While there’s no denying that the PlayStation Portable (PSP) is suffering from somewhat of a software drought when compared to the ever increasing competition, there are still a number of titles arriving on the format demonstrating a passionate understanding of the system’s unique qualities. Tecmo Koei Europe’s recent Undead Knights offered gamers an absorbing Action-Puzzle game, while Capcom and SEGA’s Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star episodes last year made exemplary use of the PSP’s storage and online capabilities. However, of the few publishers still supporting the format with retail releases, Rising Star Games have perhaps one of the most intriguing of all the system’s remaining releases on their hands.
Half-Minute Hero has been largely promoted as an inventive Role-Playing Game (RPG), and while that may be the primary aspect of play, a number of other gameplay modes are feature on the Universal Media Disc (UMD). Both a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) and a Shoot-‘Em-Up title are available from the start, and other distractions are available when progress has been made through all three. Every activity in the disc has one common theme: the standard time limit for each level is thirty seconds.
Beginning with the RPG component, players will immediately find a game of inventive construction. Each level is addressed as if a unique game in it’s own right, with the player’s level resetting and new maps being only accessible within that level. Players will even witness the credits after successfully completing each level. Of course, each level maintains the prescribed thirty second time limit, and so the rules of traditional RPGs have been bent and shaped to fit within that mould. Combat is automatic once engaged in either a random battle or a fight with a boss, and exploration is divided into top-down and side-scrolling presentations, much like the Nintendo Entertainment System’s The Legend of Zelda II: Adventures of Link. As limiting as this may seem on paper, Half-Minute Hero’s RPG component quickly becomes compulsive.
The RTS gameplay unfortunately isn’t as well devised. Entertaining though it may be, it neither as engrossing nor as elaborate as the RPG element pans out to be. The limited troop types and quick pace result in an enjoyable five minute burst of gameplay, but won’t sustain interest for hours on end. The Shoot-‘Em-Up component’s strengths lie somewhere between the two, with some original ideas for the genre that, given the age of it’s formula, you might’ve expected to have become staple by now. The mode can be completed in an evening, and probably will be by most, a fact that may be disappointing to some yet demonstrates how compulsive the game quickly becomes.
Half-Minute Hero is inspired visually; lacking in originality perhaps, but managing to establish a cohesive world for all characters, backdrops and storylines. Colourful and full-of-life, the 8-bit stylised sprites are surprisingly descriptive, and the occasionally anime still is certainly a reflection on videogames of the late 80’s and early 90’s. All of this is of course complimented by a cheerfully MIDI soundtrack, reinforcing the retro style of the entire package.
Though Half-Minute Hero certainly has it’s flaws, the majority of the on-disc content is incredibly compelling. Treating the RPG component as Half-Minute Hero’s raison d’être, as has been the case in it’s build-up to release, players will find a game that’s both unique and engrossing, and the many additional modes – including the pleasant but luck lustre ad-hoc multiplayer gameplay – provide intriguing appetisers. Of the few games that will see release on Sony’s aging handheld this year, Half-Minute Hero is the most likely to be considered one of the greatest lifelines the console received.