IMPORT REVIEW: AM2 is known for many things: Daytona USA, Outrun, Scud Racer, Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, Fighting Vipers, and now Shenmue. But how many people know of an obscure Japanese RPG called Rent-A-Hero for the Sega Mega Drive? Not many, but AM2 was indeed responsible for that title. The main character in RAH ran around solving all manner of problems in his battery-powered suit. When AM2 compiled its favorite characters into the now-classic Fighter's Megamix, Rent-A-Hero was palette swap of the Pepsiman character from the Japanese version of Fighting Vipers. Still, it was practically heartwarming to see the much-overlooked character make a small comeback.
Now the comeback is in full swing with the release of Rent-A-Hero No.1. Although it wasn't developed explicitly by AM2, it features former team members whose past credits include Fantasy Zone, Outrun, Afterburner, and Sword of Vermilion. Purportedly using the Spikeout arcade engine, RAH No.1 doesn't look quite as good as that Model 3 arcade game, but still sports some of the most amazing environments yet seen in a video game. Imagine a simpler, smaller Shenmue, and you won't be doing the game injustice.
Assuming the role of Taro Yamada, a young man who still lives at home with his parents and sister, you're asked to call for a pizza delivery. The funky old man who shows up not only brings the pie but also a huge box with the Rent-A-Hero uniform in it. Taro puts on the suit, which can be activated by pressing the appropriate button. When you join the little gathering that's collected in your house (friends, neighbors, etc.), you find that your father, the big joker that he is, has put on a giant monster costume reminiscent of, oh, say, Godzilla. Pops checks your fancy duds, says, "Come get some," and you pop your pops. Not realizing your strength is now many times greater than normal, you lay out your dad, and the story takes off from there. As Rent-A-Hero, your first major challenge is to rescue a woman from a street thug. The battle feels similar to those in a 3D Virtua Fighter or Dynamite Deka (although you do not know much more than punch and kick and jump at the beginning), and it is quickly over. As a reward, the lady hands you money for your efforts, enabling you to buy the batteries necessary to keep your suit charged up and to buy food to replenish your health points.
You continue to make money by doing odd jobs (no forklifts here, fortunately), which start out menial -such as handing out pamphlets - and evolve into tackling bad guys like Doctor Trouble. You'll even meet sensei Segata Sanshiro of Saturn fame early in the game. It's likely that Segata will give you a close-up of his dojo floor a few times before you'll beat him. He also keeps track of your win-loss record for you and compliments you on your improving skills.
As the RAH suit was created by SECA, the corporation has also equipped you with a Creamcast (no joke), with which you load up neo-web sites that direct you to jobs needing a Rent-A-Hero. As you progress further into the game, you'll meet up with other RAH members, such as the female Rent-A-Hiroko.
The camera work, while not controllable, does an admirable job staying in a convenient, functional place that rarely interferes with the action. The game runs at a rock-steady 60fps that never hiccups, giving the game a nice feel after too many 30fps games on the Dreamcast. Character animation is fluid, although the characters themselves don't look as nice as Soul Calibur's or Shenmue's character models. The environments have a texture quality that rivals Sonic Adventure's, and the indoor and outdoor designs are nothing short of breathtaking. Sure, RAH No.1 features a large number of suburban homes, but they never suffer from repetitious, recycled designs - each house is unique, as are the various neighborhoods you unlock. Sonically, the game features a light and loungy soundtrack that is marred only by its repetitiveness. Otherwise, the game's sounds are perfectly adequate. Control is handled exclusively by the digital pad. Strangely, the analog pad isn't used in the slightest, although that's not necessarily a bad thing.
There are a lot of reasons to like Rent-A-Hero No.1, and very few to dislike it. While the game is a humorous, irreverent joy to experience, gamers who don't read Japanese should be forewarned that mission objectives, text-based dialogue, and menu items are all displayed in Japanese, making it difficult to barge your way through the game using trial-and-error as a guide. Hours can be spent in the initial house wondering what to do and how to get out if you don't know what's being said. Keeping that in mind, it would be great to see Sega of America pick up this surprisingly excellent game. If SOA doesn't pick it up, Rent-A-Hero No.1 is ripe for the plucking by an American publisher. It's definitely unique and uniquely Sega, and the Dreamcast game library needs more wacky games like this - Seaman needs the company. A wonderful character who distances himself from built-to-be-cool characters like Duke Nukem or Legacy of Kain's Raziel, Rent-A-Hero is the rabbit in Sega's hat. Magic.