A New True Blue Hero
Heroki hearkens back to an era when 2D platformers ruled the scene. It shares the same characteristics of the genre: a colorful and inviting world, shiny collectibles, and a cute mascot. At the same time, Heroki isn’t quite a standard platformer as the titular hero is rarely ever on the ground. Using a propeller on top of his football-shaped head, the protagonist can freely fly across each stage.
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The game takes place in the world of Levantia, home to strange creatures with helicopter heads. When the evil Dr. N Forchin and his assistant Vapor steal the Emerix, an emblem that grants protection and power, it’s up to Heroki to bring it back. Like many old-school platformers, the plot is light and, aside from run-ins with Vapor, irrelevant.
Nevertheless, there’s a charming quality to Levantia, its sky village of propeller people, and its gorgeous scenery. The second world, in particular, is a beautiful fantasy jungle landscape with stunning lighting, recalling the colorful lands of Rayman Legends and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. In addition, a bouncy and catchy soundtrack, along with ambient sound effects, provide a rich atmosphere. Heroki, an ever-smiling kid with a football-shaped helicopter head, has a distinct design and could easily pass off as a long-lost mascot on the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. The latter isn’t entirely off the mark, considering that Sega published this game’s original mobile version.
That propeller isn’t just for show. Like Kirby, Heroki can fly indefinitely. In fact, you spend most of your time in the air, only landing on the ground to walk under low tunnels. Flight doesn’t always work in video games, but Heroki controls surprisingly smoothly. Compared to the mobile iteration, the Nintendo Switch version has the advantage of actual controller support, and flying in any direction only requires a simple push of the joystick. I appreciated the hero’s agility and responsiveness; he doesn’t need momentum to get going and will stop on a dime. This swift movement contributes significantly to what makes this vertical platformer work.
Flight is not the only ability in Heroki’s arsenal. His primary attack is picking up crates and throwing them at enemies, using a directional aiming system similar to the Yoshi series. There’s a satisfaction in smashing enemies while airborne. Some of them are dull sitting targets, waiting to be destroyed, but others put up a fight, firing projectiles or flying towards you. Heroki’s second ability is a freefall. It’s hard to control, but it’s particularly useful in stomping on otherwise unbreakable clouds, though not really for anything else.
Heroki has additional unlockable powers that allow him to dash and control wind. The former sounds great, but it’s mainly used to break through weak wooden blockades. Wind control is a much more helpful power that not only blows away leaves and activates propeller switches, but also moves items around, resulting in clever puzzles. My only issue was that it’s clearly intended for you to control the wind’s trajectory with the touch screen, which is oddly not supported in the Switch version.
It’s fair to assume that with infinite flight, you could just float over to the goal. However, each stage is actually a mini maze in which you must navigate around walls, avoid carefully placed obstacles, solve a few simple puzzles, and hit switches to open gates. As such, levels feel like simplified Metroidvania areas. That being said, Heroki is much easier than most in the genre unless you’re in the intended audience of younger players. There are still some difficult segments like climbing a waterfall while avoiding falling barrels and a devious fast-paced race. The game does offer an inventory of power-ups like shields or enemy-slowing hourglasses for those who need assistance. But for the most part, experienced players will breeze through the game.
If you just speed through levels, you may miss what makes Heroki fun to explore: the multitude of collectibles hidden in dead ends, behind obstacles, and through secret passages. There are six letters spelling out Heroki, five emblems called Emirals, and a special treasure chest scattered about every area. By collecting everything in one run, you obtain a perfect score of 100, which significantly increases replay value. Though, to Heroki’s credit, the couple dozen stages are decently packed and take at least five hours to beat, not including 100% completion and sidequests to locate lost items. I only wish there were more bosses besides the couple of fights at the end, but it’s otherwise a pretty meaty package for its low asking price.
Heroki combines the premise of infinite flight with a potpourri of platformer elements. Its beautiful art style and adorable mascot hearken back to classic 16-bit adventures. The ability to fly instead of run is refreshing, and Heroki’s responsive controls lessen frustration. This helps when exploring the compact mazelike levels that are abundant with secrets. It may not be a hard game, but less experienced players and those who loved the heyday of 2D sidescrollers can appreciate this true blue hero.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was written on DarkStation.