In a way, I wish all election campaigns were this interesting, but I suppose the murder is somewhat of a downside. Kinda.

The plot of NOT A HERO is as ridiculous as they come. You take control of a group of characters working for BunnyLord – a time traveller from the future – helping their bid to become the Mayor of England at the next election. The best way to do this is to “killing bad guys in the face” as the voters love that sort of thing (apparently) and so begins a political campaign filled with carnage, mayhem, and exotic milkshake flavours.

Using a roster of nine characters, each with their own unique abilities and exaggerated personalities, players must navigate crime-filled tower blocks and complete objectives. What separates it from other 2D shooters is the cover mechanic, which allows characters to avoid enemy fire before popping back out to unleash some bullet-based justice. The end result is as hilarious as it is challenging. And infuriating.

The controls for the side-scrolling action are, in a word, slick (or in the words of BunnyLord, “floppin’ champion.”) That said, while you can play the game on a keyboard, I found the best results were achieved by using a gamepad. Mastering the mechanics does take time, especially as sliding and cover-entry are bound to the same button, which does lead to some fiddly moments with the environment. However, once you have it figured out you can chain together sequences that would fit right in with any gun-toting action film. Within the space of a few seconds, you could be running through a door to slide across the floor, knocking out the enemy nearest to you and popping into cover, gunning down the next one in a hail of bullets, only to run back and execute the first foe before they get up.

Of course, the cover mechanic could have slowed down the action significantly, but Roll7 have ensured that never happens. For example, reloading your gun will usually mean enemies will take the opportunity to charge. Seeing as most characters cannot move whilst doing so, this can prove troublesome during hairier firefights. That said, the same applies to your opponents, allowing you to take advantage and move on to the next kill. The knock-down slide mechanic isn’t foolproof either,  as not all enemies will be affected by it. In fact, some might jump right over you, whilst others will simply knock you back to then run in for the kill, forcing players to change their tactics on the fly. It helps keep the combat fresh and incredibly challenging, and that’s without taking the extra objectives – or the sudden appearance of a helicopter or never-ending waves of SWAT teams – into consideration.

It ends up making each level like a puzzle, working out where certain pick-ups are and when to use them, deciding if you have time to reach a room before being swarmed by enemies, or if the best thing is to double back by smashing through a window and take your victims by surprise. The optional objectives complicate matters further, with some challenges ranging from killing a certain amount in a few seconds, or saving hostages from execution, or killing absolutely everyone before leaving. It adds replay value beyond just finishing levels, as some of the more devious tasks will require time, patience, and a whole lot of practice to beat.

Thankfully, Roll7 give you the tools with which to take on the various enemies in your way. Random ammo types make for a great temporary way to dispatch enemies with ease, but the real way to success is the pick-up items dotted around the levels. They range from familiar weaponry like landmines and nail bombs, to comedy-based items like the adorable cat bomb. Each one has its own way of engaging the political process, helping to turn the tide of an onslaught.

Even with all these tools and even with the luck of well-timed ammo drops, the truth is that the game is incredibly hard in the second half of the game. New enemy types really kick the challenge into overdrive, to the point where overwhelming odds will require new tactics or experimentation with a different character from the roster. It’s a difficulty spike that may feel very sudden to some players, and when new surprises catch you off guard towards the end of a level, restarting it all again for the umpteenth time can feel incredibly tedious.

The 16-bit style visuals may seem simplistic at first glance, but I assure you – the carnage is relentlessly graphic. The executions are brutal, the blood splatter from each kill plentiful, and god help your eyes when BunnyLord himself decides to get involved. There were several moments where my jaw dropped from what I was witnessing, but because the overall tone of NOT A HERO is purposefully ridiculous it all blends in perfectly. The same can be said for the soundtrack, which plays chiptune-esque dubstep during the levels and then switches to something with a very Theme Hospital vibe between each mission. It balances out the carnage with an odd calm, as you (and BunnyLord) reflect on the horrific things you’ve just done.

That’s politics for you.

Tying it all together is some fantastic left-field comedy that is as dark as it is random. The over-exaggerated world the game is set in is filled with stereotypes that are taken to the next level, both in terms of its anti-heroes and villains. However, the real star is BunnyLord, whose nonsensical ramblings and bizarre banter are a joy to behold. Using horn-like noises for the voice only adds to the delivery of BunnyLord’s randomly generated lines, which provide repeated attempts at levels with an unexpected reward at the end.

As much as I’ve gone on about how much I’ve enjoyed NOT A HERO, it certainly isn’t flawless. As I’ve previously stated, the cover mechanic can be temperamental, and its difficulty spike is both sudden and merciless. Repeated attempts end up being monotonous as you figure out the optimal path to victory without screwing up. It makes going back to complete the optional objectives on harder levels a task I’ll probably avoid, at least for now, which is a shame really. I can see what sort of thing Roll7 have gone for in this regard, but while something like Hotline Miami makes restarts a quick affair, it just doesn’t hit the mark in NOT A HERO.

Additionally, some sort of online leaderboard could had done well here. A global listing (or even just one between friends) of the best times to complete all or some of the objectives would have added more replay value, allowing others to get one over you only for you to return the favour. Still, much like with OlliOlli we may see such a thing patched in down the line. At the end of the day NOT A HERO provides a slick, fun and gory experience that is equal parts funny and challenging. At its RRP of a tenner, I think it’s definitely worth a look if you fancy something to put your gaming skills to the test.

Or if you want nonsensical ramblings that are highly quotable.

Pros:

  • Slick controls for its frantic firefights.
  • Absurd comedic elements are very funny.
  • Its cover mechanic adds a new dimension to the combat…

Cons:

  • … but slipping in and out of cover can be temperamental whilst sliding around.
  • The sudden difficulty spike can make later levels tedious to beat.
  • A lack of online leaderboards could have improved the replay value significantly.

The Short Version:DO-Review-Score-07

Combining with frantic combat and an utterly barmy sense of humour, the side-scrolling action of NOT A HERO can be just as unforgiving as it can be enjoyable. Providing you have the patience to overcome its challenging later levels, BunnyLord’s flawed yet commendable political campaign is certainly worth your vote.

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Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Roll7
Publisher: Devolver Digital