Saturday, 9 August 2014

GROW: H.E.R.O. (Commodore 64)

Review by Mads D. Kristensen
DesignerJohn Van Ryzin
PlatformCommodore 64
Release date1984

Volcanic activity has trapped miners in mineshafts in Mount Leone. Roderick Hero, or R. Hero (a pun on "our hero"), is sent out on a "H.E.R.O." (Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation) to save the miners. Equipped with his helicopter backpack and a helmet capable of shooting a laser beam at any critters within the caves, he starts on his descent into the dangerous caves of Mount Leone.

The very first screen of H.E.R.O. on Commodore 64
H.E.R.O. was an important turning point in the history of the platformer. Not only did it break away from the standard mould of moving only sideways and (most often) from left to right, it also showed that running and jumping, the staple of most platformers, wasn't really necessary to make a successful game. In H.E.R.O. you mostly move downwards, making your descent into the caves looking for the lost miners, but there is some sideways movement too, and often those segments are the hardest to traverse. As for running and jumping, while Roderick is capable of running on platforms, there is really no need for jumping when you can fly, and you will be flying most of the time while traversing the caves of H.E.R.O.

1984 was a great year for platform games. Not only was H.E.R.O. released, also great classics like the extremely ambitious Jet Set Willy, follow up to the successful Manic Miner, was released the same year, as was the seminal platformer arcade game Pac-Land - the first horizontally scrolling platform game to be released. For more information about the evolution of the platformer, check out this recent US Gamer article by Jeremy Parish entitled Five Critical Moments in Platform Game History.

Traversing the caves can be tricky as they are filled with dead ends, monsters that will kill you on the first touch, and even magma flowing through some walls and floors. Finding the correct path becomes an enjoyable puzzle in itself, and you will quickly adapt your style of play to one where you cautiously explore new screens to avoid rushing into your death. The path to victory is often the one most bothersome one, so if you descent into a screen that presents you with two choices: 1) leave directly by going down the tunnel to the left, or 2) blast your way through a monsters and and wall to get to the tunnel on the right, then you can be almost certain that the second choice is the right one, and that the first one will only lead to a quick death.

Sometimes you will be flying blind, if you accidentally touch and break the lamps found in certain places of the mine. When it is dark you can still see the outlines of monsters and any exits going up or down, but there is still one way to get a look at the screen: you can drop a stick of dynamite and in the few seconds the fuse is burning you can see the entire screen. The dynamite is used to break walls, just press down on the joystick while pressing the fire button, and then hurry away to safety! If you stand to close the explosion will kill you. Walls can also be broken using the laser in your helmet, it just takes a long time, so if you have the room for a quick escape, use a stick of dynamite instead. Some walls and floors are filled with magma, so you have to take care not to get too close, or you'll die when you touch them, but they do have one nice feature to them - If you accidentally break a lamp, the magma filled parts of the stage will still be visible.

H.E.R.O. was initially developed for the Atari 2600, but was quickly ported to many other home computers and consoles of the time. I grew up with the C64 version of the game, so therefore I opted for that version when creating screenshots and video content for this article. To play H.E.R.O. today the easiest way is to pick up one of the excellent C64 emulators available and then finding a tape or disk image on the Internet - unless you, like me, have a C64 standing in your closet. Then it's about time you took it out of the closet, dusted it off, and fired up this classic game ;-)

1 comment:

  1. Oh the fun that was HERO! Platyed this on the C64 as well. Classic early Activision. Great review.