Beat ’em ups never get old. It’s one of the longest standing genres in gaming, truly and fully realized back in the nineties with the likes of Streets of Rage and Golden Axe. For me, I like my beat ’em ups simple and to the point, which is exactly where I’m going to credit I am the Hero the most. Developer Crazyant must feel the same way, because if anything, I am the Hero stays true to the genre’s roots, whilst throwing in some good ideas that don’t stray too far from the classic formula’s beaten path. There’s issues, mind, but let’s go from the top.
I am the Hero sports a very slick design, marrying 2D side-scrolling fighting with a slightly 3D playing field. I wanted to talk about the visuals and the audio first and foremost, because that’s what struck me the most during play. The pixel art style is outstanding from the get-go, relaying some top quality character and level design, grouped with some cool combat effects to pull it all together. On paper, the mashup of both 2D and 3D sounds kind of alien, but it works remarkably well in the game’s favor. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.
That, of course, is a compliment that I’m more than comfortable to extend. I mean sure, there are games that are similar by design, but none that really stand out as much as this one does for its type. Several times was I awestruck by the game’s beauty; the background detail nabbing my attention on a frequent basis. It helps, of course, that there’s a good variation as far as both characters and levels go. This collectively ensures that repetition, at least on the visual front, is kept well at bay. The same can be said about the audio design.
The game’s decent upbeat soundtrack does a good job at setting the mood. Whether you’re patrolling the blood-soaked walls of the hospital or traversing the gorgeous neon-lit goon-ridden streets, you’re unlikely to not appreciate the aesthetic. That said, I am the Hero is let down elsewhere. The story doesn’t do much to excite, in fact, you can play this through and disregard the story entirely. The premise? You take on the role of a fighter who seeks bringing down a nefarious organisation. Yes, it’s very retro, but maybe that’s the point?
Nevertheless, you can disregard the plot, because if anything, it’s just meaningless filler. The game can be played in local co-op with support for up to three players. The aim of the game is as simple and as straightforward as a beat ’em up needs to be. You’ll move from one end of each level to the other, taking down anyone that stands in your way until you hit a boss sequence. Typically, there’s some poorly localized dialogue to wade through as new characters and foes are introduced, but nothing that a quick tap of the A button wont fix.
The game’s biggest drawback sits with its combat. I am the Hero is clearly finding some middle ground between the classic beat ’em up and the classic 2D fighter. On top of being able to kick, punch and use some supers, you’ll find a heavy emphasis on combos within. Thanks to how varied the game’s attacks are, you’re free to pummel the living shit out of your opposition with minimal effort needed. Chaining attacks together is fun in I am the Hero, and due to its accessibility, even newcomers can sit back and wreak absolute havoc.
The problem, however, sits with how easy it is to have your combos interrupted. Enemy health is quite deep, even from the start. Riding the proverbial combo-wave isn’t all that tough on level one, but come the later levels when more enemies are introduced, several times at once, getting past a double-digit combo becomes far more trouble than it’s worth. Because of this, the pacing feels somewhat out of place. I am the Hero wants to be a combo-mad game, but it only ends up being a confusing brawler that rarely feels rewarding.
I had all but given up on seeking any sort of combo by level three, simply due to how tough it was to keep it up. Rappers would fill the screen with large, harmful words, and taggers would back flip and target me with little to no error. Throw in that the game oftentimes pits six to eight variants at you at once, and well, you can imagine how frustrating it is to play a combo-heavy game, with little incentive to achieve that. The game attempts to alleviate this through the use of its unlock system, but even then, the combos remain too much trouble.
It only gets harder to achieve later in the game, in which the enemies tend to hit more frequently, a lot harder, and can sustain more damage. It’s the unlock system, however, that helps I am the Hero to stand out. Once you complete a level, you’ll have the option to unlock a new super-move or a new character; one of the game’s grunts. You’re not able to select both (don’t be greedy), but suffice to say, it does promote a good portion of replay value nonetheless. New moves are great, as many of them will cause devastating damage.
However, new characters to add to your roster is also important, and they all come with their own moves and animations. You can assign one additional character per-run, allowing you to quick swap between two fighters on the fly, each with their own health bars and super meters. Your health will increase when you pick up food and drink via defeating enemies or destroying vehicles and environmental objects, whereas your super meter will fill as you engage in combat. It’s a relatively straightforward affair to digest for the most part.
There’s roughly a few hours worth of play time here, if indeed you want to see and enjoy everything that’s on offer, as well as sample the campaign’s difficulty modes. I quite enjoyed the deep variation of enemies, with a special mention going to the game’s tough boss battles and its precise controls. When you’re done with the story, there’s two additional modes that you can take to to further lengthen your time with the game; Workshop Fight and Challenge Fight. The former is a wave-based mode whereas the later is much more fighter-based.
I did witness some moments in which the framerate would spike across all of the game’s modes, but nothing too intrusive overall. When all is said and done, if you’re in the market for a new beat ’em up, you can go much worse than I am the Hero. There’s enough content here to justify its generous asking price, it’s just a shame that it’s suffering from a confused identity. Bear with it though, because once you do gel with the mechanics and overlook the several cheap beatings, there’s nothing quite like I am the Hero available on the Xbox Store.
I am the Hero takes elements from both the classic beat ’em up and the traditional 2D fighter. The end result makes for a slightly unusual brawler that seems especially out of place as far as its combo system is concerned. Bear with it though, because underneath its somewhat confusing design, rests an accessible, action-packed journey that’s as varied as it is stunningly detailed.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.