Hammerin Hero Review: STOP!…Obvious M.C. Hammer Joke

The PSP, out of all the handheld systems that are readily available is one in which I have the least experience. To be honest Hammerin Hero is the first game I have ever beaten on the system. Frankly at launch I was not impressed with the system, I have always been geared more toward Nintendo when it came to buying handhelds. Ever since the original Game Boy up until now I have associated handheld gaming with.Nintendo.  To me, the PSP always seemed to be the awkward kid at the dance sitting in the bleachers that I wanted to go up and befriend but cool, sexy, and super interesting Nintendo was always more alluring. I am probably missing out on a number of good titles on the PSP for instance, hell the Katamari series has a game for the PSP, and Katamari is in my list of top series of games.

With all of the games I have emulated, reaching way back into the NES and SNES library, I realized why Hammerin Hero sounded familiar when fellow writer Franklin Raines assigned me to review it. I had played its’ first ancestor, Hammerin Harry for the NES, not but a few months prior. While researching Hammerin Hero, I learned that the series was created by Irem, best known for the R-Type and Metal Storm series. Remembering how great it was, I was excited to dive into this game and see what eighteen years would do for the series. 2008’s Hammerin Hero released by ATLUS proves to be more than I expected.

The story of Hammerin Hero is pretty straight forward, you are Gen, a simple carpenter with a love of eating and heroism instilled deep inside his veins. One day, the Hyosuke Kuromoku, an obviously evil and notorious construction company hell bent on making money, planto remodel the peaceful city Gen and his friends inhabit. Gen’s main weapon of choice is his trusty hammer, but as the game progresses you can switch it up via different jobs. Gen bashes and pounds his enemies, normally evil construction workers, through various levels that range from an amusement park, to underwater in a bay, the beach and even a haunted hospital. Gen receives power ups either in forms of the bento lunch boxes, or within the level via boxes or crates in the form of construction helmets. For a retrospective, I compared playing Hammerin Harry to Hammerin Hero just to get a feel of where the series has gone, and sure enough, Gen is still fighting off an evil construction company (probably still the Hyosuke Kuromoku) while trying to save the day.

Japanese culture is jam packed into Hammerin Hero, which ties greatly into its’ visual aesthetic. Gen collects items like Lucky Niko statues to ceremonial shrines and Gen’s various job classes include a Rakugo performer that fights with a fan, a Komuso monk that fights with a flute that emits smoke and even a sushi chef that literally fights with sushi. Cultural aspects instilled into Japanese culture, so for a Japanophile like me, this creates a proverbial wet dream of visuals.

Mechanically, Gen is slow. Not debilitating, i.e. Dead Rising’s Frank West levels of slow, but to a degree that almost take me out of the game. This makes the controls seem a bit unresponsive on my part, making certain jumps and attacking enemies seem needlessly more difficult. Do not get me wrong, this is a skills game and packs a good amount of challenge for anyone willing to accept it with the four different difficulty settings, but the second one, Artisan (normal), is challenging enough. The speed of the enemies compared to Gen ultimately affects the pacing of Hammerin Hero, where I felt I had to wait for action, finding it instead of them finding me. Compared to Hammerin Harry, where numerous enemies attacking at once and I had to react and decide whether to side swing, attack up, or slam the ground to stun the enemies and then attack the nearest threat. That is what made the Hammerin Harry fun, the game did not wait for me, having a lot of action and continually progressing within the stage, but with Hammerin Hero you take on one or two enemies depending on the situation then dodge and attack and have to slowly walk just to find another enemy. Like every enemy interaction was a constructed set piece, then an encounter.

Pros: The most notable part of Hammerin Hero is how extensive it is, with a lot of objects to collect and mini missions to activate via hitting peoples thought bubbles. For those players wanting to replay and 100% the game with collecting items and achieving that status has their work cut out for them. While not for me, I do know people who love trying to do literally everything they can in a game. Humorous in nature, with grandiose boss fights with ridiculous examples like a giant construction worker with a pre-fab shop on his head that you can actually run through.

Cons: While the variations of the jobs are enjoyable to explore, the fun really picks up when you eat a bento or pick up 2X power upgrade that makes your weapon bigger and increase your damage. Unfortunately, these 2X power upgrades are rare; wasted since they never show up (outside of boss and mini-boss fights) in areas where tons of enemies attack Gen, wasting them on single evil construction employee encounters. Gen’s movement is far too slow for Hammerin Hero’s perceived fast past game play.

Availability wise, it’s getting harder to find, but you can find used copies on Amazon for around ten bucks. While I did enjoy parts of Hammerin Hero, the slow movement, paired with a slow game that’s replay-ability equates to item collecting and skill testing, I would have liked Hammerin Hero to be more like Hammerin Harry. If you are looking for a good challenge, or really just love Japanese culture in your video games, you could really enjoy Hammerin Hero. If you see yourself outside of these two camps, I say move along.

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