Review: Million to One Hero – a quirky, flawed, indie alternative to Super Mario Maker
An interesting, but flawed platformer.
I’ve been drawn to any game with any variant of “custom level editor” in it since I was a kid, so when Million to One Hero by Over The Top Games crossed my radar I knew I had to check it out.
It’s an interesting, tongue-in-cheek DIY platformer and if you’re into custom levels it might be worth your time. Here’s what it’s like.
Fundamentally, Million to One Hero is an action platformer akin to something along the lines of Mario and Mega Man
You control a tiny, chunky-pixel-style adventurer named – ugh – Epicus. You can move left and right (up and down when climbing vines), jump, dash in 8 directions, wall jump, swing your sword, and use whatever item you have, if anything, such as the bow pickup.
There are coins to collect, platforms to navigate, enemies to fight, collectibles to grab, switches to flip, and hazards to avoid. It’s pretty standard fare for games of this ilk.
The game is segmented into individual levels that are generally 1-5 minutes long. The game’s creators have stitched together several sets of these and a series of sequential, grouped levels is an “adventure,” each of which has a world map that will look familiar to anyone who’s played Super Mario World or just about any game inspired by it.
Million to One Hero only starts to get interesting once you dig into its editor, which is fairly expansive
You have the tools to build everything that’s possible in the game, from world geometry to cutscenes, and you’re free to build both standalone levels and stitched-together adventures to your heart’s delight.
I didn’t spend too much time in the level editor for this one, but I was in there enough to be impressed. This isn’t a half-assed editor, either. You can build the physicality of the world, light it however you want, add logic gates that make sense or invert expectations to your heart’s content.
When you test your levels, you can optionally view your character’s ghost from that run so you can tweak layouts intelligently. Every sensible tool you could ask for is here, from easy erasers to undo/redo, selection cloning, and more.
Above is a smattering of the editor’s features laid out as clearly as I can show you. I set the time of day, placed platforms of a few different types, added some hazards, tested with my ghost, placed some enemies, and put a collectible in there all in a matter of just a few minutes. It won’t take long to get used to how everything works here.
Of course, once you’ve crafted your level, you can share it with the world. I made sure to check out some of those, too.
The above level was one of three in one of my favorite adventures, a series of levels that at first appear to be brutally difficult, but are actually played automatically through a series of clever bounce platforms. You literally just put the controller down and watch your character get a perfect score automatically. There’s obviously zero replay value here, but I thought it was inventive and a welcome relief, for reasons we’re about to get to.
I love the higher-order features of Million to One Hero. I think the level editor is well-done, the process of sharing and playing custom levels and adventures is easy and seamless, and that whole workflow is a satisfying endeavor.
My problems are with the fundamentals, which I find to be frustrating in a way that makes me not enjoy the core experience of the game
For starters, despite the game being an exercise in custom levels, for some reason, you can’t customize controller input. I ended up having to download a program called Enjoyable in order to use my controller with the game. I’m not using some random brand, either; this is a PlayStation 3 controller and works just fine with almost every other controller-centric game on my desktop.
Do you have to use a controller? Not technically, but good luck using arrow keys and five left-hand buttons, especially when you’re trying to run, jump through the air, diagonally dash, and fire your bow in a specific direction.
In fact, the input management in this whole game feels off. For some bizarre reason, I also can’t alt-tab out of this one. That might seem like a non-issue, but setting up my controller became such a hassle, starting the game, reading the controls, remembering what they said, opening up Enjoyable, mapping some of the buttons, forgetting a few, and starting the whole process over again. What is going on behind the scenes that makes this so difficult?
Once everything is working correctly, the game is still just…muddy, I guess is the right word? It takes far too long for your character to accelerate to maximum run speed, making it feel like you’re running through molasses.
There’s no ledge assistance for jumping, either. That’s a kind of technical thing, but lots of platformers use invisible design to allow you to jump for a fraction of a second after you’ve run off the edge of a platform. Most people will never notice it, but grace periods make jumping way more forgiving and satisfying. If you want to see exactly what I’m talking about, Lisa Brown wrote about it here, including several helpful gifs.
Despite having a cool bow, Million to One Hero also has no aim-assist for arrows. In fact, there’s no aim assist for anything. Miss hitting an enemy by just a tiny distance? Tough, the game won’t fudge that gap for you. Miss a switch with an arrow by mere pixels? No help for you. These are things that virtually all games do now, so it’s weird to me that Million to One Hero hasn’t picked up the conventional wisdom of the time.
“What are you talking about? My favorite games don’t have these invisible helpers for babies.” Oh, honey, yes they do. Even DOOM does invisible assist stuff like valuing the last of your health more than the rest to make you feel like you just barely survived more often.
My point is that Million to One Hero seems to miss all of these things. The resulting feeling is that the actual act of playing the game feels stiff, slow, and unnecessarily punishing. At that point, I found myself thinking, “Why would I make levels for a game that isn’t fundamentally fun to play?”
Still, maybe that’s just me. Maybe you’ll really love the editor, you won’t be annoyed by the things that irritated me, and this will be the game that sticks for you. It is, after all, 1/4 of the price of Super Mario Maker 2, and the community is still small enough that you could easily cut your teeth here and be a rock star level designer. For me, though? I’m gonna pass. There’s too much here that’s annoying to me and none of it is stuff you can fix in the editor.
Jake reviewed Million to One Hero with a code from the developer. Million to One Hero is available now on Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam.
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