The moment you start playing Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax, you're presented with a situation in which you have only 30 seconds to save the world. This is a predicament that you find yourself in at the start of every level, so it goes without saying that this is a game that's rarely played at anything but a frantic pace. At a glance, Half-Minute Hero might easily be mistaken for a traditional role-playing game, but features like side quests, random battles, and party management are all boiled down to their bare essentials; thus, the resulting experience is almost unrecognizable. It's also a lot of fun, and because there are multiple ways to complete every bite-sized quest, as well as leaderboards that compare fastest times, there's plenty of replay value.
Despite the fact that each quest starts with only 30 seconds on the clock, most take longer than that to finish successfully. Your hero works closely with an amusingly materialistic Time Goddess who, when you pray to one of her statues and make a cash donation, has the power to reset the timer. The size of the required donation increases every time you pray, so you certainly can't afford to take it easy as you navigate the world map. But provided you're collecting plenty of currency from slain enemies, you can at least take some time to level up (typically you gain at least one level after every fight) and to acquire better gear before confronting the boss. A different boss awaits you at the end of every quest, and they all have one thing in common: They've either deliberately or unwittingly cast the same world-ending-in-30-seconds spell after coming into contact with the game's truly evil antagonist.
Boss locations are pointed out to you as each quest gets underway, but heading straight to them is never a good idea because if you lose the fight (or indeed any fight), you're returned to the start point with minimal health. Rather, your first move should be to make your way to a nearby town where local folks can not only impart knowledge of the area and its dangers, but also sell you weapons, armor, and life-restoring food and herbs. Time stops when you're in towns, but you rarely need to hang around them for long because all of the useful stores, quest givers, Time Goddess statues, and such are simply arranged in a straight line, with no filler in between. That might sound dull, but it's very much in keeping with how Half-Minute Hero treats all RPG tropes; these towns serve much the same purpose as those in more traditional RPGs but in a streamlined fashion. Often while in towns, you're offered optional side quests that, while time consuming, are well worth undertaking because of the rewards they offer. If you take 15 seconds out of your busy schedule to kill a sea monster that's terrorizing fishermen, you might earn yourself a powerful spear, for example.
Every decision that you make in Half-Minute Hero ends up being based on time, and you might be surprised by how much you can accomplish in just a few seconds. Four or five seconds can be enough time for you to poke your head out of a town, randomly encounter monsters, watch your battle with them play out, and then return to town having collected enough money to pray to the Time Goddess statue. And while running rather than walking between locations might sound like an obvious way to save time, doing so expends health, so even basic movement is something of a balancing act. Unless you're replaying a quest specifically to find its alternate ending or to collect any allies or equipment that you missed, your goal is always to reach and defeat the boss as quickly as possible. The faster your time and the lower your hero's level when the boss is defeated, the higher your position on the leaderboards. Upon finishing a quest, you have an opportunity not only to see how how your time fares against those of your friends and other players, but also to find out if you missed out on any gear, allies, or alternate endings. Often, what you see here is reason enough to immediately replay the quest you just finished, and when chasing a friend's time, you can see a ghost of his hero with his time ticking down to zero as you play, which adds an even greater sense of urgency.
If you prefer a more direct form of competition, Super Hero Wars is a competitive multiplayer mode that lets you go head-to-head with up to three other heroes in 10 specially designed quests. Incredibly, multiplayer games are even more frantic than solo games, not only because they're essentially races to the finish, but also because weapon and armor upgrades are only available in limited quantities. If another player purchases a powerful sword in town, that sword is sold out when you show up two seconds later, so you're stuck using an inferior weapon either until you find another or the player who purchased it runs out of time and it returns to the store. Even when you're clearly behind your opponents, all is not lost; you can shadow other players and force your cooperation upon them as they go up against enemies that are guarding treasure chests and the like, and you can even attack each other. Playing alongside other heroes is a blast and adds another layer of strategy to the fast-paced proceedings. Although 10 quests might not sound like a lot, they offer plenty of variety.
While your hero's level is reset to one at the beginning of each quest, any weapons and armor that you collect are retained in solo play. You're not permitted to replay quests using gear earned later in the timeline--that would not only cause a paradox but also render the leaderboards far less interesting until you had access to endgame equipment--but finding and acquiring all of the equipment that's available during quests is still one of the most compelling reasons to replay them. Some weapons make it possible to kill enemies of a specific type with a single blow, whereas others simply do more damage or have higher critical hit ratings that can make winning battles in subsequent quests a little bit quicker.
Any gear that you find or purchase during a quest is automatically equipped, and there's no way for you to customize your armor or weapons once a quest is underway. This does away with inventory management and introduces an interesting element of strategy in situations where new gear isn't obviously an upgrade. It's easy to avoid wasting money on a shield made of glass when shopping in town, but picking up an inferior weapon from a treasure chest might be unavoidable on your first attempt and is something that you want to remember for subsequent plays. On other occasions, you might find that equipment can benefit you in different ways; wearing a heavy suit of armor protects you from damage and makes it harder for enemies to knock you back in combat, but swapping the armor out for an inflatable ring enables you to swim and take shortcuts across the water to reach areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Figuring out the most efficient routes through each quest is really satisfying, but the action eventually gets repetitive even if you avoid replaying quests and just progress through the story as quickly as possible.
The main story-driven mode, Hero 30, comprises 40-plus quests (including those on alternate paths, you only need to finish 30 to beat the game) that all follow much the same formula, so the repetition is inescapable. With that said, many quests do at least one thing that separates them from the rest. Some give you the option to procure a horse, a boat, or even a dragon, which all afford different movement benefits; others feature characters who can become powerful allies, not only for the duration of the quest in which you meet them, but also later in your adventure. A couple of quests force you to think of 30 seconds as an in-game day and only let you complete certain objectives at morning, noon, or dusk. One that's especially memorable sees a two-color retro visual style emanating from the boss's castle and altering scenery in subtle game-changing ways as it spreads.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax can be played in either of two distinct art styles. The first, labeled Retro, looks identical to the original Half-Minute Hero PSP game, with pixelated environments and characters that, while charming, sadly don't work as well on a big TV screen as on a handheld. The second, NEO Cartoon Mode, is significantly easier on the eyes, but its generic Flash-game look is almost completely devoid of personality. Still, it's not difficult to pick one and stick with it, which is more than can be said for the controls at times. Using a regular Xbox 360 controller, neither the D pad nor the analog stick feel precise enough when you attempt to sprint in anything other than a straight line. The former is ultimately the lesser of the two evils, but you might find yourself alternating between the two regardless. In this regard, Super Mega Neo Climax is inferior to the original Half-Minute Hero, which controlled just fine on the PSP.
Super Mega Neo Climax also offers a much less impressive array of unlockable bonus modes than the 2009 game. Upon finishing Hero 30 mode, you can gain access to, in order, Evil Lord 30, Princess 30, Knight 30, Hero 300, and Hero 3 modes. On the PSP, Evil Lord 30 is a real-time strategy game of sorts, Princess 30 is a shooter, and Knight 30 is an action game in which you can issue simple commands to a sage that you're escorting. These modes comprise 30 levels each, and while none of them are great, they still add significant value and variety to the package. On the Xbox 360, however, these modes have not only been trimmed down to a single level each, but all of them also play in much the same way as Hero 30. So, in effect, you're unlocking three additional levels rather than three additional games. The Hero 300 and Hero 3 modes have survived the transition to the Xbox 360 intact, but again, they play in much the same way as Hero 30. The former affords you 300 seconds to complete a relatively lengthy quest with multiple bosses and strips you of your ability to pray to the Time Goddess for extra time. The latter differs only from Hero 30 quests in that the timer maxes out at three seconds. All of these unlockables are fun for the short time that they take to beat, but it's hard not to feel a little shortchanged when you consider what they were two years ago.
One of Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax's greatest strengths is that it feels both fresh and familiar. This is a role-playing game minus most of the things that make a role-playing game, and that's not necessarily an endorsement, but the resulting action game is unlike anything else you've ever played. You can finish an entire quest, complete with side quests, gear upgrades, and a boss fight in less than a minute, but by the same token, you can get sucked in for hours as you progress through the story and get competitive both online and on leaderboards. Flying in the face of its title, Half-Minute Hero delivers hours of entertaining gameplay for the reasonable sum of 800 Microsoft points.