Saturday 4 August 2018

H.E.R.O. (Atari 2600 review)

Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision
Released: 1984

H.E.R.O. is an action game that was ported to numerous other systems in 1984, including the Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computers.

Playing as Roderick Hero, your mission across 20 levels is to rescue trapped miners in the mineshafts of Mount Leone. Working your way downwards, you must fly / hover with your propeller, use dynamite to blow up walls, and shoot enemies with the Microlaser Beam. Careful management of your power gauge (e.g. time) is required too, as it dimishes each time you move; once it runs out you lose a life. Four lives are initially available, although additional ones can be obtained every 20,000 points. The level playfields start off small, but eventually scroll in all directions, giving the game somewhat of an adventure feel. The staggered rollout of environmental hazards is equally as impressive, as the game slowly introduces new mechanics (e.g. deadly magma deposits, lava pits and rafts to cross rivers) to challenge more experienced players, and keep you guessing what lies ahead. Veterans will quickly map the preferred route through each level, but I like that there's multiple paths to give you a choice in how you tackle the journey towards the miner. Walls can still be demolished with your Beam (in case you run out of dynamite), but in exchange for a decrease in your power gauge due to its slow, weak impact; this is a clever mechanic that forces you into careful resource management, yet stops you from getting frustrated by insufficient weapon inventory. The controls offer a perfect level of precision, and it's an absolute joy making split-second decisions in the heat of the moment; they compliment the gameplay to a huge degree and let you focus on the enjoyable job of multitasking through tight corridors.

H.E.R.O. is a real gem in the Atari 2600 library and everything about it is so perfectly designed, developed and balanced that you'll want to keep returning in an attempt to beat your high score. It's inifinitely playable thanks to its deep, strategic gameplay and is yet another early Activision title that still manages to impress today.

Random trivia: In case you're wondering, the acronym H.E.R.O. stands for Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation.

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