Monday, April 7, 2008


Having last received an update in January of 2002, Heroes is surprisingly awesome. When the description said it was "similar to the Tron and Nibbles (review here) games of yore," I was expecting something along the lines of Armagetron (review here). What I got reminds me of nothing so much as a Sega Genesis game from the good old days.

It is, basically, Nibbles. With Genesis-style sci-fi arena graphics (vaguely reminded me of Smash T.V.), a host of power-ups and crazy old-school console effects (Remember when SNES games would get all wavy after a death or a big battle? You can pick up a power-up that does that to the screen. It feels very retro.) that probably would have made this game a hit amongst console gamers of the early to mid 90s.

Amazingly, for a game that only reached version 0.19, it feels about as polished as a console game did way back then. Everything works, it never crashed on me, there's support for local multi-player, and it's even got four very distinct gameplay modes. They all look pretty similar, and they all involve not dying while lengthening your worm and trying to collect things, but they play relatively differently due to their different end-game requirements.

Graphically, the game suffers because... it looks like an old-school console game. The only resolution it runs at is 320x200, and I'm not sure it even takes advantage of that as well as it could: at full-screen it doesn't look as good as an SNES, but is only a little bit sub-par to the Genesis. I've seen Genesis games that looked worse. The resolution is so small that it's a bit hard to play in windowed mode.

If you want music or sound effects, you'll have to install them through Synaptic, but - other Linux developers take note - it actually tells you that in the description of the game in the package manager. There's no scouring the internet to find out why sound doesn't work. With the packages installed, the sound is... well, it's a bit like an old-school Genesis game, again. Not as good as the music you'd find in an SNES game, but certainly on par with the Genesis.*

Okay, I'll go ahead and complain a bit. The biggest fault outside of the built-in handicap of the low resolution is the font. It's one of those sci-fi looking affairs where the font is boxy and stretched, and it's a pain in the ass to read. It's great stylistically - it meshes with the look of everything else, and makes for a complete aesthetic which is sadly lacking in most open-source developed games - but it's a bit low on the actual usability scale.

The other big thing is that it only offers local multi-player. There's a total of like six AI opponents, but there's only support for two human players, and even that's a bit of a stretch if all you have is the keyboard. The game handles joystick input just fine (unlike a certain emulator I could name) but without network multiplayer this game is nowhere near tapping its full potential.

I found it a bit difficult, or at least time-consuming, so I can't recommend it wholeheartedly: it's a very well executed design, but it needs a certain type of gamer to appreciate it. If you're that certain type of gamer - if you loved Genesis ports of arcade games, basically - then Heroes is something you should definitely check out.

I'm amazed by how many memories it brought back, and how close to fun it was, considering that it's basically just a souped up version of Nibbles. I mean, I hate Nibbles. And this was almost something I wanted to play until I'd beaten it into submission. If you like arcade classics, I highly recommend it. I'd really like to see someone pick up development where it was left off so many years ago, update the graphics, and add network play. Even I would have a lot of fun getting my ass kicked by my friends, with this one.
*I feel like I'm dissing the Genesis because it always tends to come up short in the comparisons I keep making in this review. For the record, I actually enjoyed my Genesis a lot, and I think there were more great games for the Genesis than the Super Nintendo. That said, in retrospect, I don't think you can deny that the SNES was probably superior hardware, and definitely tended towards prettier and better-sounding games. There are exceptions, but that was the trend. Better gameplay? I loved me some Genesis games.

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