Home > Action, PC, Shmup > Hero Core [REVIEW]

Hero Core [REVIEW]

Hero Core: released May 3rd, 2010
Developer: Daniel Remar
Platforms: Windows

Metroid and Castlevania are two of the most beloved and highly regarded franchises to ever have graced the industry. In fact, they are such staples of the industry that they even had an entire “genre” of games named after them, referred to as MetroidVania games. Technically these games are 2D side-scrolling Action Platformers, but their semi-open world design helps to differentiate them from similar titles such as Contra or Rush ‘N Attack. You don’t simply move from left to right, knocking out baddies and completing missions by reaching the end of the level. In a MetroidVania game, your character has multiple paths he or she can choose from, typically all interconnected in some kind of hub world, such as Dracula’s Castle from Castlevania or Planet Zebes from Metroid. Along the way you’ll find hidden power-ups, bosses that grant new abilities, and who knows what else. The point is that it all takes place in one, big location, and it’s your job to explore that place, gain new powers, and generally raise hell all throughout.

Sadly, as amazing as these games tend to be, there aren’t as many of them as you’d think, though perhaps that’s a good thing. The vast majority of MetroidVania style games I’ve played have been top notch ventures that I will rave about until the day I either die or develop alzheimer’s, but I’m sure if the market for MetroidVania games had gotten more saturated the over-all quality wouldn’t be nearly as high among the titles. Still, whether it’s quality control or not, the fact of the matter is that it’s been years since I completed Shadow Complex and the various DS entries in to the Castlevania series, so I recently decided I’d try to hunt down a few indie entries in to the MetroidVania genre of games, which leads me to Hero Core, a unique blend of MetroidVania and another favorite genre of mine, the Shmup.

In Hero Core you play the role of some kind of flying hero character. I’m assuming you’re a man with a jetpack, but all I can do is assume since the Atari grade graphics don’t really possess much by way of details. I actually pretended that the main character was a flying space turtle for most of the game. Honestly though, the background here isn’t terribly important. The visuals are extremely simplistic and retro-inspired, and the story is really more of an after-thought, or at least it may as well be. I’m not sure if developer Daniel Remar is a native english speaker or not, but I’m assuming the answer is no. The writing in this game isn’t so much riddled with typos as it is just completely broken. The grammar isn’t quite as busted as something like Zero Wing, but it’s definitely laughable enough to where you aren’t gonna bother putting much stock in to following the story.

That’s okay though! Hero Core doesn’t come highly recommended for it’s storytelling, it comes highly recommended because it takes two totally different genres and blends them together in to one high quality hybrid game that plays well and keeps you hooked all throughout. Hero Core drops the platforming aspect of the MetroidVania games in favor of a shmup style of control. Instead of running and jumping around the various locales in Hero Core, you’re constantly afloat, flying through the air, just like in games such as Gradius or R-Type. Enemies will fly at you and fire waves and waves of bullets in your direction, just like a bullet hell game. Different enemies will have different habits and use different bullet patterns that you’ll need to memorize in order to survive, just like a bulle hell game. And your weapons consist of a single rapid fire gun and a reflector that can bounce enemy bullets back at them. As far as combat goes, this game is a shmup, through and through.

Despite the drastic change in control/combat style, the exploration aspect typical of MetroidVania games is still in full effect. You start off at your ship and proceed to explore your way through the enemy base. There are paths you won’t be able to take until you kill a certain boss or find a certain power-up, and you generally have the freedom to tackle the game’s various bosses in whatever order you like. Hell, you don’t even have to explore the entire base if you don’t want to. On my first play through I discovered that after I had explored about half the base, I could sneak my way in to the final boss’s quarters and try my hand at taking him out. I assumed I’d probably get demolished, figuring there’d be some mandatory power-up I needed that I hadn’t yet discovered, but much to my surprise I had just enough juice to take the guy out! At just forty minutes in to my adventure I had snuck in to the boss quarters and completed the game! Naturally, I reloaded my game and got to work exploring the rest of the ship immediately afterwards, but the point is that you have the freedom to do it, if you so please. Freedom and exploration are what make these kinds of games so great, and Remar clearly knew that.

There are also a few interesting bonus modes you unlock after you beat the game, such as a Boss Rush mode and this strange gametype where you fly around moving from room to room fighting off increasingly difficult enemies and collecting flags while you try to locate the teleporter that will take you to the next level. The idea behind this mode is to collect as many flags as you can, which essentially acts as a high score. This makes sense considering that Hero Core is half shmup, and what shmup game would be complete without the obligatory hunt for the highest score?

I would also like to mention that, despite the simplistic visuals, the enemies actually have a pretty decent variety to them. Mostly they just fly around and shoot at you, but there are also mounted wall cannons, floating mines, hands that reach out and try to grab you, snakes that fly around trying to cut you off, and don’t even get me started on the bosses. One boss in particular that I liked took the form of a hollow square that you had to fly inside of. While you’re inside this boss, you have to shoot little orbs to take his health down, all the while dodging bullet patterns from both outside and inside the box. I’m very happy to say that the shmup elements of this game are exceptionally well done, and Hero Core has convinced me that there absolutely needs to be more MetroidVania style games that employ the use of the shmup mechanics.

As far as the visuals and audio are concerned, they work well. Yes, it’s all black and white, and yes, it’s all incredibly simplistic, but even still, Remar did a great job crafting an interesting environment that you want to explore, and the simple visuals help to create a clean and focused look. The sound effects are all pretty standard bleeps and bloops for the NES era of games, but special mention should be given to the soundtrack, composed by Brother Android. Each area has it’s own theme, and each theme is a wonderful composition that I would feel more than comfortable with hearing in a Metroid game. The score fits the mood perfectly and anybody who enjoys 8bit music will have absolutely nothing to complain about as far as the sound design is concerned.

The bottom line here is that Hero Core is a great game. If you’re a fan of MetroidVania games, it’s an absolute must try. If you’re a fan of shmups and you’d be interested in checking out a unique take on the genre, then you must try this game. And do you wanna know the best part? This game is free. That’s right, this awesome little MetroidVania shmup won’t cost you a single cent! So, if you are in any way intrigued by this title, by all means check it out! You have no excuse not to! Well, unless of course you’re one of those jaded modern gamers whose eyes bleed when you gaze upon the extra simple Atari style visuals, but I’m assuming that if you’ve made it this far in to the review, you probably don’t fall under that category, so get at it!

[Author’s note: I initially played this game with a keyboard, but while it is certainly playable with this control scheme, I very highly recommend you play with a gamepad if possible. Shmups are games that require a high degree of mobility to dodge incoming bullet fire, and the shmup aspects of Hero Core are no different. Again, it is possible with keyboard, but the experience was enhanced for me when I began using a pad.]

Hero Core can be downloaded for free here at Daniel Remar’s website:

Hero Core is also a sequel, so if you’d like to check out the original, he’s got that posted for free in his games section as well.

If you like the game’s soundtrack you can download it (and more) from Brother Android’s site, here:

  1. January 8, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Haha I straight away thought” A game about flying turtles?” Have you tried The Iconoclasts out? It’s not finished yet but looks to be a top notch Metroidvania.

    • January 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

      I haven’t tried it out yet, but it’s been on my list for a while now. Honestly, the only reason I haven’t already given it a shot is because it’s unfinished. The game just looks so good, I feel like if I start, I’ll be heart-broken not being able to finish it…

      I probably just need to get over it and play the damn thing already. I’m expecting very big things from that game!

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