This is the one hundred nineteenth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

A can of paint has been spilled, revealing the next random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. It’s Hero-ing Addict, by Ethan’s Byproducts, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

An MS Paint-inspired action adventure game.

It’s time to drag swaths of primary colors everywhere.

MS Paint, for any who might be unaware, refers to Microsoft Paint, a simple image editing program that is included with Windows operating systems. Lacking the advanced features of professional grade software, it’s associated with simple and amateurish art, and often invoked in a derogatory fashion. Two entries ago I wrote about Greg the Clumsy Ghost, which was made for Paint Jam 2018, a game jam that was trying to subvert this stereotype, celebrating games using art made with Microsoft Paint. Hero-ing Addict seems to have something similar in mind, although it wasn’t a submission to that jam. Instead, it’s part of a collection of games made by University of California, Santa Cruz students in Fall 2020.

The irony is that Hero-ing Addict actually looks really good. Its art has the solid colors and thick outlines commonly associated with MS Paint, but its world of floating islands hanging in a deep blue sky is lovingly constructed. Rock pillars rise from the depths below or from the islands themselves, cobblestone bridges connect islands to each other, birds and lizards wander about, and special landmarks like statues or lakes add personality to certain locations. It feels like everything was drawn by hand, but I suspect it’s actually tile-based under the hood. The world is navigated screen by screen in pseudo-top-down fashion, in the fine tradition of Zelda, and there are even bushes everywhere that can be chopped down, clear homages to A Link To the Past in particular. These bushes don’t seem to serve any practical purpose, never hiding secret items like they sometimes did in A Link To the past, but they add some life to the world. They’re also wonderfully animated, swaying in an unseen breeze. Joined by many other small animations, they make Hero-ing Addict even prettier in motion than it is in screenshots.

The MS Paint inspirations extend beyond the art, however. The unnamed protagonist has the ability to fire blue, red or yellow paint a short distance, changing the color of specific objects, most notably enemies. By mixing the colors, players can paint them purple, green or orange too, and even the sludgy brown that anyone who’s ever mixed too many paints together will recognize. Changing enemies’ colors is useful, because they can only be damaged when the self-proclaimed hero’s sword matches their color, and his sword changes color on its own every few seconds. Embarrassingly, I didn’t figure this out at first. Despite a section that taught me how to paint things, I didn’t realize that I could paint the enemies, so at first I was just waiting until my sword happened to be the same color before attacking. I tried shooting paint a few times, but foolishly used a color that matched the enemy, so nothing happened. After wondering why there was so much waiting around during combat, I finally realized that I was supposed to actively change enemy colors during battle, and felt very silly.

The faceless (and rather tiny) hero doesn’t move very fast, but they have a pleasing dash move for dodging enemy attacks, and their own sword strikes feel powerful, with nice audio and visual feedback. Sword strikes and paint blasts are aimed with the mouse, while the keyboard moves the hero around. Fighting feels surprisingly good, but there are definitely some rough edges. Most enemies don’t pose much of a challenge, but a few are beefier, and they’re a bit frustrating to fight. Let’s say the hero’s sword has just turned purple, but the enemy is green. First I have to select blue paint, then hit the enemy with it, possibly more than once, until it turns blue. Then I have to switch to red paint and hit it again — but only once, this time! — so it turns purple. Only then may I move in to attack with my sword, except… crap, my sword’s already changed to orange now. Sigh.

I like the idea of using and changing colors, but the implementation here is a bit clunky. This is the kind of thing that takes a lot of testing and iteration, making tweaks or adjustments until combat starts to feel good. But student projects like this one simply don’t have that kind of time. In fact, Hero-ing Addict is very short, more of a demo for a longer game that does not (yet) exist. But it’s an interesting start. I wanted to explore more of its world, and was intrigued by its denizens. The protagonist really is a self-proclaimed hero, obsessed with noble speeches and standing up to any who would oppose them. They’re determined to enter the Valley of Heroes at any cost, secure in their self-righteousness. The people they meet, on the other hand, are disillusioned and listless, trying to offer warnings but knowing the protagonist won’t listen. It’s not the most subtle theming, but what’s there is well written and I was curious to see what would come next. Perhaps one day Ethan’s Byproducts will be able to revisit this and turn it into something larger, with more satisfying paint-based fighting.

If you want to try out this version and you missed it in the bundle, Hero-ing Addict is offered for any price you wish to pay, including nothing. But the emphasis on colors will make it tricky for colorblind players.

That’s 119 down, and only 1622 to go!