How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. No traditional platforming; you control flip hero as if from a top down perspective with some interesting limitations. All ability gates are essentially keys, but the exploration aspect is absolutely present in this game.
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~2 hours
Review Info: Hero Core was played on Windows PC using the 1.4 version downloaded from the official website.
Buy Hero Core if you like…
- Bullet Hell
- Minimalist Graphics
- Open and Free Exploration
- Fast button Rapid Firing
- Multiple Game Modes
▼ Review continues below ▼
Originally released in 2010 as a freeware title, Hero Core to the casual audience doesn’t seem to have made a huge splash. More recently though, it’s apparent that it’s inspiring other developers to copy its unique style; we’ve just added “Hero Core Style” as a sub-genre to this site because of this budding trend. And copy it they should. Hero Core takes concepts from the Metroidvania genre and applies it to something completely new, similar to how Metroidvanias started as just 2D Platformers that added adventure game elements. I’d say that Hero Core is a combination of Metroidvania and Shoot-em-up games, but the amount of control you have over your hero is greater than what you’d normally get from an auto-scrolling Schmup. You can expect to be dodging dozens of bullets at a time and fishing for openings for your own counter attacks. You can also expect to frequently refer back to your map as you search for more power-ups within the game’s world. Hero Core is a rare example of something completely fresh, and at the price of free there’s absolutely no reason to ignore it.
In Hero Core you play as Flip Hero, aptly named since his gimmick is that he can only shoot in two directions. You move around the game’s world like you would in a Zelda game. Up makes you move up, down makes you move down, but your two shooting buttons only make you shoot left or right. This limitation forces you to think about your positioning, especially since most enemies don’t suffer from the same restrictions. In order to succeed you need to lead shots diagonally up or down so you can align yourself on the same plane as your target. Many enemies, especially bosses, have very small weak points as well, so pinpoint accuracy is absolutely required – to a degree.
One major advantage you do have in Hero Core is that your gun doesn’t have any forced rate of fire attached to it, instead it has a screen limit of six shots. This means that if you haven’t fired anything you can rapid fire as quickly as you can tap the button. Using spray-and-pray tactics to hit the game’s smaller targets is a completely viable option. The freedom felt from this rapid-fire design makes the game feel fluid and makes you feel like you’re always in control. Movement is likewise immediately responsive. You can shift directions as quickly as you can push the button, letting you get within pixels of bullets without getting hit. The amount of stuff on the screen seems meaningless as long as you can parse out your own position and make sure you’re firmly placed in the screen’s black space.
Dodging is of course still incredibly important, but not just because your health depends on it. Hero Core also features an overheat mechanic that prevents you from shooting as long as you have any heat at all. Most attacks directed at you will cause your suit to overheat besides dealing damage, so failing to dodge prevents you from counter attacking until you cool off. This means that even though you can fire at a more rapid speed the closer you are to a target, you can’t just tank through damage and defeat enemies that way. Being a game with Metroidvania elements, it’s no surprise that you’ll eventually find ways to keep your suit from overheating, but even at max level armor you can’t fire as long as Flip Hero is in an invincible state. Bosses challenge your ability to weave through bullets and your ability to manage your pixel perfect onslaught against their weak points, and there’s no viable way to cheat your way through it.
As for regular enemies, in most cases it’s just better to avoid them. There are rooms that force you to clear all enemies before you can pass through, but anywhere else there’s zero incentive to kill anything. Nothing drops health or anything else useful, so if you enter a room where the exits are clear, you’re better off just continuing on your way through and practicing your dodging skills. On the hard difficulty, occasionally something will get in your way just enough to force you to deal with them, but generally speaking the respawning foes never provide a significant roadblock when you just want to explore.
Hero Core never puts you in a position where you don’t know exactly where you can go. From the start there will be a helpful “?” on the map that shows you where an upgrade might be found. Following the trail of such hints leads to a nice fast and friendly play experience. Gunning for those upgrades every time, I was able to beat the Normal Mode in just under an hour on my first playthrough. It might seem like these hints take away from the exploration aspect of the game, but it also means you’ll never be frustrated by being completely lost. More importantly, the game teases as you play that the hinted path might not even be the most optimal, especially if you’re going for speed. The final boss in fact can be confronted very early on, although having more upgrades are of course going to make the challenge much more palatable. Exploring and finding everything is very much encouraged and supported. From the start of the game you get the ability to teleport to any save point you’ve found, so you can instantly zip anywhere you want to check just by holding down the teleport command. Dying in this game only sends you back to the last save point you ran through; you keep any items you find and any rooms you’ve explored. The low death consequence means you’re free to experiment however you like, and while this game is short there are a lot of creative ways you can approach it.
Very interestingly Hero Core’s hard mode is basically a completely different game. Enemies do have more complex patterns, but their HP values remain relatively the same. Instead the game rearranges the entire map and provides a more challenging layout and main path for you to overcome. There are places where you have to fight through gauntlets of enemies far from a checkpoint that you have to repeat if you fail. Unlocking doors along the way lets you skip some of the gauntlet rooms, but dodging through them without taking damage can still be very tricky. Furthermore at a certain point the “?” hint leading you through the game will be placed behind an gate that needs an ability that the sequence hasn’t forced you to get yet, so you have to set out on your own to find it yourself. I definitely recommend doing Normal Mode first, but Hard Mode is a great change up for those who have mastered the game’s mechanics.
Hard Mode does highlight one of the weaknesses of the six shots on the screen rule however. When you face off with the game’s harder bosses you’re heavily incentivized to shoot their weak points as quickly as you can. Since there’s no limit to how fast you can fire, I was dangerously close to inducing carpel tunnel syndrome with some of the harder fights. I really like how much freedom and control the rapid fire mechanic gives the game, but thanks the pain in my thumbs I sort of prefer the more steady rate of fire found in one of Hero Core’s copycats. Hitting the space bar does make Flip Hero fire automatically, which is a nice touch, but it’s still not nearly as fast as you could fire it. Some might argue that this adds an extra layer of depth to the game that speed runners and other skilled players might exploit, but I bring it up as a caution for anyone that may want to avoid hand injuries.
Besides the Hard Mode there is one other difficulty mode, a boss rush mode, and an endless mode to enjoy. Even on just the Normal Mode there are a ton of different ways you can approach the game, meaning that the replayability is already phenomenally high. With all of these extra game modes, if you’re interested, you could put dozens of hours into Hero Core. I’d say that this gives the game fantastic value, but there isn’t even a price tag to base that off of.
With the release of Rabbit’s Quest in 2019 and now Pear Potion this year, it’s clear that Hero Core has had some influence, and I think it deserves it. It provides a new and fresh way to experience Metroidvania tropes, and it shows that sometimes limitations can create something truly interesting. The fleeting nature of its shorter playtime is made up for with a plethora of modes and ways to tackle its challenges. For such an innovative concept it pulls off its designs magnificently, even if I feel there’s still some room to make it absolutely perfect – a bias that comes from having already seen Rabbit’s Quest at this point. Nevertheless, if you haven’t played this game yet, it’s still absolutely free and its normal mode is relatively short – the overall cost to try it is as low as it gets. So go try it.
Bosses test your ability to sharpshoot within the limitations you're given, and the rate of fire of your gun makes you feel like you're always in control.
Dodging enemies is a feature in this game but you're not given many tools to make it dynamic, and the one environmental obstacle the game provides is underutilized
Tons of hidden secrets, and if you ignore the quest objective you can get some powers much earlier
Hero Core doesn't really have any puzzles outside of some Metroidvania style exploration on the game's hard mode.
There's a little sci-fi depth to the game's premise, but that depth isn't really explored - making it just a fine excuse to shoot things which is all it needs to be
Monochromatic and minimalist - more detail would probably be more detrimental to the game overall
Extremely catchy 8bit style music matches the minimalist presentation perfectly
There are three different difficulty modes along with some other challenges. Difficulty changes the game's entire map rather than just making the enemies harder, and even within a single difficulty there are dozens of ways you can route the game