EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Joel France
previewed on PC
Another Hero’s Journey
On the surface, Million to One Hero looks like the latest splash in the ever-expanding sea of pixel platformers, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find something rather ambitious. The game offers a level creator with a pretty comprehensive feature list, but on top of this you’re given the ability to craft multiple levels into mini-campaigns, complete with dialogue, quests, and even basic cinematic scenes. Once you’re happy with your creations, you can upload them to the game servers for all to enjoy. Before we get into that, though, you need to know what kind of gameplay you’re designing for...
A Hero Comes Along
You’re first introduced to the hero of the game, Epicus, in a short tutorial which serves as a succinct summary of the mechanics of traversal, as well as a cursory in-universe explanation as to why there are potentially hundreds of adventures for Epicus to go on. Million to One Hero is going for an ancient mythological aesthetic, and the tone of the writing carries just enough irreverent humour to be engaging without crossing into cringeworthy territory. Epicus can jump, dash, slash and wall slide - he’s a pretty nimble fellow. By the end of the three-level tutorial (satisfyingly presented using the same campaign format you’ll be able to get your hands on afterwards) you should be pretty comfortable in moving this feisty guy around the environment.
Unfortunately, this is where the issues in Million to One Hero’s current state start to show. Developers Over the Top Games have taken a hands off approach to level creation, deferring to their budding community past this initial tutorial campaign. What this means is you’re suddenly thrust into an unknowable difficulty curve, as each creator will have very different take on the idea of challenge. For example, the first community level I loaded up was called ‘Road to Hades’ (in hindsight, perhaps a dead giveaway) in which I needed to navigate through a tight series of tunnels using an item I’d not been introduced to in the tutorial, where any contact with the walls spelled instant death. As it turns out, being ‘pretty comfortable’ with movement (to quote a naive reviewer from a few moments ago) was nowhere near the level of precision required for this challenge.
I certainly could have persisted here, trying time and time again until i bested it through sheer stubbornness, but here is where the second issue reared its head: you only get three chances at a level. Three lives to take in, and adapt to, whatever arduous challenge lies ahead. There are checkpoints that a creator can add which help remove the sting, but if you hit that magic number, you’re plopped right back to the very start and there’s little that can be done to stop this. It’s clear that this limit has been added to serve a purpose: adding an extra layer of difficulty to the task at hand. But it’s an arcade-like, superficial tension that is created. This discourages risky play and fosters a sense of frustration - why bother pushing forward if you’re going to have all your efforts nullified? It is possible to account for this when building a level by stuffing your design full of coins which can be collected to increase the player’s life count, but this feels like an inelegant workaround to a problem that shouldn’t exist.
If You Don’t Like ‘Em, Build ‘Em
The creation aspect of the game certainly gives a lot of options. On top of an editor that’s pretty intuitive whether you’re using a mouse & keyboard or a controller, there are some pretty extensive options that allow for game logic to be calculated; timers on switches, sequences of events, contextual dialogue triggers - that sort of thing. My concern is that these elements need further foolproofing, as I was quite easily creating edge-case situations that were interfering with the usability of these options. The different backdrops and palette swaps that can be substituted in are varied if a little limited, and there’s a disappointing choice of music to tie to your levels, with only four options to select (six, if you include ‘silence’ and ‘randomly cycling through the other 4’). This is an area that Over the Top Games could quite comfortably expand into, even going so far as seeking community involvement in adding music and art assets.
One facet of Million to One Hero I really like is the ability to categorise a level after you’ve completed it, helping other players to find the kind of content they’ll enjoy as the pool of playable scenes inevitably grows. Being able to tag and search in such an intuitive way will hopefully pay dividends once the quantity of the levels requires it, though it’s a shame that, at its launch into Early Access, Million to One Hero sports a decidedly lackluster handful of levels. I can understand the attraction of getting the players involved early, building up a sense of community around a growing hub of content, but without that initial seed of a more curated selection on launch, it all feels a bit haphazard.
A Solid Foundation
Million to One Hero definitely shows promise, and, in a game focused around building on a community’s creations, there’s scope for improvement of the experience even taking developer interventions out of the equation. With some tweaks to how failure is treated and a focus on improving the current set of tools over adding new ones, this game could shape up to be one in a million.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.