Between the kill sprees that comprise Not A Hero’s missions, your character hangs out with his boss, BunnyLord, at a local restaurant: Aunt Ruby’s Diner, run by the lady herself. She makes amazing milkshakes, and only some of them have acid in them. But she seems morose. While you and BunnyLord are discussing the way those crazy ninjas totally blew up in the face, Aunt Ruby’s just going through a normal day. It makes her an outlier in Not A Hero, which is bursting with dark glee everywhere else. Aunt Ruby’s not having any fun, but everyone else sure is.
Before we get to the nihilistic joy of pixelated brutality, we should probably talk about BunnyLord. Wearing a three-piece suit and an insane grin, BunnyLord is the centerpiece of Not A Hero, your boss and guide to its madcap world. See, BunnyLord is London’s newest mayoral candidate. He’s also a time traveler. And also a purple man-rabbit, which may make his time travel story more or less believable, depending on your beliefs about man-rabbits. He claims that if he doesn’t win the election, the apocalypse will happen. And according to his detailed demographic research, voters hate crime. So he’s hired you, one of an assortment of local guns for fire, to systematically dismantle criminal organizations around town by murdering as many gangsters as humanly possible. All the while, BunnyLord gives you rambling, absurd pep talks to keep the blood flowing with as much pizzazz as possible. In a lot of ways, BunnyLord is Not A Hero: deranged, manic, and wickedly joyful.
It’s clear that the team at Roll7 is angling for parody, with BunnyLord spouting crazed neologisms at a constant rate and the missions couched in absurdist caricatures. (For instance, later missions have you facing the samurai and ninja of the Pan-Asian Triad-Yakuza.) This game regularly succeeds at being funny, a rare and laudable feat in itself. And the target of its jokes often seems to be video gaming, what with its penchant for inserting guns and explosions into every possible situation. In most games, the belief that you can solve all your problems with violence is only implicit. Here, it’s the central and oft-shouted conceit. Not A Hero isn’t trying to denounce that attitude, though. There’s not much bite to its criticism, and it seems to love the things it’s making fun of as much as anyone. To its more serious cousin, Hotline Miami, it would have mostly kind words. Not A Hero would tell it to stop fronting. To that end, the title, Not A Hero, isn’t a condemnation. It’s permission to stop pretending this is anything other than what it is. You want to fuck shit up? Okay, let’s do this.
All the playable characters, such as the shotgun-toting trailer-park native Cletus and the pretty-much-just-ripped-from-The-Big-Lebowski Jesus, are always full of one-liners and enthusiasm. These are folks who love their jobs, and the game wants you to love them just as much. Their violent work, which tears through 2-D corridors and across the tops of buildings, is fast and fun to watch, with power-ups and a slide move encouraging breakneck play. The slide move doubles as a way to move behind pieces of cover strewn along the background. With limited health and the torrent of gunfire thrown your way, hunkering down is a necessity, but the slide also functions as a tackle that can be turned into an execution move, a measure that keeps the game from playing like a slow cover-based shooter. It feels like Roll7 took some inspiration from Platinum Games’ Vanquish. In both cases, cover serves as a way to reload and get your bearings before figuring out the best way to get in everyone’s faces and then shoot those faces off.
The only thing that might keep you from being the, to quote BunnyLord, “formidable oak tree of brilliant vengeance” that Not A Hero wants you to be is the game’s steep difficulty. Each stage has three optional challenges, and about halfway through, I gave up on them and just tried to push through and learn how to clear each stage. Roll7’s previous work was on the OlliOlli skateboarding games, and some of their ethos slips in here. Not A Hero expects you to make multiple runs, tightening up your performance until you craft the perfect death symphony. There’s no penalty for failure, though. When you bite the dust, Not A Hero would encourage you to climb back up that oak tree of vengeance, grab those machine guns on the highest branch, and get back to it. Not A Hero also likes to mix its metaphors.
In the middle of the game, BunnyLord trots Aunt Ruby into the briefing room, right in front of his BunnyLord-themed PowerPoint presentation. The next mission, he says, will be to do Aunt Ruby a favor in return for all those milkshakes. She needs to be escorted to her apartment in a bad part of town. Then she pulls out a machine gun and locks and loads. “She’s pretty good with a gun,” BunnyLord explains. “She just has trouble remembering where her apartment is.” This is Not A Hero in a moment: a dark parody where every problem can be solved with bullets, and even Aunt Ruby is eager to get in on the action. Get to it, you sexy murder machines. Re-election time is just around the corner, and we’ve still got to deal with that scrotobiker gang BunnyLord keeps talking about.
Not A Hero
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC available now; PlayStation 4 and PS Vita “coming later this year”
Reviewed on: PC