Hooray, it is my birthday! I have plenty of games I am thankful for and love, but just like relationships, you never forget your first one. My first game I ever owned and played through was this gem. Hercules for the PS1 was quite important to me. I had no idea what a PS1 was, as I was more interested in Nintendo and Sega, but little did I know what this grey box would provide. So, if it had not been for Hercules (and The Timeless Adventure of Mickey Mouse, which my sister got) I would not have been introduced to other classics such as Spyro, Metal Gear Solid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. What I am most curious about now though, is if I can recommend Hercules today. But before we start: a huge thanks to mom and dad for this lovely console and the games I got for it. Thank you!
Now with less of everything
Hercules by Disney is an alright movie about the son of Zeus trying to become a God once again after his powers were stripped by Hades. Surely different from the original source-material, but still an enjoyable movie with lovely characters and James Woods as Hades, which is of course a treat. The game utilizes scenes from the film to give a decent overview of the plot and remind you what the story is about. Unfortunately, newcomers will be lost as characters appear with little context, events happens with no development, and everything is barely connected to the plot. It is clearly made for those who have already seen the movie, but a bit more insight and scenes would not have hurt to make it feel more fulfilling.
Story Score: 4.5/10
Not really an action-game, but definitely packed
Hercules is a linear, 2.5D action-platformer, with both side scrolling and runner-segments to boot. Let’s start with the side scrolling view as it will be the most common one. Herc is quite the versatile hero, able to grab ledges and poles to swing from. The levels use his acrobatic skills well, both for the general progression and for finding secrets, which we will come back to later. However, there are also tons of different enemies to fight, and being Hercules, you have some decent moves. You can swing your sword for better range, quickly punch enemies, or charge an uppercut. Unfortunately, the sword will be the only tool to use against the fiends, as punches are too short to cover much range and the charge-attack is better reserved for destroying obstructions in your way and reflect the stones enemies throw at you from the background.
Here is where the 2.5D comes in. At certain parts of the stages, you can traverse in the foreground and background. This is a great way to find more secrets and for discovering helpful items on the way. The visuals helps indicate where you can go in the fore and background, and specific areas that you can ground pound at, making it never too obscure where you can travel. The stages are short enough to never overstay their welcome, but always packed with different obstacles to make them fun and the exploration is intriguing thanks to the hidden secrets and creative platforming. This is a way to please both those who likes to take their time and look around, and let those who want a more straightforward approach have their way too.
Besides healing items and extra lives, Herc can obtain extensions for his health for the level he is in, letters to spell Hercules for a continue, coins for better rankings at the end of the stages, and power-ups you can use at will. The power ups include thunder-streams, fireballs, a spin-attack and invincibility, all handy for dealing with any enemies you will meet. The foes themselves are a fun challenge and quite balanced, with the exception of 2. One has an off hitbox and too much of a reach with his attacks and another is too fast and will take you off guard due to the limited view. Luckily, they only appear for 2 levels, but are still a clear design-flaw.
Now for the runner-stages that are another thing entirely! You run into the screen and can maneuver left, right and jump. You will automatically run nonstop, but can increase and decrease Herc’s running-speed, making him easy to control. There will be plenty of obstacles to dodge as you have no form of attack. This might sound odd, but it is a fantastic design-choice, which makes these stages more intense. Some of these stages even include multiple paths to take and overall: are simple and engaging to run through. The only power-ups here are the aforementioned invincibility and new shoes to make you run through obstacles. Both will be activated right when you pick them up.
What makes each stage so great, is not just the quality of the stages, but also the variation. The first stage will have dolls to save and easy training-dummies to fight against, the fourth has some unique townspeople and a focus on pole-swinging, and one is even a shooter. The shooter-stage is a horizontal one, where you attack with your sword and can pick up fire and lightning power-ups functioning as projectiles. Most are creative and fun, but there are some exceptions.
What is not very well made are most of the boss fights, as there is only one that is a good fight; the Hydra. You must attack it on the side after it attacks you or just before, and with each attack, the head multiplies. It is a quite disturbing and intense fight, which can’t be said for the other ones. The rest consist of 2 fights that are slow and you will take damage from them no matter what, one that is okay and has you dodging obstacles, but is way too easy to figure out, and the last battle is a joke of a fight and has too much health. Stage 3 also has some foreground elements that can get in the way on a few occasions, which is not bad, but can be an unfair hindrance.
This is a short game, with only 10 stages; 3 side-scrollers, 3 boss-stages, 3 runner-stages, and one shooter. Despite that you can collect 4 vases for a password or the ability to save the game, it is so strange to have that for a game that is about an hour long. However, while it last, I definitely had a good time and stages are a lovely treat. It is just unfortunate that most of the the boss fights aren’t much to brag about and there are some minor flaws.
Gameplay Score: 7 /10
Venturing from heaven to hell in 2.5D
This is a prime example on how well 2D could work in a time where 3D was all the rage and it still looks great today. The 2D sprites of characters and enemies are gorgeous and well animated, making it a cartoon coming to life. The 3D environments are gorgeous, making it use the same colors as the 2D characters and it all blends in well. Even the backgrounds are beautiful and often hand-drawn to boot.
The environments you visit are all taken from the movie and are fantastically recreated. From the city of Theben, to the top of Mount Olympus, all areas are varied, engaging, and have a unique artstyle that still is memorable. The plenty of different enemies to fight or avoid also adds to the atmosphere, making the Greek mythology respectfully and uniquely represented. The use of colors is just fantastic as well and the attention to detail is also impressive, such as fishes jumping in the sea or the titans in the background causing chaos. There are even some original enemies put in that fit perfectly with the movie it is based on.
The music is taken from the movie, and I love the Disney-songs. Here, they are used fantastically for each stage, giving them a joyful atmosphere. Most consist of jazz and gospel-tunes, and while it is questionable if they actually fit the setting, they do fit the stages and are a blast to listen to. The cutscenes are taken directly from the movie and all look good, and at least provides some insight on what is going on.
Presentation Score: 9.5/10
Hercules for the PS1 adapts the movie quite well. It is not one of the greatest games ever created, but it is enjoyable and good. It is rather for fans of the movie or a general fan of platforming, as it does not tell the story well and has some issues with poor bosses and 2 enemies that can make 2 levels annoying. If you are interested, you will definitely get your money’s worth from the PSN due to the variation, the enjoyable exploration, and fun action-platforming.