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Hammer Time


A throwback to old school traditional beat’em ups, Hammerin’ Hero offers some quick and simplistic gameplay. 

The player takes control of protagonist Gen, an energetic carpenter who likes to smash the crap out of everything, including pedestrian’s problems.  When the evil Kuromoku threatens to build commercial buildings in a local neighborhood, Gen takes the law into his own hands and challenges “the man” with his hammer.  However, smacking baddies with a mallet isn’t the only tool Gen will use throughout the adventure.  Besides being a carpenter, the player will take on many other professions which yield different weapons and ways to attack.  For example, the sushi chef will slap opponents in the face with a giant fish, the DJ occupation turns a boombox into a weapon of mass destruction, and the baseball player allows Gen to hit homers with the carcasses of his enemies.  Although the game has many unlockable jobs, the only real differences between them are cosmetic.    

Hammerin’ Hero is a side scrolling beat’em up that uses a 2.5D gameplay perspective.  Using polygons instead of pixels, all gameplay takes place on the X and Y axis, but all characters and environments are 3D.  Think Capcom’s Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins in comparison.  Combat and gameplay is very simple.  The goal is to basically make it to the other end of the stage while using two buttons for attacking (light and heavy) and one for jumping.  Even though there are two attack buttons, the player will not be performing combos of any kind as most enemies fall with one whack.  Instead, hidden extras are unlocked by using a gimmicky “hit the bad guy into the background” technique.  In order to hit a send your opponent flying, the slower but heavier triangle button attack must be used. 

As a whole, controlling Gen is so simple, it’s boring.  Don’t expect to be wall jumping, double jumping, using special powers, performing combos or fatalities, or even leveling up.  Nothing but simple and straightforward gameplay here.  I am surprised that a crouching feature was added to this game. 

Just like a ton of old school NES games, one hit and you have to restart at the last checkpoint.  This is a great way to relive the past, but it is also quite frustrating.  Because many enemies, and specifically bosses, offer nothing but cheap kills, getting frustrated on even the easiest difficulty will be commonplace.  For example, the Ferris wheel boss in the carnival level almost requires that the player die a half dozen times before you even have a clue on how to take him down.  His cheap ramming the wheel attack provides instant death and is difficult to dodge.  Cherry-picking attacks like this really make the player wish there was a health bar system instead of using one-hit kills. 

Every single level in the game will last only a few minutes at max.  In fact, the entire game can be finished in less than 2 hours, with many deaths included.  While the short stages definitely fit on the portable PSP, I can’t help but feel a little gypped.  Hell, one level was just a boss fight that took about 20 seconds to take down, making the loading time just as long as the gameplay.  Combine the extremely short length of the game with a total snoozer ending, and job classes that lack any significant variety, and you have yourself one formula for a thin gameplay experience. 

Giving the game replay value, the player has the option to go back and find hidden items within each level.  However, there is no reward for doing so.  Why should I spend the time and collect hidden objects if my life bar won’t increase, powerup my weapon, or increase the depth of the plot?  Instead, collecting objects increases your score…which doesn’t mean a damn thing.  Does anyone remember the scoring mechanic in the original Mario Bros?  Absolutely not.  And without any online leaderboards, there is little reason to play through this game in detail.  There is a multiplayer mode, but it requires that each player have a copy of the game and is playing locally.  No online play here.

Before you jump into a level, the player has the option for his girlfriend to cook him a take-away lunch called a bento.  Using this bento at any time during gameplay will allow the player to swap jobs on the fly.  Think you might want to turn into a sushi chef halfway through next level?  No problem, just have your woman make you the right lunch.  However, the player needs to collect the correct ingredients in order to make this happen.  Don’t have the right ingredients, then you are out of luck.  But the entire bento mechanic is flawed as whole.  Never once does the game require you to switch jobs, nor is there any need to.  There is the possibility for your girlfriend to make you a random bento, but these quick lunches only increase your overall score for that level, which again, has no purpose whatsoever. 

The game’s ending stage actually has the player controlling a giant mech–like any side scrolling shooter–as opposed to bashing people over the head with a mallet.  This is probably the most entertaining stage in the whole game, which says something since this level is clearly the only one that is out of the norm.  It is a shame that more of them didn’t make it into the final product. 

Musically, the game’s audio soundtrack is pleasurable while decent voice acting.  There is even an option in the option menu to switch between Japanese and English.  It is too bad that the translation is not exactly what you would call a Grade A job.  Characters often speak in dialogue that makes no sense and sounds painfully awkward. 

Hammerin’ Hero is simplistic to a fault: short gameplay time, straight forward combat, and jobs that don’t really carry any type of variety.  Fans of old 8-bit gameplay styles will probably appreciate this game the most.  Instead of getting a wave welcomed nostalgia, this UMD will have players wondering where the rest of the game went. 

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