Lets be honest, games based on Disney films are never good for the most part. They’re usually just cheap cash-ins, pandering to quite a young audience who, in all fairness, don’t play the games for their gameplay. They play them because they’re Disney games, contain their favourite characters, and look cute. Is Hercules one of those games?
Developed by Eurocom for the Sony Playstation and released in 1997, Hercules follows in the footsteps of Aladdin for the Sega Megadrive, and tries to deliver an authentic looking (and sounding) adaptation of its source material. You begin the game as Hercules, son of the Greek God Zeus, who at birth was stripped of his immortality and placed on Earth. Under the “hero training” of Philoctetes, Hercules is trying to gain back the respect and recognition of the Gods. However, Hades, brother of Zeus and ruler of the Underworld, learns that Hercules will defeat him if he completes his training and continues on his path. In a bid to gain control of Mount Olympus, Hades makes it his business to throw a few spanners into the works on Hercules’ journey in the form of Centaurs, a Hydra, and the Gorgon. Over the course of 9 levels Hercules must prove his worth to the Gods and destroy Hades once and for all.
Hercules is an action-platformer, which puts a spin of the typical 2D platformer by giving it various 3D elements. As Hercules the player can perform various actions that make the game feel quite fluid. Hercules’ basic actions are running, punching, a sword attack and jumping. However, spring-boarding off those actions are the ability to wind up a powerful punch, jump and land with an Earth shaking force, swing on poles, as well as grabbing onto ledges. It’s this great, responsive freedom in movement that keeps the action moving along quite nicely. Additionally, Hercules can find various special attacks that have been sent down from the Gods themselves, including the ability to use Zeus’ thunderbolt with your sword. Hercules will come up against various foes on his journey, mostly in the form of birds, thugs, and numerous creatures taken from Greek mythology. They’re dispatched in the same way throughout the game, and while they’re usually a breeze to defeat, there are times in which their rapid movement in nearly impossible to evade, seeing as there is no way to block any attack.
As mentioned before, the game, despite being mostly comprised of 2D sprites, does contain various 3D elements. Apart from the purely aesthetic improvement the 3D objects lend, there are times in which the player must move up into the level, letting the player bring the action to different layers in the level itself. Sometimes the player will do this to simply collect an item, while others times they’ll need to navigate the different layers of a level to proceed past a blocked area. It’s an interesting, nicely implemented addition to the game, which while at times is a bit of a gimmick, thankfully isn’t overused at all. That said, there are various levels in the game that have Hercules running down an entirely 3D road, levels in which the player can only move left, right, and jump to dodge various obstacles. These levels nicely shake up the average 2D plaftormer formula, despite being a little clumsy at times.
Boss battles are a bit of a disappointment, which rather than involving an inventive way of defeating them, simply relies on the player to bash them over the head a few times. Sure, this is how Hercules works out his problems in the film, but due to being unable to block, these battles are tedious, life consuming lessons in how to sour an otherwise wonderful game. That said, the Hydra battle is pretty well handled.
Visually Hercules is a triumph. Much like Aladdin on the Sega Megadrive it does a truly excellent job of bringing the films look- both in its character animations and backgrounds- to the realm of the gaming. Hercules moves and looks like he should, while the diverse array of levels throughout the game are masterfully presented. It’s colourful, sleek, and absolutely nails the film on which it’s based. Another great accomplishment is the fact that the 3D elements visually blend in with the overall 2D look of the game. It’s a fantastic visual melting pot of various ideas and artistic approaches. The same goes for the sound too. While it is disappointing that the Alan Menken singing tunes aren’t in the game, the music is fantastic across the board especially the tracks to Passageways Of Eternal Torment and The Centaur’s Forest. Much like the visuals themselves, the music is layered, rich, and worthy of more praise than it’s currently receiving.
Overall Hercules is a fantastic platformer, despite a few drawbacks. That said, it is without a doubt one of the best Disney film tie-ins to date. With a nice spin on the typical platformer formula, and nicely topped of with incredible visuals and slick character navigation, Hercules is definitely hero material.