Samantha is my spirit animal.
Devolver Digital has come a long way since Serious Sam HD. In 2012, they published an indie game called Hotline Miami and fame soon followed. Today, they have all kinds of heavyweight indie titles under their belt, including OlliOlli, Hatoful Boyfriend, The Talos Principle, Enter the Gungeon, and 2015’s Not a Hero, which now on Switch in a Super Snazzy Edition.
Developer Roll7, who gave us minimalistic skateboarding adventure OlliOlli and its sequel, have brought a similarly pared-down approach to the shooter genre. Despite (or perhaps thanks to) its pixelated aesthetic and simplified control scheme, Not a Hero manages to provide a surprisingly good time until it becomes a little too frustrating.
The story is simple, if a little strange: man-sized purple rabbit Bunnylord has traveled back through time from an apocalyptic future in an effort to be elected mayor and avert disaster. Bunnylord sounds like adults do in Peanuts cartoons, and his pre-mission pep talks have a weirdly randomized element to them. In order to win hearts and minds, Bunnylord has promised to severely reduce the crime rate, and he’ll turn to you and his growing posse of European badasses to do so.
The game is played in a side-scrolling perspective, in large multi-story buildings. Each mission has a primary goal and three secondary goals. The primary goal is usually pretty self-explanatory: hang up campaign posters, blow up drug stashes, activate a billboard, etc. The secondary goals are considerably tougher: score so many kills in so many seconds, don’t take any damage, rescue kittens, etc. You accomplish these goals by running around, crashing through windows, taking cover, and murderizing gangsters with reckless abandon. You can slide between cover and slide-tackle enemies. You can pick up clips of special ammo (like lasers) and also secondary weapons (like Molotovs). It sounds like a lot, but you’re really only pressing three buttons: B, Y, and X. Control is beautifully lean.
Building layouts are typically complex, and in hostage situations, you’ll need to find a way to approach the hostage-takers from behind. You’ll quickly learn that, in order to clear some of the more nefarious secondary goals, you must find the quickest path through a given building. While I appreciate this in theory (I love the Mighty Switch Force games), Not a Hero stages tend to be a little too long and complex to justify repeated attempts unless the game really clicks for you.
The more goals you fulfill, the larger your pool of characters becomes. Each character—fully voiced, by the way—adds a wrinkle or two to the overall gameplay. Clive has excellent accuracy and reloads quickly but his handgun isn’t super powerful. Jesus plays fast and loose, with quick executions but terrible accuracy. Samantha is relatively agile and can reload and fire while moving. All of these characters spout chuckle-worthy lines throughout each mission, though their pool of available phrases does seem limited. Samantha’s voice actress is definitely having a ball, though. She may not be my favorite character to play as, but she’s my favorite character to listen to.
While I appreciate the snappiness of the gameplay, I was not keen on the sudden difficulty spike somewhere around the halfway point. Aside from dealing with the labyrinthine building layouts, enemies start pouring in to surround you. On the one hand, this forces you to get creative and find ways to escape (dramatically crashing through windows is always fun). On the other hand, you’ll start dying a lot more, at which point you have to restart the mission from the beginning. Early on, restarting isn’t that big of an issue, but as missions begin to lengthen, it becomes more of a problem. This is especially true if you’re trying to complete all the secondary goals in any given stage.
What makes this version “Super Snazzy?” Well, not terribly much. You can play through three bonus missions—each with their own secondary goals—with Bunnylord himself, who is fun to play as. However, the problems Bunnylord faces are the same as any other character. It feels wrong to end this review on such a tired phrase, but your mileage may vary regarding Not a Hero. I enjoyed it but it didn’t grab me like similar games such as Mercenary Kings did. If you like comically-violent, pixelated shooters, you might try this out, but I suspect it’s playing to a crowd that doesn’t necessarily include me.