Admittedly I was not aware of this game until recently, and its poorly-timed release during the video game crash of 1984 might mean that it escaped your attention as well. You owe it to yourself to check it out if you haven’t played it, or revisit it if it’s been a while. Originally released for the 2600, it was ported to many other platforms, and there’s a reason for this. H.E.R.O. (Helicopter Emergency Rescue Operation) is one of the greats.

You are Roderick Hero (R. Hero for short, hardeeharhar) and your task is to find your way through mines full of spiders, bats, snakes… well the actual manual has it written much better- here’s what it has to say:

“Roderick Hero here (R. Hero to my associates), President and Chief Executive Officer of H.E.R.O., Inc., inviting you to join me in tackling a tricky maze of mine shafts rife with the kind of danger we daring types only dream of. Until now, that is! Think of it: miners trapped in a mountain bubbling with lava rivers and magma deposits, mine shafts crawling with vile vermin, all lethal to the touch. Oh, it’s just too awful —– and too exciting! I’m armed with equipment of my own invention. My Prop-pack carries me to even deeper depths, while I zap creepy critters with my Microlaser Beam. Dynamite demolishes walls that get in my way. If my supply lasts, that is. And my power. Did I mention the terrible tentacles that loom up out of lava? Or the massive walls that can crush me? What about the raft I ride on? Oh, never mind. Come along, and make yourself useful.”

The manual is a pretty entertaining read (see scans of hit here: http://www.atariguide.com/0/024i1p01-varSm.htm). R. Hero looks more like an oil tycoon than an adventurer with a taste for danger, but that’s okay. We don’t judge when it comes to risking ones life for the sake of others.

Basically instead of a side-scroller, this is a down-scroller. You descend into the caves to find the missing miners. You have a helicopter/propeller pack that lets you hover and go back up. You have a laser beam to shoot pesky spiders. In later levels there are rafts to help carry you across the lava (which is home to some menacing tentacles that aren’t really attached to anything- just tentacles for tentacles sake). You also have a limited supply of dynamite for blowing up walls that are in your way. A bit of advice about this- if there is a wall, blow it up and go that way. Otherwise you will typically find yourself at a dead end, or in a narrow shaft that leads to accidentally shutting the lights off and landing on a snake. It happens. Thankfully, after every 20,000 points you get an extra life.

Sometimes the enemies seem unavoidable. This is when you need to remember this game was made in the 80s and should be played accordingly. The key to playing many games of this era, you may remember, is the same trick you used to pass History class– memorization. If I was playing this as a kid, I would instinctively memorize every bat, every spider, every snake’s timing and be able to zip through this game. As an adult, and having grown accustomed to more modern games where memorization doesn’t really factor in anymore, this type of play doesn’t happen as naturally, and I find myself running into the same dumb (albeit cute) snake, or perfectly centering my landing on the same dumb spider almost every time. I can actually hear my inner-8-year-old groaning with frustration at me after each chime of a lost life.

Gameplay here is amazingly fun and challenging. You will not get tired of this game. Graphics are crisp, simple and clean. Sounds are outstanding- in fact some of the sounds are the same as the ones I loved in my Seaquest review. The miners could be a little more appreciative- I mean you’re putting your life on the line, using some dangerous equipment to descend into the cave- it’s a lot of effort on your part, and you get to them and they just stick their hand in the air. They don’t even stand up. Can’t their arms wave about wildly, like Kermit the Frog or something? They might as well be giving us the nonchalant head-nod, saying “ ‘Sup, Hero.” Maybe their lack of enthusiasm is indicative of oxygen depletion, in which case it’s a good thing R. Hero got there when he did.

There’s 5 different games to play on the cartridge, but really the difference is what level you start on. Games 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 start on levels 1, 5, 9, 13 and 17 respectively. If you start on level 17 you’re getting random levels- they won’t tell you what level number you are on. Same with any level you get to after level 20. It gets randomized after this point (so much for the memorization technique). Supposedly the game ends at 1,000,000 points but I don’t know if the game freezes at that point or what, do any of you know?

As is typical with many Activision games of the time, if you scored 75,000 points you could send away for an “Order of the H.E.R.O.” emblem, featuring R. Hero with his hi-tech mining gear, wearing raver Wayfarers with yellow lenses. Definitely one of the cooler patches I’ve seen. Does anyone know who designed these things? I would’ve loved that job (so long as I could’ve used Adobe Illustrator…).

H.E.R.O. is without a doubt one of the best games on 2600! It still holds up today as a fun, challenging, rewarding adventure. Check it out!

Gameplay Video


Liontown emits a contented roar while making art and playing video games in the jungle of Los Angeles.

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