The Hammerin’ Harry/Daiku no Gen-San series continued from 1990 to the last game, Hammerin’ Hero, in 2009. However, only the first game was released in arcades. After the original Hammerin’ Harry, the series shifted entirely to home platforms.
Whether or not a game in the series would be released in the West, however, was another matter. In fact, only the arcade original and the aforementioned Hammerin’ Hero would reach North America, though two other titles would at least find their way to Europe. The second Famicom/NES title, 1993’s Daiku no Gen-san 2: Akage no Dan no Gyakushō was not one of them.
That is until Retro-Bit translated and reissued it. It was given to me as part of the Hammerin’ Harry Concrete Collection, which I was rather excited to try. I covered the first Hammerin’ Harry last week, so now it’s time to dive into the more elusive sequel.
Hammerin’ Harry 2: Dan the Red Strikes Back seems like a pretty straightforward sequel when you start out. You once again play as the eponymous carpenter, and his sprite, moveset, and even powerups are the same as they were in the first game. The first level even takes place at the Needless Markup Mall, which was under construction in the original game. However, it doesn’t stay all that reminiscent.
The story this time around is that the ti… the sub-titular Dan the Red is harassing Harry to try and get revenge, while Dr. Parallel seems to pull the strings in the background. Apparently, Harry’s girlfriend, Donna, has been abducted, but I don’t remember it coming up very much. I think she was in distress in the first game, as well, but that sort of just felt like a formality in mimicking the typical ‘80s protagonist motivation.
After going through some construction areas, Hammerin’ Harry 2 begins to shift more and more into sci-fi. There’s a factory, then you’re on some train in an underground tunnel, then there’s a bunch of secret base stuff. The bosses are typically Dan riding on some sort of giant robot shaped like an animal. But that’s really only the start of where things differ.
What struck me most is that Hammerin’ Harry 2 places more emphasis on platforming than combat. While there was a balance of this in the previous game, a lot of its focus was placed on enduring attacks from enemies. With the sequel, you’re more likely to be killed by the edge of the screen than waves of foes.
It’s fine. The controls are solid enough to make platforming enjoyable, but I feel that when you’re wielding a big hammer, the game should be more focused on providing nails. Toward the end of the game, there were very few enemies, leaving you to hop around in complete isolation. If there was anything that would simply take a chip off your health bar, it was usually lasers or spikes; things that aren’t as receptive to a blunt weapon. I feel like some of the identity is replaced by something less satisfying.
A lot of the expressiveness of the first game isn’t there, either. I remarked that the art in Hammerin’ Harry, while obviously suffering from the NES’ limitations, is very detailed, but much of that is lost in the sequel. It’s not completely devoid of life, nor does it look bad, but in comparison, there’s a lot less love in its presentation.
Everything looks like a nail
On the other hand, it still gets pretty creative at times. I mentioned the tunnel train earlier on, and the quickest way for a game to reach my heart is by train. For some reason, moving trains are my favorite stage setting, whether you’re on them, in them, or driving them. This one has robots on it. They do sit-ups and shoot lasers like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots working on their beach bods. It’s just too bad the level isn’t that much fun.
Later on, there’s a pair of scrolling shoot-’em-up stages where Harry hops in a rocket mallet. It’s a charmingly amusing segment, but unfortunately, they’re not much fun either. There’s only a handful of poorly thought-out weapons, and enemies will only spawn in at maybe two at a time, assumedly not to push the sprites numbers into flicker territory. They’re pretty boring.
To its credit, Hammerin’ Harry 2 is a bit longer at eight levels over the previous game’s five. The fact that it’s also not as much fun as its predecessor means that, by the time it’s all over, you’re not exactly hungry for more. That’s damning with praise, so I will try and lighten that statement by saying it’s not all that bad. It’s just while Hammerin’ Harry had a lot of charm that made it stand out despite its weaknesses, Hammerin’ Harry 2 just doesn’t.
Retro-Bit’s translation is pretty solid, but there wasn’t a tonne of text to change to begin with. It sticks pretty close to the previously existing one of the first game. What I did find weird is that they left the voice clips in their original Japanese instead of changing them to be like the localization of the first game. So, instead of his trademark “Let’s get busy,” Harry says “Ikuze!” like a large portion of Japan’s early video game protagonists. More confusingly, however, is that the end level voice screams “GEN-SAAAAN!” instead of “H’MM’RNHRY.” I guess if you’re buying this game, you know Harry’s original name, but it feels a bit out of place.
If it was as easy as simply changing the voice clips, I assume that Retro-Bit would have just done it, so there’s likely a reason why they were left as is. To make up for it, the text does contain a heaping of hammer puns. A+ right there.
The production of the physical cartridge is as good as it was with Hammerin’ Harry. You can reference that article for a broader overview. This time around, the cartridge is made to look like concrete, and it’s a bit more convincing than the woodgrain of the first game. Both are pretty fine physical reissues. The cover for Hammerin’ Harry 2 isn’t really great, but it’s pretty much what the Famicom version looked like, so it is what it is.
It’s nice to be able to play a localized Hammerin’ Harry 2 in an official capacity, but the game itself is less than spectacular. I think my main issue is that, just a week ago, I said that the first Hammerin’ Harry “might not be the console’s best sidescroller, but it’s definitely not boring.” This time around, I’m more of the opinion that Hammerin’ Harry 2 might be far from the console’s worst sidescroller, but it’s definitely boring.
It’s a shame, because I was hoping that the series would be more of a fixture for me on the console. I was hoping for a more Duck Tales/Duck Tales 2 situation where after playing one, the closeness in quality makes playing through the second one an obvious choice. Here, I’m not so sure. There’s more of a gulf in enjoyment. I will, however, have to look into the later games in the series. Especially, perhaps, the SNES and PSP games that would follow. As for Hammerin’ Harry 2, it is, unfortunately, not the sharpest tool in the box.