Imagine what video games would look like in 2015 if everything had gone differently. If, instead of a move towards three-dimensional experiences in the 90’s, developers stayed the course creating tried and true sidescrollers forever — all filled to the brim with charm and personality.
Heroki is a modern release born out of this glorious alternate timeline.
Players will control the titular Heroki — a young hero with a propeller on his head — as he tries to thwart the evil deeds of Vapor and his Master, Dr. N. Forchin. It’s the sort of simple, silly, colorful exposition you might find in a Mario game. There’s very little actual story, yet the characters quickly become endearing. After all, you never needed to know much about Toad to smile (or curse) every time he told you your princess was in another castle.
I’m hesitant to use the word “platformer” to describe Heroki because your hero’s feet rarely touch the ground, but there’s really no better word to describe the gameplay you’ll find within. Yet this isn’t the sort of platformer that challenges you to rush to the end of a stage, bopping enemies along the way. Instead, players will guide Heroki through a variety of levels, exploring every nook and cranny in an attempt to reach 100% completion.
You’ll be on the hunt for things like letters (to spell H-E-R-O-K-I for points), treasure chests (that can hold items to decorate your Heroki home) and collectibles that you’ll need to unlock later worlds. On paper the stages seem small, but because of the game propensity for exploration, each can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to complete. There are plenty of hidden areas, simple puzzles, as well as locked paths that you’ll want to double-back to explore once you find the lever or key that grants you access.
In short, between a variety of pathways and a healthy dose of backtracking, every stage feels like an event rather than a mere checkpoint on your progress. Like Monument Valley, it becomes the sort of game that you’ll want to savor in single-stage chunks to prolong the experience for as long as you can.
But no game is without its faults. Heroki’s default control scheme, for example, has you pushing Heroki with your finger behind him. It’s great to see developers trying new things, but this — and the reverse, dragging him from the front — are barely passable options. There’s a virtual d-pad option that is much better than these attempts at something new, but really, the one thing Heroki is sorely lacking is MFi controller support. Not everybody has a gaming controller for their phone, but I honestly feel this would be the best way to experience what Heroki has to offer.
Likewise, there are some gamers who don’t care for backtracking, and those who insist on 45 second chunks of gameplay on mobile. If that’s what you’re looking for, Heroki just isn’t for you.
If you’re looking for something with plenty of charm and fantastic level design, though, Heroki is a keeper. There’s even a healthy dose of challenge from time to time. I ended up so stuck in a level — one that had me dodging barrels as I flew to the top of a waterfall — that I found myself crying out in anguish on Twitter. It’s the sort of frustration that I felt as a 7 year old the first time I encountered Super Mario’s Hammer Brothers — and successfully navigating that waterfall delivered the same sense of satisfaction, too.
Considering Heroki was published by SEGA, it may see strange to keep referencing everybody’s favorite plumber. But after spending a few hours with Heroki, it’s hard to not see the influence Miyamoto and Friends must have had on the developers at Picomy. Heroki feels like somebody took the spirit of Nintendo and bottled it exclusively for smartphone consumption. And that’s not hyperbole; if Nintendo’s partnership with DeNA results in mobile games that are even half this good, they’ll be in excellent shape.
Heroki isn’t just one of the best 2D platformers on mobile — it’s one of the best games on mobile, period. Do yourself a favor and play this thing immediately.