Lloyd Grossman writes: "Secreted around the AP offices amidst the posters, the stacks of disks and the subliminal messages are many books of lists. You can't see them most of the time, and casual visitors are probably oblivious to their existence, but they're there, lurking, and from time to time various members of the team write things in them."
Some of them are bulky and dog-eared from frequent use, such as the Big Book Of PR Lies (where we write down the promised release dates of games, and which we then use to taunt companies when they fail to deliver the goods) or Songs That Stuart Plays That Everybdy Else Hates (currently running into 14 volumes) but there are many more discreet ledgers.
There's Dave's Book Of Observations From Afar, which hovers mysteriously over the filing cabinet and Cam's List Of Ominous Dreams, which is taped under a desk and booby-trapped with a block of C4 plastic explosive.
And finally there's the office book of Nice Touches, a fabulousy beautiful but slim publication of finest vellum bound in softest calfskin into which we employ a scribe to write Nice Touches in perfect copperplate handwriting. The in's barely dry on the latest page, and our scribe is laboriously adding gold leaf to the illumination down the side, but peering over his shoulder I can share these few paragraphs with yo.
NICE TOUCHES IN DISPOSABLE HEROES
* Getting power-ups in shoot-'em-ups is always a bit of an inexplicable, not to say surreal experience. What usually happens is that you shoot a spaceship which explodes, dropping a little blob which then gives you a power-up if you fly into it.
D-Heroes has a much more logical system which involves you picking up blueprints of various fabbo new weapons, and then landing at the occasional but conveniently placed research stations. Your ship has a certain energy output and all the modifications draw varying amounts of power, so you've got to work out which add-on configurations will fit into your energy output. You can then add bigger, better and more weapons that fire off in all directions, home in on enemies and generally making killing everything in your path a lot easier.
* The spaceship itself is a mass of little Nice Touches. When you nudge it forwards, the engines flare briefly to start your acceleration, and the truly wonderful thing is that instead of blowing up after a single hit, your little craft can absorb quite a few shots before plummeting to the ground, which is not only a Nice Touch, but also a Good Thing.
When your energy bar's getting low, smoke starts to dribble out of the ship, and each successive hit adds to the smoke until you eventually give up and belly flop onto the ground. Almost entirely implausibly, the programmers have worked out that it's totally frustrating to gain masses of power-ups only to lose them on a difficult level, so once you've got them, they stay for the rest of the game. Hoorah!
* Realistic water effects are a hugely pretty features that adds absolutely nothing to the gameplay but look fantastic. Flying low over these pools rewards you with a delightful reflection of your craft, and when various huge mechanical beasties tramp their way across the screen, each football is marked with cute splashes.
* Most surfaces have bolted-on gun turrets. These animate in microscopic detail, spinning around and elevating as they try to draw a bead on you.
* Much of the evil nastiness in the game comes in the form of quasi-biological lifeforms that look like insects but fire off laser blasts at the slightest provocation. Indeed, one of the levels seems to be set entirely in the mouth of a large critter with retractable teeth, so as well as dodging the flak you've got to watch out for massive canines that leap out of rotting gums at terrifying speed.
A good game, but hardly a novel or unique one
So why the emphasis on neat little touches rather than the actual game? Well, because we've all seen the game before, haven't we? It's a horizontally-scrolling shoot-'em-up, so what else can you say about it?
It plays like Project-X or R-Type 2, and although it's better than these two in some respects (most notably the masses of dinky little animations and the ability to survive a couple of hits) it doesn't really have any features that would make you drop what ever you were doing and dash out to the shops to buy it.
Maybe it's just me being overly cynical, but I really can't see what Disposable Heroes does that R-Type 2 didn't do better a couple of years ago. Like Pac-Man clones and Pong games, horizontal scrollers seemed to run their course before suffering a drop in popularity, and this resurrection doesn't add to or enlarge on any gameplay features that weren't covered fairly comprehensively in R-Type 2.
Okay, so there are masses of biological enemies, but there were plenty of these in the excellent Apidya, which may have had annoyingly sudden death, but also featured some of the most impressive music ever heard in a computer game.
Am I sounding wishy-washy? I hope not, but the problem is that it's too good to slag off but at the same time is very hard to mention at allwithout going on about R-Type 2 D-Heroes plays like R-Type 2 (but not as nicely), looks much like R-Type 2 (but not as pretty) and has the same combination of big frightening baddies and small annoying ones as R-Type 2.
This means of course that it's a good game, but at the same time hardly a novel or unique one. Like this review, it's just going over the same ground time and time again. Sorry.
Anyway, that's what it's like, so I'll end on a bit of blurb about the game that may or may not set your imagination alight. It's got six long and tough (really tough - in fact, this is one area where it does expand on R-Type 2, because it's much harder. And R-Type 2 was no pushover, either) levels, each of which feature a number of super huge and impressive boss enemies.
The music's entertaining but unremarkable and you can save your high scores. I found it hard even on the easy level, but I dare say all the pros will relish having a go on the manic arcade setting. And that's, um, that really.