It's election season. How will you campaign for mayor? Will you promise better schools? Guarantee that you'll fix all those potholes? Perhaps you'll run on the more straightforward assurance that you will "shoot criminals in the face"? That last one might not be the most humane of political platforms, but it makes for an entertaining 2D action game.
In Not a Hero, you are a hired gun for a politician named Bunnylord, an anthropomorphic purple rabbit who has come from the future to, presumably, save the world. He is convinced that to prevent the disastrous future he has seen, he needs to be elected as mayor by the end of the month.
In theory, this would make you, his employee, a hero. But true to the title of the game, you do a lot of things that aren't very heroic. Sure, you might take down a drug lord and save some hostages, but along the way, you murder a lot of people. Bunnylord himself isn't a big believer of things like court trials. He has open disdain for religious people, hates children, and throws around a word that disrespects the mentally handicapped. It's odd to think that he's supposedly on a mission to save the world, considering that he doesn't seem like a very nice man (or rabbit ... whatever).
The violence in Not a Hero might be disturbing if it weren't for the absurdity wrapped around it.
To help Bunnylord get elected, you mostly shoot people and blow things up. Even mundane tasks like putting up campaign posters or collecting wind chimes (which is very important for, well, reasons) involve leaving a trail of bodies, most of which die in a comically over-the-top fashion.
For the most part, you can run left and right, slide and shoot. Not a Hero's shooting is "cover based," but you don't actually need to be behind any cover--just kind of near it. Hitting the cover button often makes you just sort of hug the wall, shrouding you in shadow for protection and, if you haven't been spotted by nearby enemies, keeping you out of sight. Hitting the fire button while in cover pops you out long enough to take a shot, and you're relatively safe unless an enemy gets close enough to punch you.
The moment-to-moment action, including running, shooting, sliding into cover, and shooting some more is great … most of the time. Occasional hiccups occur when the game forces you to aim right when you're trying to aim left. Or you might try to take cover where you are, but, because the "cover" button is the same as the "slide" button, you suddenly find yourself sliding right towards the barrel of a criminal’s shotgun. When you start the game, the temptation is to run in guns blazing, Contra style. But until you get a good grasp of Not a Hero's quirks, it can be better to take it slow.
Your health regenerates, but you can go down quickly in a hailstorm of bullets. Sometimes the better course of action is to be methodical, watching and listening for cues telling you that an enemy's clip is empty before you pop out of cover. It's also smart to use the game's executions--brutal kills you can perform on a stunned enemy after sliding into them.
Beyond those basics, each of the game's nine characters have different traits that affect how you control them. For example, when playing as most of the characters, you have to be very careful when you choose to reload because you can't move or cancel out of the reload animation once it starts. One character can move while reloading, however, while another can shoot to cancel the reload. One character is very fast but has very little ammo, while another has lots of ammo but moves slowly. My personal favorite character, Clive, can run fast while shooting two guns straight in front, like he jumped straight out of a John Woo movie.
The violence in Not a Hero might be disturbing if it weren't for the absurdity wrapped around it. Bunnylord might order you to shoot someone in the face, but he also brags about how he's reduced the city's amount of "illegal dry-humping." One problem with the game's humor, though, is that it tends to try too hard. Every mission begins with a lengthy briefing and ends with a debriefing, each of which are primarily vehicles in which the writers cram as many attempts as humor as possible. Every line reads as an attempt to elicit a laugh, but most are only good enough for a chuckle at best--especially since you never get a break from the insanity. Before long, I wanted to skip all the dialogue (which, thankfully, is an option) rather than sit through a lot of dumb jokes.
Every line reads as an attempt to elicit a laugh, but most are only good enough for a chuckle at best.
It's to the gameplay’s credit that I usually wanted to get through the story beats quickly and jump into the next mission. Each of the game's 21 levels (24 if you count a few secret ones) are short and relatively straightforward--kill enemies, maybe collect a few things, find the exit--but each stage's layout is well-designed, often offering a few different paths to the goal (maybe, for example, you crash through a window instead of entering a room from the door on the opposite side). A few different enemy types also help mix things up because several of the bad guys you come across are immune to certain attacks, like slide tackles. Occasionally, the longer levels in the game can be frustrating thanks to enemies that have a tendency to kill you in one hit (forcing you to go back to the beginning), but their size and complexity is still welcome.
The plain "kill all enemies" mission structure is also broken up with extra challenges to complete in each level, such as ... well, "kill all enemies." Other than that, you might be asked to find a hidden item, defeat a certain number of enemies without getting hit, or complete a level without using a certain number of bullets. You can reach the game's credits without completing any of these objectives, but they usually add challenge and variety to what might otherwise be a bland mission.
If you don't try to complete all these challenges, you can easily blast your way through Not a Hero in a handful of hours, unlocking most or all of the characters along the way. You can extend your time in the game by completing levels with all the different characters, but the game doesn't do a good job of incentivizing you to do so. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in this explosive quest for political domination. Not a Hero's humor may not always hit the mark, but the action makes up for it.