Review: HERO for the Atari 2600


Being one of the later releases for the Atari 2600, HERO may not have gotten the attention it deserved. I recently peered below its surface to see how good it really is. The words represented by the title acronym provide a nice summary of the plot: Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation.


You are the gadget-equipped HERO of this game. Your mission is to rescue miners trapped inside a series of treacherous mine shafts, each more deadly than the last. You have a helicopter "prop-pack", some dynamite, a laser beam, and your own keen senses to help you succeed.


The first few levels consist of relatively short, vertical passageways. Difficulty level rises in small increments, allowing each player to progress at his or her own speed. The real fun begins with level five though, where the mine shafts begin to twist horizontally as well as vertically. Level seven poses the first significant challenge of the game. At this point the shafts start to present obstacles that require clever use of the HERO's abilities. Knowledge of what's coming next will help greatly. The shafts probably aren't complex enough to warrant mapping them out, but repetition will be necessary in order to progress.


When presented with more than one possible passage to take, the less obvious choice often rewards the player with smoother sailing down the road. Conversely, taking the easiest or most obvious path typically results in harder times later on, such as a blocked passage on the following screen.


At level ten, the creatures inhabiting the mines start moving noticeably faster than in previous levels. Remember that although they are deadly, these critters are fairly limited in what they can do. With the exception of the tentacle, their movements follow simple patterns that are not influenced by the player's actions. Since they will not "chase" you, don't let them intimidate you into over-reaction.


Spiders are perhaps the simplest of the creatures. They clog up certain passages and just get in the way without really moving around. The bats are only slightly more troublesome and don't move very much either. The pesky snakes, however, move in and out of their holes, often leaving you with only a narrow window of opportunity to squeak by them. Then there are the moths, which you normally wouldn't expect to be more trouble than bats, especially since bats eat moths. But in this video game world the moths are as big as bats and much more active, so watch out. Finally, the tentacle makes its debut relatively late in the game. Its strength lies in its ability to follow the HERO along a horizontal path.


Take some time to study how the HERO responds to your controller. The peculiar response of the prop-pack adds challenge to most situations. Accidental dynamite discharges can also be a significant source of frustration. By the time you realize what you've done it will probably be too late to run. Kiss one dynamite stick and one life goodbye.


The instructions* promise a couple of rewards in the game. If you make it past level 20 (on games 1 - 4) the word "PRO" replaces the level number. And if your score reaches one million points the game ends and a surprise is implied.


This is the kind of game that made Activision a success. Had it been released earlier in the life cycle of the Atari 2600, HERO might be one of those "legendary" titles. The graphics are good, gameplay is great, and the concept is original. Interest is maintained by the consistent, gradual introduction of new elements and new combinations of elements down through the levels.


Is HERO an adventure game? Yes, it has many of the features adventure fans love: a clearly defined goal, puzzling obstacles, and places to explore. The short rounds and fast pace of the game, however, tend to classify it as an Action-Adventure. Fans of Pitfall! should absolutely love this game, which in some ways foreshadowed NES Metroid.


* I referred to a text version of the instructions found at the famous Atari 2600 Nexus web site.



reviewed by Randy


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