Like Rad Raygun, Vintage Hero is a $1 Xbox Live indie game heavily influenced by Mega Man. Unlike Rad Raygun, Vintage Hero takes itself very seriously, but the grim tone doesn’t get in the way of solid gameplay and presentation from developer Frog The Door Games.
Visually, Vintage Hero is the working-class version of Mega Man. The level and character/enemy designs are not as inventive as those in Mega Man. Having said that, Vintage Hero’s simplicity is likable. Rad Raygun has more style, but Vintage Hero’s visuals go down like meat and potatoes. I respect that.
The music often reinforces the serious tone of the game. Again, Vintage Hero can’t compete with Rad Raygun in terms of style, but its music can just as easily stick in your head. The sound effects are where Vintage Hero outshines Rad Raygun. The sound of a boss exploding is perhaps the most satisfying element in the game.
You know the drill: choose your level, shoot, jump, avoid pitfalls/spikes and gain new weapons from defeated bosses. You also begin with a “weapon” that allows you to perform higher jumps. Speaking of jumping, Vintage Hero has better hops than Mega Man. Several jumps looked hard or even impossible to me, but once I executed them I was surprised by how smooth the experience was. I always had a good sense of what jumps I could make with the regular jump and what jumps required the jump “weapon.”
Vintage Hero is a challenging game, but it’s never outrageous and features multiple difficulty settings. Many of the enemies are annoying, but figuring them out and then dominating them is part of the appeal. The bosses are fun to fight for the most part. The skeleton boss is a poor man’s version of the final Dracula form in Castlevania III, but the final boss fight makes up for that, even though it’s very simple conceptually.
My main problems with the game are the two things that slow it down: story and RPG-like leveling. The story is not only boring and laughably nihilistic, but scrolling through the dialogue takes way too long. A “skip this shit” button would have made my experience with the game more positive. Who the hell needs a story in a Mega Man clone, anyway? Rad Raygun had a story, yes, but it was poking fun at old mechanics and the 1980s. Vintage Hero is less of a fun time because of its story.
Finally, why does every damn game need a leveling system? Look, I like RPGs, but sometimes you have to leave the RPG stuff to the RPGs. The leveling system in Vintage Hero is mindless and needlessly breaks up the action. I don’t want to be prompted to press “Y” to go to a menu and level up my (duh) primary weapon and health/defense. This adds nothing to the proceedings. The game is playable and fun due to the solid platformer/action mechanics rather than another uninspired attempt to be like an RPG.
Like the old Mega Man games, Vintage Hero is worth playing through a couple of times. You can’t beat a well-crafted platformer for reliable entertainment. Vintage Hero is a perfect game to go back to if you finish playing a mediocre effort elsewhere and want a quick fix for solid gaming.
It’s ironic that an otherwise straightforward game would muddy the experience with a dreary story and an unnecessary leveling system. But that is a relatively minor complaint. Vintage Hero is a very good Mega Man game. Capcom could take a pointer or two. Emulation is a form of flattery, but it can also challenge the source.