Developer: Fantastico Studio
Publisher: Fantastico Studio
Rating: E (Everyone)
Hero Express is a 2D indie racing game containing upgrade mechanics similar to those found in many browser games, where the player collects money to upgrade their character in order to travel further and further in the level. This isn’t the kind of game I expect to see on console, so I was curious how it holds up. Can it offer anything more than its simplistic browser-based brethren?
Violence: Your vehicle explodes if you die, but no blood or gore is depicted on the screen. It’s all very cartoony and tame.
Language: The word “cr@p” appears in the dialogue box once.
In Hero Express, the world is under assault from a collection of monsters, such as a yeti, an Alien rip-off, and a King Kong-esque gorilla. A superhero, simply named Hero, sets out to defeat these monsters and save earth…but he constantly misplaces the weapons and other gadgets he needs in order to come out triumphant in these matchups. That’s where you come in. You play as a delivery man working for Hero Express, and your job is to transport Hero’s equipment to him as he engages with monsters around the world.
It’s a silly premise, and as far as storytelling goes, this is basically it. Upon completing a level, you get a picture of Hero and you, the Hero Express driver, looking happy. You never actually see Hero fighting or defeating the monster with the item you brought to him. The plot is pure window dressing, an excuse to explain why the background art changes for each level.
Gameplay consists of driving a vehicle across bumpy terrain, keeping your car upright as you you’re your way toward the finish line. Along the way you encounter geysers that shoot you into the air, water-filled pits that kill you instantly if you fall into them, and an object that, if run over, will briefly gunk up your car and cover over part of the camera. Your fuel level continuously drops down until you pick up one of the fuel tanks scattered across the terrain, which fill you up and allow you to keep going; if you ever run out of fuel, your car explodes and you have to start the level over. Other items include spray bottles to clean gunk off your car, and one-time jumps that can be deployed strategically to bypass tricky sections or access a higher, alternate route across a portion of the stage.
The most common pickup, however, is the currency used to upgrade your vehicle between attempts…and there will be multiple attempts, because every level features steep hills that an un-upgraded car cannot climb. Each stage also uses its own unique car and unique currency, which means that your upgrades from one level do not carry over to the others.
The best thing I can say about Hero Express’s gameplay is that it is smooth and bug-free. The vehicles’ physics are consistent, allowing you to reliably predict how it will interact with the hills and jumps you encounter. The particularly bumpy sections require some careful navigation, which is especially true when playing a level on hard mode, which is accessible after completing it on normal mode and reduces the number gas tanks on the track. There is also a nice range of vehicles present in the game, varying not only in size and speed, but also in how much they bounce off the ground following a jump. It would be fair to say that the developer has nailed the core of the experience.
The problem is how shallow this experience ultimately is. Even with the geysers, alternate paths, and other occasional wrinkles like quicksand, there simply isn’t enough variety to keep things interesting for long. While the first level is technically the easiest, the others aren’t particularly difficult and don’t expect that players will have mastered any great wealth of gameplay mechanics in order to complete them. In fact, the first level is only “first” in the sense that your cursor starts there when you enter the level select screen. Every level is available from the start, and I feel like even if I had started with the most challenging stage, I wouldn’t have had much more difficulty completing it than I did by playing it last. Even hard mode is a letdown. The only changes are the placement of items and geysers; the level layout remains the same. Completing a level on hard mode does not even reward you with anything.
The game’s music and sound effects prove repetitious. While a few levels have their own unique music, several songs are used in multiple stages, diluting the identity of both the level and the musical accompaniment. The more egregious offender is the jingle that plays whenever you pick up a non-currency item…and when you pass a specific checkpoint on the map for the first time, and when you pass your previous best distance. There were several times during my playthrough when I heard this one-second jingle four or five times in a span of less than ten seconds. Combine this with the fact that you have to replay stages multiple times in order to earn enough money to upgrade your car, and you wind up hearing the same things over and over throughout the entire game.
Essentially, the developer did the bare minimum here, delivering a game that’s smooth and functional, but remarkably shallow. The simplistic gameplay and underwhelming hard mode mean that the game lacks staying power or a reason to play through all of the available content. With Hero Express, the old saying “you get what you pay for” rings true; while you don’t have to pay much to get it—a mere five dollars—it fails to offer much in return.
Review copy generously provided by Fantastico Studio.
The Bottom Line