues. Not a Hero takes that comical outlook on government figures a step further and puts the spotlight on an electoral candidate who's selfish, oblivious, and arrogant in a massively over-the-top manner. Oh, but it's not your job to stop this lunatic. Instead, it's your job to help him rise to power.
Despite all of his character flaws, BunnyLord is actually a charming figure. Perhaps it's that he's completely unaware of the fact that he's terrible that makes him so likable. Or maybe it's how he constantly spews out nonsensical gibberish. Whatever the case may be, it doesn't take long to fall completely in love with this character. BunnyLord has a lot to say before and after missions, and I always looked forward to it.
Like American Dad and Archer, Not a Hero is right in line with today's animated irreverent comedy. From the enemies, which are clearly based on specific stereotypes, to the lines that BunnyLord utters, many of which have the potential to put off the easily offended, the game is rife with a very specific type of humor. Not everyone will get it, while some will get it and feel uncomfortable about it. For those of us who dig a bit of crude humor, however, well, there's a lot to love here.
Not your average run-and-gun
At first glance, Not a Hero shares elements with other 2D shoot 'em ups. Even after you get deeper into it, the game is largely a running and gunning affair. Bad guys pop up all over the screen, and it's your job — no, it's your duty — to shoot those fools in the face with no remorse whatsoever. Doing so feels great, especially because the mechanics are so solid.
The big hook is the cover-based gameplay. Taking cues from modern third-person shooters, successfully clearing stages in Not a Hero is dependent on how well you utilize your surroundings. Enemies fill the screen and fire a barrage of bullets your way, making it impossible to take them all out head-on. You have to slide into cover to avoid getting hit. Enemies aren't dummies, though, and they'll go for cover, too. When you hear them reloading or see them stepping out of cover to engage you, that's your cue to unload on them.
I can't stress enough how important it is that you use cover and pick your spots when trying to take down baddies. If you approach this game like any other 2D shooter, you'll find yourself getting frustrated early on. This is especially true considering that it doesn't take long for the game to amp up the difficulty. There were plenty of instances where I grew annoyed by the devilishly tough enemies — in particular those who went for one-hit kills when there was way too much going on at once for me to react in a timely fashion.
Though I love a good challenge, sometimes this design made the game feel like a chore. Trial-and-error comes into play more often than you'd like, but even when you think you have the level figured out, enemies could randomly behave differently or a minor glitch could occur to halt your progress. Because there are no checkpoints, some stages tend to get frustrating even if they start off really cool.
The right gun for the right job
At first, you can only select a well-rounded character whose weapon of choice is a serviceable pistol, but as you play, you unlock characters with different strengths and guns. Jesus, for example, can slide and shoot, and his thrusting animation is the best. Meanwhile Samantha can reload while running. Then there's Cletus, who can fire powerful shotgun shells but is a lot slower than other characters. There are others, and unlocking them depends on BunnyLord's approval rating.
Speaking of which, completing optional objectives increases said approval rating. Some of these objectives are simple enough, tasking you with completing a level in an allotted amount of time or killing every enemy within that stage. Others are trickier, requiring you to explore in search of collectibles such as bonsai trees and kittens or landmarks like telephone booths.
Adding a bit of variety to the flow of the game are special weapon upgrades that you can use to your advantage. Pick up a laser and you'll be able to kill enemies in one hit. You can also blow enemies up with grenades and mines. While the inclusion of these extra weapons is cool, a lot of them function too similarly to make much of a difference at times. The drill gun comes to mind — it's a neat little gun, but it's not much different from the laser.
BunnyLord and co. have plenty of flair
I have to award Not a Hero bonus points for its stellar audiovisual presentation. Roll7's signature look is present here, and even though the game doesn't look exactly like OlliOlli, it borrows enough from that title's graphical style to make it familiar to fans. The main gripe I had with the visuals was the overall lack of of diversity across the three sets of levels.
A nice collection of tunes goes hand in hand with the graphics. The theme that plays on whenever you talk to BunnyLord is easily the best of the bunch, but there are plenty more memorable songs. Characters and enemies are quite chatty, and while they may repeat certain lines too often, the bulk of what they say is usually funny.
Roll7 has proven that it's not a one-trick pony with the release of Not a Hero. The team is clearly dedicated to crafting games that are fun and inviting yet require some patience to master. In a medium dominated by shooters of the first-person and third-person variety, it's refreshing to get a 2D take on the cover-based format. The difficulty can be a bit much at times, but when all is said and done, there's no getting around the fact that the BunnyLord's team is one you want to be on.