In our Game Over, Man! series, we explore the history of video games that are based on movies, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1997’s Disney’s Hercules for the PlayStation…
There are three things that are certain in life; Death, taxes, and 90s/early 00s Disney movies having their own video games. Dating all the way back to the early days of gaming, Disney has included its characters in pretty much every gaming system known to man, with wildly varying results in terms of quality. The 90’s was a breakthrough for video game graphics, so it was only natural for Disney to capitalise on new technology and put out games that looked more like the movies and toons they were representing.
Part two of our Game Over, Man! series takes a look at what many consider to be an underrated gem from 1997, Disney’s Hercules.
If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a basic summary of the plot;
Disney tackles Greek mythology in this animated feature. Hercules (Tate Donovan), a son of gods, was snatched as a baby by Hades (James Woods) and forced to live among mortals as a half-man, half-god. Now a teenager, Hercules needs to perform a rite of passage on Earth to prove himself worthy of living with the gods on Mount Olympus. With his plucky satyr sidekick, Philoctetes (Danny DeVito), along for the ride, Hercules must learn how to use his strength to defeat a series of evil creatures.
The game, released just a week before the movie in June 1997, is a 2.5D action platformer that follows the same plot as the movie, and was developed by Eurocom. The game saw a release on PlayStation and PC, with a Game Boy version from THQ following later that year.
Many players will have had a taste of the game outside of its main release, as it was part of the lineup on PlayStation’s “Demo 1” disc in 1997, accompanied by demos for other games such as Abe’s Oddysee, Rage Racer and Kurushi (that’s I.Q.: Intelligent Qube to you readers in the USA), some gameplay videos of Soul Blade and Rosco McQueen, as well as a couple of strange tech demos that let you control either a tyrannosaurus or a manta ray.
While it may seem arbitrary to include this little tidbit of trivia in an article, it was one of my earliest memories of playing the console, so I’d be doing the game a slight disservice by not mentioning it.
Featuring 10 levels and a choice of three difficulties (Beginner, Medium and Herculean), with the last two levels only available from Medium upwards. Gameplay on most of the stages revolves around walking left or right, and hacking at enemies with your sword. Hercules also has a regular punch in his arsenal (which isn’t nearly as effective as a sword), and a special super punch that takes some time to wind up, but delivers a mighty blow to enemies.
There are a number of powerups to collect throughout levels, which range from Hercules action figures that increase Hercules’ energy bar, cups of refreshing Herculade that replenish health and helmets that grant the player a few seconds of invulnerability when activated. Amongst the levels are letters that players can discover, which, when collected, spell out HERCULES and allow players to spaw directly at the next level (instead of starting the game again). Similarly, there’s four hidden vases in each level too, which reveal passwords to restart at various points of the game.
The game also includes rush “Gauntlet” stages, which changes the perspective up and requires players to run forward through the map and avoid obstacles without being able to stop or fight. These quasi-3D levels do change the pace of the game somewhat and it’s an admirable feature (from an aesthetic standpoint, at least), but the obstacles end up feeling tedious to get through, instead of challenging. In addition to this, the controls aren’t as polished as they should be, which will result in a huge number of unnecessary deaths and all the fun being sucked out of it.
From a graphics standpoint, Hercules looks good. The mix of sprites and polygons show off the technology from the era pretty well, but often feels like its been forced into the game just for the sake of it. There’s nothing wrong with a strictly 2D platform adventure game, so adding 3D elements can feel jarring and totally out of places very quickly.
The main highlight of the game is just how much like the movie it is. While some tie-in games utterly fail to capture the essence of their source material, Hercules does a fantastic job of retaining the visual style of the movie, as well as its quirky humour. The addition of FMV sequences ripped directly from the movie also help players to immerse themselves into the game. Players who have seen the movie before playing the game are also at somewhat of an advantage when it comes to fighting bosses too, as the methods and tactics in the movie and the game are identical to each other.
Overall, Disney’s Hercules is a decent enough game, but felt somewhat dated, even upon its release. It’s a nice-looking game, and making use of the technology to add 3D elements to a project that seems like it would only ever work in 2D is fairly impressive too, but the game is ultimately a total pain in the ass to play at times.
Horrendous enemies, clunky controls on the gauntlet levels and some downright aggravating combat sequences all mar the experience in a big way. Instead of a truly fantastic 90s Disney movie adventure, we got an OK tie-in that would have been an absolute game changer had it been released just a few years earlier on a console such as the Sega Genesis.
Did you ever play Disney’s Hercules? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!