As the Foo Fighters nearly sang, "there goes my hero, watch him as he kicks an ape-man in the teeth." So close, Mr Grohl, so close. It's Sega and Coreland's 1985 kung-fu-em-up My Hero!
That's one romantic-looking title screen for a game that, as previously mentioned, involves kicking ape-men in the teeth. Maybe I've been going about this all wrong. Maybe the ape-men just need some love and affection. Maybe we should all get together and contemplate the majesty of nature, the glorious cyclical motions of the sun and the endless surf. There is a world of beauty out there, a world beyond the kicking of teeth, but even as I write this my heart aches with the knowledge that all there is in my life is slapping people about. C'est la vie.
As the game begins, our hero Steven and his girlfriend Remy have just left the bookstore and are heading over to Coffee Snack for a spot of lunch. They'll be disappointed when they get there and find out that all Coffee Snack actually serves are tomato plants, but that disappointment is postponed when the thug behind them kidnaps Remy and runs away.
I know it looks like the villain whacked Steven in the balls as he ran past, but that's just the pose our hero makes when his girlfriend is abducted in broad daylight. As always in the land of Videogame Japan, the police force have totally capitulated to the rampaging hordes of street gangs, leaving them free to abduct schoolgirls and loiter outside corner shops and whatever else it is that delinquents do. I'd better go and take the law into my own hands, then.
My Hero is simplicity itself, a two-button, single-plane beat-em-up that bears more than a passing resemblance to Irem's arcade classic Kung Fu Master. Your mission is to guide Steven from left to right, beating up street thugs as you go. You have a jump button and an attack button, and by moving the joystick in various directions as you press attack you'll get different moves, like a high kick or, erm, a low kick. You can also do a jumping kick which, in a break from tradition, is executed every time you press the jump button regardless of whether you pressed attack or not. It might seem like an unnecessary expenditure of energy, but are you telling me that if you'd mastered the art of performing totally sweet kung fu kicks you wouldn't use them to get everywhere all the time? No, I thought not.
So why write about a game as basic as My Hero? Well, simple doesn't equal boring, and My Hero is simply a fun little game. Just look at these thugs - they may resemble angry Muppets who stole all their clothes from Eighties aerobics instructors, but they love their work, be it trying to drop bottles on my head or abducting people.
Kidnapping seems to be their main racket, and partway through the stage I happened across punk with a different captive. A school that makes its students wear a bright pink uniform? That seems a bit cruel. I went to a school where uniforms were mandatory and that was bad enough, I can't imagine the abuse you'd get if you had to make the school run wearing something Elton John would reject from his wardrobe for being too garish.
If you can defeat his captor, your clone in the pink will fight alongside you, mimicking your actions and not really being that much use, mostly because he's behind you all the time. The way to get the most out of your new pal is to repeatedly jump-kick everywhere, but that's true even when you're fighting solo. Enemies are infinite and will keep coming if you stand still, so making quick progress is the key to victory and as jumping kicks let you attack and move forward at the same time they're clearly the superior option.
Just as you're getting into the flow of hopping forwards and putting thugs in traction, My Hero throws some more platforming-based challenges at you with fire pits and a hail of cartoon bombs. You can take these enemy-free sections a lot more slowly, which is good because those bombs move fast and one hit means death, but it's a nice change of pace in a game that doesn't have a whole lot of gears to go through.
Also, I've just realised something. Fire pits in games over have fireballs that launch upwards out of them, right? Are they supposed to be embers rising from the fire? Really big embers that can kill a man / Italian plumber on contact? I think I've just blown my mind.
Towards the end of the stage, I had to kick a conga line of dogs in the head. I didn't feel great about it. Maybe a trip to the beach will cheer me up.
Fighting the punk who kidnapped my girlfriend amidst the surf will cheer me up, yeah. Things work a little differently in the boss fight - instead of either you or the bad guy dying in one hit, it's the first person to be hit ten times who loses. All your moves are still the same, which means plenty of flying kicks, and while it's hardly Street Fighter II it's an enjoyable if not particularly structured bit of gameplay. It mostly devolves into a frantic whirlwind of traded punches, and while I'm sure there's an applicable strategy that can help you win every time I managed to emerge victorious by landing one or two clean shots to build up a two-point lead, and then just running up to the punk mastermind and trading blows. It wasn't subtle, but then again this isn't a subtle game.
The struggle was all made worthwhile by this post-victory scene where Steven consoles the sobbing delinquent. Perhaps there is a chance that we can come to understand that we all share the same world, that we need not fight - if we work together and engage in a meaningful dialogue then we can make this a better, more caring place for everyone.
Then a ninja runs in, grabs Remy and jumps into a mysterious portal. My commitment to healing the world through love and unity is being sorely tested. Nothing else for it but to hop into the portal, I suppose.
The portal casts the player back in time to ancient Japan, where fearsome ninja clans ruled the land. Maybe. It's one possibility, but I'm also open to the idea that the portal just sent me to a modern-day ninja theme park or similar tourist attraction. It would explain why the ninjas are wearing cyan body suits with fishnet arm-warmers, as far as such a fashion statement can be explained.
A portly bald man throws Christmas ornaments at our hero. Poor guy, he must have only just started his ninja training. He can't teleport or turn into a log or anything. If it wasn't for the fact that he can change the direction in which he throws his projectiles - something I only realised when I jumped towards him and he threw a shuriken diagonally upwards into my crotch - he'd be completely defenceless. He needs to get himself a partner or something.
My suspicions that Steven hasn't actually travelled back to feudal Japan gain credence when I happen across another of my pink-clad doppelgänger. I set him free, and now we can bust ninja heads together as a team. You might have noticed that this is following a very similar pattern to the first stage, but that's only because it is. First you fight some basic enemies that take one hit to kill - in this case the cyan ninjas, although they're more of a challenge than the street punks because they move faster and don't always walk in on the ground but instead appear in mid-air. Then there a couple of projectile-throwing enemies, followed by a chance to rescue a kung fu friend. If things are going the same way as stage one, next will be a section of jumping over fire pits or other obstacles.
Oh look, Baldy McShuriken took my advice and found himself a partner! Now he can charge across the screen on the back of his wild boar, allowing him to get really involved in the fight instead of having to just stand still and throw projectiles until Steven gets close enough to punch him. Well, I'm sure that was the plan, but unfortunately it turns out that the skills of throwing pointy bits of metal and riding a wild boar are mutually exclusive, and all he can do is cling on to his boar as it carries him towards the jumping kick that Steven has prepared for him. Forget what I said about finding a partner. Just become a postman or something instead.
Here is part of the fire pit area. The fire is safely contained between those wooden poles, so it's not a difficult section.
This bit, on the other hand, is probably the hardest part of the game. The snakes bob up and down firing laser beams out of their eyes, and the timing to get past them is very tight, although I did a lot better once I realised that jumping into the empty column between them would protect me and give me a chance to strategise. It just didn't feel right at first, years of videogame experience telling me not to drop into a gap between two platforms. I'd like to spin this into some grand lesson about taking a risk and leaping into the unknown, but I've already described Tetris as a reflection of mankind's permanent yet unwinnable battle to control their universe so I've used my pretentiousness quota up for this week.
I wonder if this is the same beach, only in the distant past? That would be sort of neat, the Beach of Destiny where men do battle across the yawning gulf of years to protect the ones they love. Why did these ninjas abduct Remy, anyway? Running low on women in 18th century Japan, were we? Maybe she's studying geology at school so she knows where all the most profitable mining areas are. That's the kind of knowledge that could come in very handy in the past.
So, this boss fight is pretty much identical to the first one, albeit with a faster opponent who likes to jump and kick at the same time. The best strategy seems to be to slowly walk towards them without attacking. This makes your opponent walk backwards, and when they reach the edge of the screen they bounce off the wall to do a big kick, allowing you to step back and kick them when they land. Do this a few times to build up a points leads and then just go toe-to-toe with them. He's only a ninja, what's the worst he's going to do to you?
A familiar scene unfolds - as Steven consoles the defeated ninja and ponders why they travelled to the future to kidnap a young woman instead of gathering advanced weapons to defeat their ninja enemies or sampling the latest taste sensation from Burger King, a blue-faced ape-man grabs Remy and hops into a portal.
Now Steven finds himself on a futuristic planet inhabited by apes. I think I'll call it World of the Monkeys. Yes, now is the promised time of kicking ape-men in the teeth, and I say teeth specifically because you'll probably be doing a lot of jumping kicks. You can punch them in the throat or kick them in the toes, if you like. I ain't gonna tell you how to enjoy My Hero.
Yes, you can definitely enjoy My Hero. It might be simple, but it's from 1985 so what did you expect? This is still a fun game, though, with speedy but not overwhelming action, responsive controls and a sense of fun, silly slapstick moments and exaggerated facial expressions that give Steven some character when he could easily have been completely anonymous. My only real issue with the gameplay is that it's sometimes difficult to judge how far attacks extend, both yours and the enemies, so the distances involved in, for example, kicking an ape-man in the teeth can feel somewhat fuzzy.
This stage also has an obstacle course area, only this time you're either avoiding spiked metal balls that drop from the sky or you're being chased by this strange green lump of a creature that's continually shooting up at you. The key is to keep heading right as fast as you can until you reach the spiked balls, at which point you can pause and figure out the pattern of their movements. My Hero is also fairly generous with the checkpoints, and when you lose a life you generally restart on the same screen you died on, so if you get really stuck you might still be able to brute-force your way through.
Back to the beach for the mano-a-monkey boss battle, which plays out much like the others. I'm still not sure why this one ape is blue in the face, but I suppose it doesn't matter. Even if that mystery were solved another would replace it, like "why did this monkey kidnap my girlfriend?" and "why is it dressed as Evel Knievel?" These things are unknowable, ineffable, and not worth the effort of your consideration. Just give this uppity ape a slap and we'll be on our way.
Okay then, where (or when) to next? Further into the distant future? Back to prehistoric times, because if anyone's known for grabbing girls and dragging them away it's cavemen? I'm sure it'll be terribly exciting, wherever we end up.
Oh. Well, that's disappointing. After stage three My Hero loops back to the beginning, with the enemies moving at a slightly faster speed, a never-ending triptych of kidnappings as Remy is passed from punk to ninja to ape for all eternity. I suppose there might be an ending, but I played on for a while and I didn't reach it, and I'll be damned if I'm going to play through one hundred stages of this like I did with Spatter. I rather enjoyed this game and I'd like it to stay that way.
There you have it, then. Another Sega arcade game that's fun, colourful and still plays well today even if it's as simple as a margherita pizza. It stands in stark contrast to Ninja Rabbits, the last single-plane brawler I wrote about. Where that game did everything wrong, My Hero gets almost everything right - it's quick, it's smooth and you can actually be good at the game. Sure, it won't hold your interest for long but I'd still recommend you give it a try, especially if you've never played Kung Fu Master. If you have played Kung Fu Master, My Hero might feel a little, I dunno, what's a word that means "derivative, but, like, really derivative"?