While many gamers are speculating that the PSP is destined for extinction, Atlus seems to be trying to keep the system alive single-handedly. The company has long had a reputation for publishing retro RPGs for handhelds, but Hammerin’ Hero showcases its attempts to capitalize on nostalgia for classic platformers.
The side-scrolling actioner will thrill any players who feel mastery of a game should come from patient practice, getting the timing of each enemy and boss just right to survive each level. Those used to more forgiving entertainment will quickly wind up frustrated.
The titular hero is a carpenter named Gen, who runs around Japan hitting things with an oversized mallet. A comically villainous construction company is trying to buy out Gen’s town, and when he challenges them, their mustachioed leader dispatches minions to mess with him.
When you aren’t getting a pickaxe to the face or desperately trying to stop a guy from knocking you off a Ferris-wheel car, you can enjoy the cartoony environments Gen has to fight through. You’ll jump over the heads of men relaxing in a bathhouse, hammer enemies from the back of a carousel horse, and run past cheering crowds. And carpenter isn’t Gen’s only career track—you’ll be able to turn him into a sushi chef, baseball player, and deep-sea diver. Each path comes with a different special attack, but the change is mostly cosmetic.
The levels—like Hammerin’ Hero itself—are short but deceptively hard. Gen can only take a couple of hits. A death will knock you back to your last milestone, which always seems to be a fair bit before a boss fight, as if the game hopes to wear you down before the big battles.
Beyond the game: A multiplayer mode lets you race through levels against friends.
Worth playing for: The collectables, including dossiers with amusing information on the enemies you’ve beaten, and thank-you letters from bystanders you helped.
Frustration sets in when: You get bumped back to the start of the level after losing your last life in the boss fight.
Final judgment: While it’s more likely to frustrate casual players than entertain them, serious platform fiends have a reason to dust off their PSPs.