Vintage Hero

I should preface this review by noting that Mega Man’s classic NES games have no nostalgic value for me, and the franchise as a whole I consider to be of little relevance to modern gaming.  I thought Mega Man 9 was alright.  I thought Mega Man 10 was alright, albeit slightly less so.  I tried and failed to get into the Battle Network series as a kid.  And if the amount of shit that I gave when Mega Man was announced for Smash Bros was any smaller, it would only be able to be studied at the Hadron Collider.  I’m not saying the series is a bad or that the games aren’t worth playing.  I’m saying Mega Man probably means a lot more to you (assuming you’re my average reader) than it does for me.

With that being said, Vintage Hero does Mega Man very well.  Mimicry can’t be as easy as people think.  If it were, there wouldn’t be so many classic gaming tributes on XBLIG or other platforms that completely miss the point of what the originals were about.  With platformers, it gets especially difficult.  Typically, even a game that comes really close to the original still has something off about it.  And once you latch onto what that one not-quite-right thing is, it’s all you notice.  Vintage Hero doesn’t have that.  It is so close to Mega Man in terms of gameplay and physics that it’s almost creepy.  Like one of those stories you hear where a famous actress meets an adoring fan who has built a life-sized statue of her made out of mayonnaise and caulking, and she has to smile through her teeth while waving to her agent to start filing for the restraining order.

Lloyd is a janitor. Mega Man was a lab assistant. Lab assistant. I'm not sure who wins on points there.

Lloyd is a janitor. Mega Man was a lab assistant. I’m not sure who wins on points there.

Vintage Hero’s controls are perfect Mega Man mimicry, and it makes this title a joy to play.  Of course, the spooky doppelgänger stuff comes in other forms.  The hero (with decidedly unheroic sounding name Floyd) has an arm cannon, just like Mega Man.  It fires bullets that look just like Mega Man’s bullets.  His running, jumping, and climbing animations look just like Mega Man’s.  When he dies, he explodes into smaller dots of energy, just like Mega Man.  Seriously, King Louie wants to know his secret.  If Vintage Hero had left it there, doing a very convincing Mega Man impersonation, that would have been enough to satisfy gamers.

But developer Frog the Door Games didn’t stop there.  Instead of phoning in the level design, he took it in original directions not seen in Mega Man titles.  Instead of leaving the basic gameplay mechanics intact, he added in a modern RPG-like upgrade system.  As a result, Vintage Hero stays fresh through-out.  Of course,  it’s about half the length of a Mega Man title.  There are four standard bosses (and yes, you acquire a new weapon after killing them), then two finale stages, one of which includes a boss-rush.  Is it too short?  Perhaps.  It’s sort of hard to complain when everything before the end credits is about as perfectly handled as any game designed like this could be.  If the developer ran out of time or money or patience, at least he had the good sense to stop before the game started to stagnate.  Me?  I always prefer ninety minutes where I can’t stop smiling to three hours where my mind occasionally wanders, if not outright gets bored.

Vintage Hero isn’t flawless.  I think the biggest issue it has (besides length if that matters to you), is that the game does the copy-cat thing so well that it fails to have a personality of its own.  I guess I’m in the minority on this, but I didn’t enjoy the characters, the enemy design, or especially the bosses.  It all felt a bit generic.  The story told between missions I found to be predictable, especially the big twist reveal.  It was so poorly handled that I questioned whether it was just dead-panning parody.  Then the bleak ending made it clear that this was all meant to be serious, and I just sort of shrugged.  Of course, they couldn’t just rip off the charm of Mega Man’s absurd enemy design.  Vintage Hero already straddles the line between loving tribute and lawsuit waiting to happen.  But you simply can’t replace the lunacy of “why did Wily make such impractical things like Robo-rabbits that shoot robo-carrots to kill Mega Man?” with doodles of red tentacles growing out of the ground, or things that look like hastily-drawn fetuses.

You can see what I mean about the enemy design. This yellow fellow here looks like a reject from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

You can see what I mean about the enemy design. This yellow fellow here looks like a reject from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

Because of that, Vintage Hero would need to have exceptionally sharp and rewarding gameplay to really stand out.  And it does.  It’s been over a year since I’ve had the privilege of saying this about a new game, but Vintage Hero is the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made.  Here’s a game so married to an established franchise that it by all rights ought to have been saddled with the label of a well-meaning tribute, and nothing more.  Instead, it serves as an honorable homage, and a game that can fully stand on its own.  Its gameplay is fine-tuned.  Its levels inspired.  It actually pays tribute to vintage Mega Man better than Mega Man 9 or 10 did.  But most important, it’s a game that anyone can enjoy.  By the time I was on the gaming scene, Mega Man’s time as an icon had pretty much passed.  Nostalgia didn’t factor into this review.  Pure, unbridled love of gaming did.  And from that point of view, no XBLIG has ever been as well made as Vintage Hero.

(spits out Vintage Hero spunk, pops a breath mint)

xboxboxartVintage Hero was developed by Frog The Door Games

Seal of Approval Large80 Microsoft Points actively wonder why Lloyd doesn’t change colors when he equips a new item in the making of this review.  Well I take it all back, this is a shitty Mega Man ripoff.  It was all about the color swapping.

Vintage Hero is Chick-Approved and is the new #1 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  You should probably still click the link to bask in its #1ness anyway. 

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

4 Responses to Vintage Hero

  1. Matt says:

    Thanks for the review and for putting me at the top of the leaderboard! I’m really surprised, honestly. I can see where you’re coming from if you don’t like the character design. I’ll be the first to admit it’s one of my weak points but it’s something I hope can get better. (Probably by hiring an artist. That would be a good start.) My writing on the other hand I know, is… crappy. (I was gonna say my weakest point, but if I’m honest, yeah. I’m not a good writer 😉 But I try, man. I try! Poor, Floyd. He’s gonna be so sad you don’t like his personality. ;D I’m glad you thought I was able to override the weaknesses with the gameplay and overcome the clone stigma thing. Thanks. Now I have the rest of the internet to convince…

  2. AxelMill98 says:

    Wow, THAT was unexpected. I’ll buy it today.

  3. Donathin says:

    I enjoyed this title. I was a big Mega Man fan as a kid, but I never really visited any of the newer titles (let’s say newer than Mega Man X). The physics of this game are great, and truly identical to Mega Man at its core, with some fun original gameplay content. The platforming and level design were also excellent.

    I appreciated the spoof nature of the characters and story early on. When the nature of the story grew serious towards the end of the game, it didn’t throw me. I don’t expect beautiful writing from a platformer like this. I was waiting for that final tongue in cheek moment, though, something that would remind me that this was the same game that I started: the absurd, charming story of a janitor who steps in (with an arm-cannon) to save the world, because the world’s real Super Hero is boozin’ and floozin’ it up on vacation. It seemed like the tone shifted, perhaps as the designer got further into his process – and became more passionate about his creation.

    My only real nitpick has to do with the bosses (I didn’t mind the enemy sprite design/animations; their AI was well designed). With the exception of the Skeleton boss towards the end, the bosses left me wanting more. Their patterns were short and predictable, and they did very little to change those patterns and force the player to change tactics multiple times mid-fight. Needing to use different weapons against different portions of the boss, for instance, would have been cool. To be fair, it’s a small complaint, and one that I remember having (even as a kid) with almost all of the Mega Man games.

    I would put Vintage Hero easily into my Top 5 XBLIGs. It’s a great game, and I would gladly pay more than a mere dollar for its sequel.

  4. Pingback: Mount Your Friends and Hive (Second Chances with the Chick) | Indie Gamer Chick

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