I’ll say this, I wasn’t quite expecting to like Hero Express as much as I did. Sure, there’s issues to be mindful of, and a few drawbacks to note, but when all is said and done, the game does well with the few mechanics that it houses. There’s not much of a story present here, in fact, the premise doesn’t really provide much weight at all. In essence, you’ll traverse a small world map that’s been overtaken by a range of towering beasts, beasts that you’ll defeat through a Trials-like feat of making it from one end of the level to the other.
The world map is single-screen, and here, you’ll move freely around its grid-esque design as you decide what level you’re going to take on first; they’re all unlocked from the get-go. Before diving into your level of choice, you’ll be met with a small chunk of dialogue to explain a little of the level’s backstory. Though, in truth, you could disregard it altogether and still pull the same experience. I did. That said, I suppose it does a good job of at least introducing some plot crumbs to tie everything together. Just, don’t expect wonders.
Much to be expected, the controls are easy to adjust to. There’s two control schemes to select from, but I certainly stand by the simplicity of the default control scheme above the other. Using said scheme, you’ll accelerate your vehicle through the use of holding either the A button, or RT. Braking and reversing can be achieved through holding the X button, or LT. You’ll balance your vehicle using the left stick, and will utilize both the B button and the Y button to use a jumper and a cleaner, respectively. We’ll get to the latter functions shortly.
The game is a 2D atypical driving game in which you’re the only racer on-track. You’ve got nothing to directly compete against other than that of your own fuel reserves, and of course, the track itself. There’s eleven in total, and they’re all as deviously designed as the next. There’s two difficulties to work through for each track, and although it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes to beat a track on a fluid run, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a while on each track before being anywhere near competent enough to beat it.
Regardless as to which track you take on, the crux of play remains the same throughout; make it from start to finish in one piece. That’s a lot easier said than done. Each and every track houses a unique theme, ranging sunny vistas, right through to futuristic terrains. The diversity is commendable, ensuring that visual repetition is kept at bay as a result. Overcoming any one of them, even a fraction of them, is a difficulty in itself. There’s hazards, gravity defying layouts, jumps to clear, obstacles to dodge, and more besides.
Momentum is key here. You’ll only have a limited amount of fuel to pull from, and this will deplete regardless as to whether your accelerating, reversing, or even sitting in neutral. The aim of play is to make it to the end of each track before running out of fuel, and to keep your reserves up, you’ll need to pick up fuel deposits along the way. Doing so will automatically fill your tank back to full, but, they’re all so devilishly spaced out that you’ll have little room for error in between pick-ups. Granted, it’s difficult, but not overly so.
Outside of that, you’ll also be able to pick up the aforementioned jumper and cleaner abilities, to which both are spaced out just as slyly, but both come in massively handy. The jumper is useful for when you want to clear a chunk of the map, allowing you to bounce high in the air, bypassing anything below. The cleaner, however, is only useful for the times in which you bump into an object that spills dirt onto your screen, obscuring your view as a result. Using the cleaner will clear this, or, you can wait a few seconds for it to fade itself.
You’ll always know how far you are from the finishing point thanks to a chart that sits along to the top of the screen, and here, you’ll get some useful insight as to how far you are from your next fuel deposit, and how far you made it on your last attempt. Mechanically, there’s little else to speak on. Whilst that may sound basic on paper, the game is a lot more fun than it seems. I’ve plugged in a lot of time so far across all tracks, and although I’ve only beat one (and come close in all the others) I don’t plan on putting it down any time soon.
This is the pinnacle of that “one more go” sort of experience, and one that very rarely grows tiresome thanks to its diversity and fluidity. There’s some drawbacks, mind, and these mainly sit with cheap failures. Several times I found myself losing due to something irritatingly baffling; being flipped upside down, being inadvertently shoved into a drop, or anything in between. This can be frustrating when it occurs often, and especially so when you’re near the end of a run, only to have success robbed from you for no fault of your own.
The next small gripe I have is with the upgrade system. Each track sports a unique vehicle, and you’re unable to use anything other than a specific vehicle per-track. That’s fine. What I found somewhat counter intuitive, however, is that each track also sports its own currency. Currency is littered all over each track, and all you need to do is drive through it to pick it up. You’ll then use said currency to upgrade your vehicle’s engine, its stability, its wheels, and its traction – with the cost of each upgrade rising considerably per-new upgrade acquired.
The slight issue I have, is that you cant cross-upgrade. What I mean by that is that if you need to improve a vehicle’s stats, you’ll only be able to do so through the level that that vehicle is tethered to, due to the level exclusive currency. In my opinion, it would have been better to have a unified currency, so that players could tackle any given level to then focus upgrades on a vehicle of their choosing, rather than having them confined to any one. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but something I thought felt quite constrained overall.
I say that because there were a few levels that I really struggled with, and truly needed to bulk up my vehicle’s capabilities to get further in. The fact that I was confined to these levels just took it out of me a little bit, but then, once I had amassed the currency I needed to upgrade, these irritations where somewhat remedied. To the game’s credit, you can actually feel the difference between each and every upgrade, and they all come in handy in one form or another. Though, it’s going to take quite a while before you max out each output.
This alone bumps up the game’s already impressive replay value, rocketing it to a good five to six hour session overall. Speaking more specifically about the track design, Hero Express gets a thumb up from me. I quite enjoy a Trials-like game; one that presents me with devious track layouts and obstacles, and tasks me with making it through using both vehicle balance and momentum. Hero Express does a wonderful job of keeping those structural elements in place, constantly forcing you to think fast on your wheels each passing second.
The tracks are ridiculously outlandish. So much so, it can take a fair while to memorize their layouts. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, in fact, quite the contrary. I had a heap of fun mowing through the lot of them; towering bumps, wide jumps, deadly hazards, and more besides. That alone can be tricky, but each track also sports some unique mechanics that range the likes of molten rocks falling from the sky, platforms that sink once traversed, and so on and so forth. Take into account that if you get hit, it’s game over, and tension ensues.
When all is said and done, Hero Express is a game that requires skill and near perfect timing. Failure to maintain any of that for even a few seconds can be the difference between success and loss. Though, given how fast it is to jump back into the game following a loss, failure never feels all that taxing. Despite its few flaws, I wholly recommend picking it up on the merits of everything it gets right. It’s unlikely to blow your socks off, but at the very least, you’re guaranteed a few hours worth of fun, especially if you enjoy the concept.
In regards to the game’s visual and audio design, Hero Express gets a pass for the former, and a mild pass for the latter. The game’s soundtrack is serviceable to say the least, with audio cues that are relative to that. The visual presentation, on the other hand, is one of its greatest feats. The level of detail and diversity across each and every track is a sight to behold, putting out heaps of vibrant variation from the off. Whilst it’s not the best looking 2D game on the market, it certainly ticks a lot of the boxes that it needed to nonetheless.
Fun, diverse, and heavy on the replay value, Hero Express is a solid atypical driver that will keep fans of its Trials-like concept entertained for hours on end. Despite some issues with its upgrade system and the occasional flaw in its level design, this is the pinnacle of one-more-go gaming. When all is said and done, you’ll be hard-pressed finding anything quite as engaging as this, for the same massively generous price.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.