Thanks to its relative power, the PSP has been a breeding ground for quite a few ambitious portable titles - Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories pushed open-world gameplay into a tiny package, SOCOM and other games like Syphon Filter featured robust online multiplayer, and God Of War: Chains of Olympus gave the little handheld’s graphics processor a good workout. Hammerin’ Hero, on the other hand, does none of those things. It’s a basic action platformer that can be beaten in a day, in fact. However, simplicity doesn’t stop this quirky brawler from being some of the best fun the system has had to offer recently.
Hammerin’ Hero stars Gen, a local carpenter who has taken up arms (read: hammer) against a large corporation butting in on his neighborhood. The Kuromoku Corporation wants to build over everyone’s houses - because as we all know, building prints money, and Kuromoku loves the stuff. Gen will have none of that; instead, he will beat people upside the head with a giant hammer, play volleyball with a giant fish, switch jobs, eat lots of bento boxes… kids, this is the best lesson in civics you’ll ever get. It turns out that skipping complaints to Town Hall yields adventure beyond anyone’s wildest dreams - who knew?
The game unfolds like a typical action-platformer; players dash from left to right and bash enemies along the way. Depending on the job Gen is undertaking at that specific moment - DJ, chef, baseball player, etc - the basic vertical and horizontal attack will differ slightly. Normal attacks will naturally smack foes on the noggin, but a well-timed horizontal swipe will send them crashing into the background, which is a good bit of fun. The main draw of Hammerin’ Hero’s old school gameplay is the quirky array of boss fights, which are too brilliant to be spoiled. Suffice to say that all of them are large, impressive, and reasonably difficult. While the game is fairly short, the variety of bento boxes - and therefore, outfits - makes replay an easy proposition, not to mention the fact that bashing around in Gen’s world is just plain fun.
Of course, half of what makes it so great is the presentation. While the arcade gameplay is good in its own right, the little touches make Hammerin’ Hero worthwhile. The graphics are bright, colorful, and well animated. As mentioned before, the bosses are huge, and facing up against the massive opponents looks great on the PSP’s little screen. It hardly pushes the system, but the art is so well rendered, it doesn’t matter. Hammerin’ Hero has style, right down to the quirky soundtrack. There are other things, like the way enemies crash around the environment after Gen lands a powerful blow sending them into the backdrop, or the civilian characters who can be recruited to fight with you by - literally - smacking some sense into them. Hammerin’ Hero dresses up its basic game mechanics beautifully.
Unfortunately, there are a few niggling issues here and there. Even for a handheld title, Hammerin’ Hero is short; however, it’s also extremely difficult in spots. This is a classic dilemma; the game is by no means a long sweeping epic, so the frustration is multiplied when you know you’re right at the very end and Gen keeps getting killed. Still, the game isn’t hard due to any technical fault of the PSP itself - i.e. impossible first person shooters thanks to the awkward controls. Instead, Hammerin’ Hero is comfortably challenging by design. It can be a pain at times, but at least it’s not because controlling Gen is fundamentally broken - quite the opposite, in fact. Hammerin’ Hero fits the handheld like a glove, and Gen dutifully responds to any commands given to him. In any case, the game is rewarding enough to make sticking through the occasionally annoying parts worth it in the end.
It might not be a blockbuster title, but Hammerin’ Hero is something special. It wields simplicity and charm as convincing hooks to keep players interested in a genre that hit its stride nearly two decades ago, and it’s as fun now as it was then. Platformers may be a dime a dozen these days, but there isn’t one game on the PSP that matches Hammerin’ Hero in pure style and refreshing playability.
Nine out of ten