Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax review: Impressed for time

Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax takes the gameplay of a traditional JRPG, and squeezes it all into 30-second chunks. Inspired by this feat of game design magic, I decided to see if I could fit my whole review into 30 seconds as well.

%Gallery-124531% Nope! I totally couldn't.

However, even after failing to encapsulate the review into 30 seconds, I'm able to take inspiration from the game. Half-Minute Hero allows you to pray to a Time Goddess in villages to reset the 30-second countdown clock, for a fee. So if you can get to a village, and if you can afford the ever-increasing cost, you can actually extend your game time indefinitely. Instead of gold, I'm sacrificing the purity of my review gimmick in order to give myself time to talk about this great game.

Super Mega Neo Climax is an XBLA version of the PSP game Half-Minute Hero, which maintains most of the content, and all of the concept, of that original: it speeds a traditional RPG way the hell up to make it feel almost arcade-like. You fight (automatic) battles, level up, buy equipment, heal, meet NPCs, recruit party members, and then defeat the Evil Lord in his fortress -- all in less time than it takes to make a cup of ramen noodles. And then, at the completion of every quest, the game's credits roll ... and I laugh, every time.

There's really nothing missing from the RPG formula -- it's just all been simplified to an extreme. You level up in a few seconds of battling, not dozens of hours. There will be 3-4 item upgrades to buy in a quest, instead of hundreds, and you always find them in villages instead of random drops. Sidequests have you make one extra stop on your abbreviated journey, to rescue an NPC or claim a treasure.

Your choice of whether to undertake one of those sidequests, or some other variable, will open up branching paths. You're always free to return to any quest and unlock the other path -- the menu even clearly marks which missions open up new paths! You can also replay missions to get all the equipment, recruit all the available party members, or earn one of two unique "titles" for each mission. It's all summarized on the map screen, making it a breeze to find things you've missed. Because of this, I felt invited to replay the main game and find hidden stuff after completing the story, which stands in stark contrast to any other RPG, in which I'd struggle to even think back on where I'd been, much less what I could have missed.

Completing the main "Hero 30" mode unlocks a succession of extra modes starring different characters. In the PSP game, these "Evil Lord 30," "Princess 30," and "Knight 30" modes were vastly different styles of gameplay like RTS games and shooters, but here they're single missions in the style of the main game with some new rules -- a sacrifice of variety for more of the "real" experience. Those are followed by a "Hero 300" quest that brings everyone together for one final attempt to save the world; after a series of tiny RPGs, this quest, at five full minutes (with no time resets) feels genuinely epic. And that's followed by a "Hero 3" mode that gives you just three seconds between required time resets.

If you're not done shotgunning RPGs like frat party beers, there's also a ridiculous multiplayer mode that puts everyone on the same map at the same time, trying to complete the same quest. It's set up to be competitive, but the difficulty is cranked up so high that you end up having to cooperate to keep the (shared) countdown clock reset and acquire the necessary weapons. It's only at the end, after you've banded together to defeat the Evil Lord, that the game awards one of you the "True Hero" and you remember that you were supposed to be trying to outrace the other players.

I think I've broken the 30-second rule I set for myself pretty flagrantly at this point, so allow me to wrap up by saying I fell in love with this game, immediately. It's got a funny script, it's easy to learn, and I can complete a whole quest while I wait for my tea to steep. The requirements for each quest gradually build from "teensy" to "small." That difficulty curve did little to prepare me for quick, frequent death in multiplayer, though. Also, the relative lack of extra content versus the PSP version (those single spinoff missions in the place of series of RTS/shmup/action missions) is lamentable. Regardless, if you take anything away from this review -- if, in the spirit of the game, you just skimmed it in a rush -- it's that the main game is something that everyone should try, even briefly ... not that you'd have the choice to play it any way but briefly.

This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax, provided by Marvelous. It will be released June 29 for 800 Microsoft Points ($10).

This article was originally published on Joystiq.