Indie games generally fall into one of two broad, major categories. In the first are gameplay-oriented games: platformers, experimental RPG’s, and other types of games that try to do something new or better within a specific genre.
On the other hand are the “artistic” games. Games like Hero of Many where the gameplay, visuals, and music try to come together in a majestic way to leave the player better for the experience. Hero of Many tries to do this very hard, but despite stunning music its dark visuals and bizarre gameplay fail to impact in a meaningful way.
Hero of Many is a game that comes from the studios of Trickster Arts. It opens with a cutscene depicting a white glowing ball and little white…tadpoles…getting brutally massacred by similarly formed black entities. The sad white ball falls to the ground, alone, and then the player takes over.
Moving the ball around by holding down the left mouse button, the player must guide the glowing white orb through the black cavernous waterways. Along the way, more little white tadpoles can be acquired which will defend the white orb from black tadpoles. Other white orbs increase “health,” and should the white orb’s shield of light ever be eliminated the orb is destroyed.
Other obstacles are present in the form of spikes and such, and the tadpoles will die carelessly and horribly if they are not directed to rush a point with the right mouse button. Fortunately, save points exist by way of large crystals that, when touched, autosave the game should the white orb fall to the black menace.
And that’s pretty much it. The player guides the white orb about the sometimes-confusing underwater labyrinths to the exit. Along the way, black tadpoles are mercilessly slaughtered. Sometimes a scripted event occurs and, despite every gameplay precedent set before it, breaks all the rules so it can run its course.
Herein lies Hero of Many’s problems: the game sets clear rules at its outset, and then breaks them all. From the beginning the “black” tadpole army is depicted as merciless and cruel with accompanying “bad guy” music to boot. Fine; however, during every level after that opening, the white tadpoles viciously murder every black tadpole they see, whether on its own or in a group of the things.
It pretty much ruins the impression the white tadpoles and orb have of being the “good guys.” Isn’t everyone just trying to survive? Why do the white tadpoles have a greater right than the black ones? Because they’re the player? This might seem like the major lesson to be learned, but its execution as a game just comes across as contradictory and disengaging.
Other parts of the game strike similar chords. In one scene the white tadpole group stumbles into a “trap” laid by the black ones. The enemy black orb equivalent and some black tadpoles ambush the white group. Looking at the gameplay, though, the white tadpoles have ripped apart any number of enemies with ease without taking any casualties up to that point. Yet in this moment they are helpless. Why? Why can’t they just do what they did before and devour their enemies?
It’s a mixed message even moreseo because of the incredible music that accompanies the game. Quiet, mysterious, and engaging, the sounds of Hero of Many are truly pleasant and wonderful. They match the dark, alien atmosphere of the game perfectly. Listening to the game is possibly the best way to figure out when something unavoidable is going to happen, making it easier for the player to let the game lead him or her by the nose.
Interface-wise, Hero of Many is okay. With only the mouse as the primary control, the game should be simple enough, but guiding the white tadpoles through spiky mazes of death is tricky at best. And every once in awhile, the tadpoles will rush for your mousepointer without any provocation. It’s unnerving, and painful when you happen to be hovering near some spikes.
Hero of Many is, functionally, an average game. Musically, it’s incredible. But the actual experience of playing is lackluster at best, failing to deliver any sort of emotional impact or desire to continue. It’s pretty enough and plays well, but cannot hold the attention for long.