I have to admit, I have a thing for British culture. Much of my favorite media, from books to TV shows and more, comes from the UK. I especially have a thing for British comedy. It tends to maintain a certain feeling of class
, no matter how strange the characters and scenarios involved are. And that is a huge part of the appeal of Henry Hatsworth, taking control of a classy monocle-wearing old man and kicking ass in a whole host of outright ridiculous situations.
So, as the story goes, Henry Hatsworth is an old British tea drinking dude (and #1 in the Pompous Adventurers Club) searching for the legendary golden hat. Also searching for the golden hat is his often incompetant and always underhanded rival Weasleby (aka #2). There are plenty of other friends and enemies along the way, equally silly in their own ways. I don't know about you guys, but I think that it is very refreshing to play as a hero who isn't a cliche young man with something to prove or young woman showing more skin than you would think would be comfortable. Anyway, at the beginning of the game he finds the hat, and it makes him 20 years younger (in other words, still pretty old) and opens up portals to the puzzle world, and a new quest begins.
Why do villains always make super large cakes?!
Henry Hatsworth is a 2D action / platformer. And... a 2D puzzle game. The platformer takes place on the top screen, and the puzzle game on the bottom screen. I'd call it a hybrid, but it's really not, at least, not in the sense of combining two different things to create something new. The platforming and the puzzling are two fairly distinct mechanics which the player jumps back and forth between when necessary, although they do affect each other in key ways (which will be discussed later). And to be honest, about 70-80% of your time will be spent in the platformer mode early on, making it feel almost like a standard 2D platformer with lite puzzle elements, although as the game progresses the puzzle mode demands much more of your time and attention.
I suppose you could compare the platforming mode to something like controlling Zero in the Mega Man X / Zero / ZX games, which is to say, Henry uses a melee attack (sword) first and foremost, but also has a projectile attack (gun) as well. I called it a standard 2D platformer earlier, but that was not totally accurate, as the platforming in Henry Hatsworth is standard in concept only. The actual execution is far above standard. The controls are spot on, the stages are well designed with plenty of alternate paths, both the platforming and the action are excellent, and the gameplay is full of variety, from romping through the jungle to jumping between floating air balloons in the sky to running through the mysterious puzzle world itself.
Less polished are some of the secret unlockable bonus stages, which often feel rather short and underwhelming. Some of them have some cool ideas, but they do not tend to be developed to the extent that the main stages are. I get the feeling that many of these stages were leftover on the cutting room floor of the main game and got pushed in as bonus stages. This doesn't really detract from the main game, but it does make the pursuit of the bonus stages a bit less enticing.
Never trust a nurse... that's what Chris D. taught me.
So, how exactly do the platformer and puzzle modes come together then? In a lot of ways, actually. Whenever you defeat an enemy in the game, he is turned into a puzzle piece and sent to the puzzle screen below. The puzzle screen slowly fills up from bottom to top, and if an enemy puzzle piece reaches the top of the puzzle screen, he comes back onto the platforming screen as an angry puzzle piece who will cause you trouble. You can prevent this from happening by going into puzzle mode (which can be easily accessed by pressing the X button at any time as long as you have filled up some of your puzzle meter) and lining up 3 or more colored pieces in a row to eliminate the pieces. Of course, you can eliminate the enemy puzzle pieces as well, and there are certain item pieces that, when removed, affect the platformer screen in various beneficial ways. Furthermore, whenever you successfully remove pieces it fills up your super meter, which can be used either for your projectile attacks or, if you have completely filled it, for tea time. What is tea time, you ask? Well, it is when Henry takes a little break and sips on some tea... before summoning a huge badass robot which can be used to go nuts on enemies until your super meter runs out.
So as you can see, the platformer and puzzle modes are separate from a core gameplay perspective, but they still work off of each other in various ways.
I love the art style in Henry Hatsworth, with its crisp, clean 2D animated sprites and backgrounds, and the soundtrack is pretty rocking too, especially when you go into tea time and the music changes from typical video game fare to wild guitar rock. The voices however, with their Banjo-Kazooie-esque garbling, could probably have been a bit better. I also love the little details in Henry Hatsworth, from the huge British flag flying in the background during the tea time transformation to Hatsworth's key phrase “good show!” to the treasure chests at the end of stages that spew out tons of treasure while an upbeat march plays, Henry Hatsworth and its unique sensibility stands out in an era of me too design.
Tea time may be one of the coolest things to ever happen to video games.
I should come out and warn you though, Henry Hatsworth is a challenging game. Not necessarily at first, but once you get a few worlds into the game, it can get pretty difficult. And here is where things get controversial. There are certain people who will tell you that the later worlds in this game are "broken". That is one opinion, and I'm not going to invalidate the feelings of people who think that way. There is an undeniably sharp rise in the difficulty curve, and combined with longer kill rooms (rooms where you can't progress until you kill waves and waves of enemies) and some tricky enemy / pitfall combinations, Henry Hatsworth can certainly get very frustrating very fast. However, I honestly believe that many of the people who feel that the game is "broken" never really bothered learning to work the puzzle mechanic very well. Unlike the early, easier stages, where the puzzle screen can mostly be ignored until it starts to fill up, later stages require utilizing the puzzle mode to the fullest extent to upgrade weapons, gain health, and go into tea time as frequently as possible. I found myself having a much easier time of things, especially the kill rooms, when I got into my flow and was able to work the puzzle mode quickly and efficiently. Even after mastering the puzzle mode Henry Hatsworth is still pretty darn difficult and I died plenty of times, but I can't in good faith call the game broken just because it offers a legitimate challenge.
The DS isn't exactly a stranger to 2D platformers, but I truly believe that Henry Hatsworth is one of the best. In fact, I enjoyed it more than New Super Mario Bros. myself. It's fun, it's creative, it has heart, and going back and forth between the action / platforming and puzzle elements helps keep the game fresh the whole time. The length is pretty respectable too, with five worlds full of many stages each. I'm not sure how easy Henry Hatsworth is to find nowadays, but it's definitely worth looking for.
Oh, and if you call Henry Hatsworth broken, you're banned. Sorry, it's on the list.