Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hercules (GB) Review

Written: January 8th-12th, 2013
Year: 1997 | Developed by: Tiertex | Published by: THQ and Disney Interactive
(As played on the Super Game Boy)

Warning: Spoiler-filled review and some anger fumes included!  Read at your discretion!
Why must I always deal with snakes?!
I have such fond memories of the 1997 animated Disney movie Hercules.  I remember having seen it twice in theatres: once in America and the other time in Italy.  I remember loving it a lot when I was little, and I still like watching a lot now.  It's not perfect, but I think it's a real charming and enjoyable movie to watch every now and then, with likable characters, a memorable villain, a fitting Greek theme, interesting animation and design, and some rather catchy tunes.  =)  The first ever video game I played on the PlayStation One was the movie tie-in game, and in my opinion it's a fantastic and well-done game, despite some flaws.  But did you know that there was another video game adaptation that was made based on the movie?

"Say, you look a little bony there!"
Well, wouldn't you know it, there is!  Made in the same year by developer Tiertex (that's always a good sign, right?), I had received it the following Easter in '98.  I was surprised, and I immediately found that it was very different from the Sony version, and the adaptation itself is something I found quite peculiar.  Both games are loosely based on the movie, and it's similar in that regard.  But aside from that, it is different in a vast amount, right down to the gameplay, the way the story is presented, and the several stages you must go through.  As to why it's different, it's something I'll have to go through in detail.  For this review I'm going to present the images as they were seen on the Super Game Boy cartridge adapter on the SNES, because let's be honest: most pre-Game Boy Color games are worth playing that way, not to mention it's got some additions.
Like this for example.  The title screen of the game connects with the border that's added when you play it on the SNES.  It works this way, even though it's not entirely seamless!  Just from looking at that shot you wouldn't think that it was a Game Boy game.  This is how it would look like if it was not being played on a Super Game Boy:
Really takes out a lot, doesn't it?  What I find curious is why the title screen even looks like this to begin with.  On the regular Game Boy, all you'll see is Hercules' adopted home, and while we do see it once in the movie, it's rather confusing since it doesn't really explain much or give an idea for to what to expect (to the ones that haven't seen the movie the most).  On the Super Game Boy, on the other hand, it makes more sense because of the border placed around it with all the settings highly expanded (but more on that later).  But this is just the title we're talking about; so how does this portable version fare compared to the PlayStation version?

That's a clever way of telling the story, I must
Those of you that have seen the movie should know the plot right off hand: in the heavens the Greek gods Zeus and Hera bore a child called Hercules, and all the other gods come to visit and celebrate the arrival of the newborn.  All of them are overjoyed and happy except for Zeus' brother Hades, who is stuck running the underworld as he's the God of Death and basically rules over Hell.  He receives a visit from the three muses who foretell that unless Hercules is dead (who'll be the only one to take him down), Hades will take over the world and rule all.  [insert M. Bison "Of course!" meme here]  Hades then summons his lackeys Pain and Panic to take the baby to Earth and feed him a poisoned bottle which will not only deprive Hercules of his immortality but also kill him in the process.  They halfway succeed until they hear a couple approaching as they stumble upon the baby.  They decide to take him to their home and raise him as their own, as a mortal.
From time to time Phil will pop up and aid you
Several years pass as Hercules begins to feel out of place and wonders where he truly came from, since he's still retained his unusual strength since birth (hence the title "demi-god").  His surrogate parents show him the medal that was around Hercules' neck when they found him and they suggest that he go visit the temple of Zeus to discover the answer.  It's there that he discovers that Zeus is his real father and that as an infant he was taken down to Earth and turned mortal.  It's there that Zeus advises Hercules to recruit for training under a character named Philoctetes (shortened to "Phil"), who's been known to be a great trainer; for in order for Hercules to become a god again he must prove his worth and become a "true hero".  Hercules also regroups with his pegasus friend since birth Pegasus who has also grown all these years.  So they fly to the island where Phil resides, who at first is dubious but eventually agrees to train him.  And that's where our game begins!  =)

Flying in the sky on Pegasus slaying enemy birds
This portable version of Hercules is an action-oriented sidescrolling platformer.  Control is good, but the only thing that really bothers me about it is that it feels backwards: the B button (Y on the Super Game Boy) is used to jump while the A button (B on the Super Game Boy) is used to attack.  Really backwards, to be honest, and sadly there's no way to adjust the controls to your liking so you're stuck with that control scheme.  =(  But regardless the control is still good.  Hercules can swing his sword ahead of him and above him, while on a rope, and even lunges it while ducking.  He can even crawl in tight spaces, stomp down on the ground (by pressing down after jumping), climb ropes, even run.  While heading in any of the two directions you press the attack button to run ahead, but if you press it again then Hercules while cover his head and use a super running attack, which can be used to either break down a wall or take down a golem.  There are some moments where you might have to jump from platform to platform, and most of the time you'll want to run to increase speed.  While the controls are good, they're not exactly the most responsive of controls, so you have to press the buttons at just the right moment in order for them to work.  One of the stages will have you in the maze-like labyrinth of Crete, and there are a couple stages where you ride on Pegasus.  In the game you have health, and whenever you find some bonus drinks you'll regain some, and there are shield items that will make Hercules invulnerable until it's been hit enough times by enemy contact.

Searching around the Minotaur's labyrinth
of Crete
The visuals, to be honest, are quite wonderful.  For Game Boy standards, they're something to behold, but I'd be lying if I said it was one of the best-looking titles of the system.  Each stage has their own distinct style (faithful to the movie) and attention to detail, and what's neat is that because of that you don't feel like you're going in the same place twice, and that's what really stands out to me here.  For example, the third stage with the centaur Nessus has well-designed trees and bushes on the side which are detailed so nicely and have got a neat shading style.  The labyrinth of Crete looks really cool, especially with its patterned bricked walls and the way there are some objects and torches laid by them.  The eighth stage with the cyclops Cyclops there are some neat designs, like some of the statues you see by the end and there are a few moments when you might see some good-looking Grecian columns.  The fourth stage with the Hydra and the sixth stage with Medusa all look good, with heavily detailed platforms and foreground objects, I especially like how the backdrop has got some marks on the wall during these stages.  The rest of the areas look especially good.
Hercules crawling forward
As for the sprites of the characters and enemies, they look detailed and they animate fluidly.  The skeletons and other enemies look cool, and Hercules is designed well.  My problem is that he doesn't at all (100%) look like Hercules to me!  He's got the sleeveless chest armor and the skirt he wears, but where is his cape and why isn't his head shaped the same?  Pegasus looks great too, and the way his flapping wings animate is so beautiful to look at, but is it just me or does Hercules look naked while riding on him?  o_O  Any time Phil pops up you'll see a different screen with Phil sitting on some rocks and some items or characters that he's referring to (a few of them are questionably designed but the rest are fine).  On the regular Game Boy the visuals will look monochromatic, but on the Super Game Boy the visuals will at least be fleshed out a little.  The title will largely be blue, and during each cutscene and in every stage the bottom HUD will show proper colors.  Mostly it's still monochrome, but the beauty of Game Boy games that are custom made for the Super Game Boy is how they'll be given distinct color settings of their own (unless you want to choose them yourself).  Some color schemes actually make the game rather atmospheric, and you have to give them credit for going the extra mile.  =)

Oh, no, the birds from those two infamous bird-
centric movies have come to seek vengeance on
us!  D=
The game's sound is good.  On the regular Game Boy the sound samples are all right, but on the Super Game Boy however, the sound quality is amped up and it sounds like actual instruments are playing in the background; which automatically makes it better.  There are five songs in this Game Boy version of Hercules in total (six if you count the short fanfare you hear any time you finish a stage), and they sound real good on the Super Game Boy with the Greek-like orchestral-like sounds.  I especially like their rendition of the title theme "Zero to Hero" from the movie, and what's cool about it is how it doesn't just stop before it gets halfway done but it plays the entire song (as in it's a few minutes long), which is really cool.  There are couple area themes, the theme that plays during the cutscenes, and the theme that plays whenever you face a boss.  The themes are lengthy, which is good because as a result they don't sound at all repetitive.  The sound effects still sound like regular Game Boy sound effects, such as the static sound used when a rattlesnake tries to strike at you and the one that's used whenever a skeleton is downed.

Even better, a skeleton with a shield!
Hercules on the Game Boy is a very easy game to play.  The first stage has you in Phil's training area, which at first is linear but then it segues to another part which tries to be a bit branching but is still linear in the long run.  In the second stage you fly on Pegasus on the way to Thebes while contending with enemy birds.  The third stage with Nessus is incredibly linear, the fourth stage with the Hydra is big and maze-like but still maneuverable, and the fifth stage has you attacking birds (why?).  The sixth stage with the Gorgon Medusa is like the fourth stage except a little more linear, the seventh stage in Crete is fittingly maze-like (you can access the map through the Select button), the eighth stage is largely linear, and the ninth stage is another Pegasus stage where you must deal with the tornado titan's tornado victims and then face the tornado titan himself (but in the game Phil labels them as "tornado gods"... words cannot describe how wrong that sounds).  Each stage has got some obstacles that will try to stop you, and each stage has got distinct stage designs.  In most stages you must face off against a boss, so let's go over them one by one.
At the end of the third stage you'll be combating against Nessus the centaur, and for some reason Meg is tied to a tree (she wasn't in the movie).    All you have to do is time it right, step forward when he's not kicking, swing your sword, step back, rinse and repeat.  No real sense of strategy here.  Also for some odd reason Nessus has got a bow and will sometimes shoot arrows at you here.  =/
In the end of the fourth stage you must face the Hydra, only there are three heads.  Naturally the thing you have to do now is slice their heads off until heads no longer regenerate, right?  Nope!  Just climb on each of their heads, jump upward, and then stomp hard on their heads once!  Boy, talk about cranial damage, and oh my God, it almost looks like their heads are about to break open!
Oh, come on!  That doesn't even look like the Medusa in the movie!  Sure, she only appeared for a few seconds in the popular "Zero to Hero" sequence, but she didn't look that frightening!  And how is she even designed here; have the developers even seen the movie??  Well, whatever, in here the vulnerable Gorgon is stationary, but from time to time she might fire one blast from her eyes, either to the left or the right.  You must cut off the snakes off her hair while she's not firing, and then after that you must send your sword through her head.  It's just as easy as it sounds.  -_-
Once you find the key in the seventh stage and locate the big door with the lock it's off to fight the Minotaur you go!  Like the Medusa creature he also made a few seconds' long appearance in the "Zero to Hero" moment, but he's not so bad-looking here.  All you have to do is wait for him to run towards you, swing your sword at the exact moment to make contact, and you repeat these same steps until he's down for the count.  Afterwards Hercules will go back to the farther left wall, claim a key, and use it to unlock the exit.  Wow, that was eventful!  =/
Near the end of the eighth stage you'll be facing off against the not-so gigantic this time around Cyclops.  Just time it properly, keep attacking the big chubbo with the sword, and once he's down on the floor you stab him to end his days.  Because that's how he was defeated in the movie, right?  =}  And yet somehow a column still comes undone and then Meg sacrifices herself to save Hercules without Cyclops crushing down on Earth causing it to shatter and fall.  ... okay??
And now it's come to battle for Olympus in the ninth stage, where Hercules must deal with the tornado titan's tornadoes-- oh, I'm sorry, "Tornado gods" as the game calls them.  At the end you must face a giant tornado who keeps rotating the position of his face, so there's only one thing to do: go Rambo on its bottom end until the twister literally loses face.  All right, the ninth stage is over!  =D  Next stage, please?
Oh, I forgot to mention, any time you've passed a stage you're given the password.  You know how some passwords cleverly look like they're sounding out words without there having to be vowels in them?  I was really hoping it wasn't the case here, for I really wanted to battle Hades.  I didn't care if it was going to be one of those exploration-required stages or a throwaway stage, I wanted to to do battle with Hades!!  I mean what kind of video game loosely based on the movie Hercules would ditch this opportunity to fight off the main bad guy?
What?  WHAT?!?!  >=O  Are you serious?!?!?!?  No really, that's the way the game ends, and after this sequence we view the credits as the password "subtly" foretold.  No confrontation with Hades, we don't even see him once in the game (he's referenced in the story but he is never shown).  I already made up my mind what this game's status was going to be like for me, but I was hyped to get to the end and wanted to battle fight Hades so badly, despite the quality this game presented.  I'm not going to lie, when the game ended so abruptly I was like "Really, that's it??  Bullshit!"  And maybe I wouldn't mind it so much had I not seen or felt highly about the movie, but it really kills the whole climactic sequence near the end of the movie for me, and it makes it seem for the game that Hercules has become a "true hero" by decimating a tornado.  *raises hands and then lowers them*  What the hell?!

Fly, Pegasus, fly!
It's not just the fact that it failed to live up to the final events of the movie, but it fails considerably when taking into account the other portable licensed titles loosely based on Disney movies where you did end up confronting the bad guy in the end (if it happened in the movies in question that is)!  In the portable Game Boy version of The Jungle Book Mowgli does get a chance to battle Shere Khan, in the two portable adaptations of Disney's Aladdin (both the original Game Boy version and the Game Boy Color remake of the former) Aladdin got to face Jafar, in the portable video game version of Mulan she does confront the Hun leader Shan Yu at the end, and in the portable Game Boy Color version of The Emperor's New Groove Kuzco does end up facing Yzma, among other examples.  This is just inexcusable!  D=<  *breathes deeply and calms down*  Okay, so I should probably wrap up this review and offer my two cents on this game now.  =(

Attack that golem!
Hercules on the Game Boy isn't so much a bad game so much as a terribly mediocre one.  The challenge level is considerably low, especially during the boss fights which almost always require the most simplistic of patterns to take them down.  There are enemies in the game, but it seems like they appear in less numbers and can easily be taken down in one hit, which diminishes the challenge value.  Though I will admit that some maze-like stages do take a bit to get around and master, especially the labyrinth of Crete.  When I was little I couldn't beat the third stage (how was I supposed to know that you had to press the attack button twice while running in order to mash the golems back then?), but as I got older I got up to the seventh stage (turns out you don't have to explore all the rooms of the maze and that the Minotaur's pattern was disappointing simple), and then afterwards I managed to finally beat it years later.  I just wish the game had depth when it came to challenge, as sometimes it can feel a little winding, but even then it results in a very easy game (which can be beaten without losing a life).  I do like how the story tries to stay faithful to the movie, but considering certain scenes and elements were altered or absent as a whole in this conversion, it can be confusing (if not for the fact that you saw the movie).  I do like how it tries to give length by adding stages where you fight the Medusa and the Minotaur, but what is up with that bird-killing stage in the middle?  I would've thought that the bird enemies from the second and ninth stages were the ones you had to worry about!  Hercules doesn't look too bad, but to be honest I have a hard time even recognizing that it's supposed to be him (it doesn't help any that he's never closed in on whenever Phil calls you), and some elements don't at all feel connected to the movie (making it seem like a different game entirely).  I am disappointed about the glaring lack of Hades, and it just really makes me mad the developers just dropped the ball with that.  It just makes you wonder what you've been doing this all for in the first place.
[Insert a clever caption about jumping off
ropes here] 
Visually the game is fantastic, as I do like the way the areas are distinctive, stylistic, and very detailed, in a much similar style to the way the movie presented it.  Playing the game on the Super Game Boy really helps add to the experience, as sometimes it can help lend a little atmosphere to the game world.  Everyone animates real smoothly, though it's too bad that the only non-character object they could animate were the torches in a few of the stages (but even then they don't animate badly).  The controls are good, even though they are not totally responsive.  The soundtrack is brilliant, most especially when it comes to playing on the Super Game Boy, as the score feels really triumphant if it's played on that adaptor cartridge.  As far as I'm concerned it's only worth playing on the Super Game Boy, but even then it's not a good game.  I just wish more focus had been done to the gameplay and challenge than that of the aesthetic qualities here (this is one of those games that slightly look better than it plays), as Hercules on the Game Boy could've been a great game.  But as it stands, it's not meant to be, and what we've got in the end is a mediocre movie license title, with a cop out of an ending.  If you're a fan of the movie, this might be an interesting game to play through, just don't expect anything colossal.  For everyone else, do yourselves a favor and either watch the movie this was based on or play the superior PlayStation One adaptation; it may be flawed and might have some issues, but at least it's fun!  On the bright side though, this could've been a lot worse.

Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!
P.S.: This review took longer than I hoped to make  =(
P.S. 2:
Oh, come on!  Really??  That's not Meg!  That's just someone cosplaying as Meg!

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