Graveyard: Hermie Hopperhead

Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.

Ah, Hermie Hopperhead – seeing that title alone makes me happy since it reminds me of the first time I laid eyes on it. A Gamefan interview with Yuke’s covered not only their Toukon Retsuden: New Japan Pro Wrestling game that initially drew me to the article, but also this – their first platforming effort and yet another great PS1 import platformer that didn’t get a U.S. release. It took a long time for me to be able to play it, but the wait was worth it because it’s a very polished game that tries some new things.

As its title indicates, this is one of those “jump on the head” platformers, but it has some neat twists. One of them is the use of garbage cans as a portal instead of pipes, and the others all involve little eggs you can hop on or run through, pick up, and use in a variety of ways. By default, the eggs can be used as unaimable projectile weapons, and with a press of the L1 button, become a platform you can use to get stars (especially gold ones since they’re worth 10)  and reach otherwise inaccessible parts of the stage. The stars are important because collecting 100 allows you to upgrade one of them into a full-blown living creature that will attack enemies for you.

 

Provided you’ve got enough stars, you can even power all three of your possible allies up in just one level. Having henchmen comes in handy when you have two areas you need to be, but can’t easily clear enemies and jump up to another area at the same time. Grown helpers will be a life-saver during underwater stages where navigation is naturally harder than on-foot ala the SMB series, but you don’t have any offensive attacks other than them.  Outside of head-jumping and hechmem usage, you’ve also got a slide attack for when enemies are on an incline. A simple d-pad press downward and they’ll be kaput in no time.

The enemy selection is quite interesting in HH. You’ve got to defeat things like lighters, wind-up shoes, sparking car batteries, and avoid pushpins to survive. There are more typical enemies too, like giant spinning spike balls and falling giant things that reminded me a lot of the giant fire lines in SMB’s Bowser castles, while the falling things are a clear homage to the Thwomps there too. Between that and the underwater stuff, Hermie Hopperhead definitely evokes a Super Mario vibe from its gameplay, but in a very good way. It comes off as more of an homage to a classic than a rip-off, and not only tries new things, but does them really well.

Visually, everything looks great. The characters have an impressive amount of detail and they’re animated nicely. Little details like Hermie’s shirt blowing in the air mid-jump give some real weight to the actions, and the minimal animation on the little eggs is adorable. I loved not only the details in the foreground and backgrounds, but also smaller details like the sun beaming down on a stage. It makes the adventure seem that much more real, and like the addition of a lot of color and detail to the All-Stars version of the SMB trilogy, is a small change in theory that adds a lot to the overall presentation. Like the graphics, the music has a happy, cheery quality to it. There isn’t a lot of variety to the music here, although what’s here is very good and there are some more ominous tunes.

Hermie Hopperhead may be an early 32-bit platformer, but it’s a great one. I’m not quite sure if I can recommend paying the current $40-$60 asking price though, but if you can find it for about half than at a flea market or thrift store, definitely pick it up. Sadly, it isn’t available on the Japanese PSN store, so that’s going to be your best bet to play this. Thankfully, just about everything but the sparse music delivers in a major way.