Love Hurts is a side scrolling beat em up about mans redundant need to save princesses and the fact that clichs are cliches because they work.
I can finally say I have beaten a Jon Corp game. Jon-Paul Keatley’s charming 2009 side scroller Run Away proved to be too tough an obstacle course where one hit means game over, leaving me unable to woo Angry Girl. I can’t woo for beans. Love Hurts won’t train me to impress Angry Girl, but it will teach me how to fight random enemies should I ever be put in a position to save her if she was kidnapped. Our hero Matt begins the game arriving at his girlfriend D.D’s mansion and just about to ring her doorbell when she gives him a call saying that she’s been kidnapped by Frederic Von Blight and might be a bit late for their date at the restaurant. He tells her that he will save her, but she says he should not come. Of course, there would be no Video game if he listened, and off he embarks on a short beat-em up quest to save his girlfriend.
Jon-Paul Keatley may not make the best games around, but they’re no less delightful and imaginative. Love Hurts is #winning thanks to it’s terrific atmosphere and dialogue more than its Karateka inspired gameplay. There are a lot of great lines and characters in the game which make the trip memorable such as the obese chef who explains to the player why he stands in his way of rescuing D.D. “I am short and fat but like all Video game fat guys I can jump tremendous distances. Being a two dimensional stereotype fills me with rage and so we must fight.” Even the tutorial ends on a funny note, and there’s lots of great details on the levels like the mice eating cheese in the attic crawl space. Even the bookshelves in the opening level show a tremendous amount of variety and craftsmanship (check out the elephant bookends) for what would have been a copy-and-paste sprite job for any other Developer, and while they’re not entertaining or memorable themselves, that commitment to presentation, seen throughout the entire adventure from start to finish, enhances the overall Love Hurts experience. Although I miss the more personal touch Run Away’s hand-drawn style brought to that game, the artwork of Love Hurts shows just as much care put into it.
Despite being only four levels long, the cannon fodder enemies are varied and well animated, each posing a different threat to the player. Our hero starts off fighting butlers and maids as he crashes the kidnapping, but in short order the enemies become progressively more bizarre. There’s a neat Ghostbusters reference to be found in the game’s third level which I don’t wish to spoil among some other choice selections, primarily due to the game taking just 13 minutes or so to complete. The short length also ensures players will never tire of the soundtrack which primarily consists of one level theme, one boss theme, and the title and ending songs. The music, supplied by David Morrison and available for free on his website, is a big step up from the repetitive to the point of annoyance Run Away soundtrack. “Enter Boss Fight” and its muted sirens add a nice Streets of Rage feel to each boss encounter, and the main (only) level theme doesn’t wear out the player despite the constant exposure thanks to its laid back common rhythm. I love when PCM composers focus on creating a nice melody instead of flushing the listener’s ears with assorted hisses and pops, and Morrison’s buzzy pop themes suit the game nicely but are just as enjoyable as standalone pieces.
Love Hurts’ gameplay feels wooden but functional, showing little modernization beyond its Karateka template. Matt can punch and kick enemies while standing, sweep and uppercut while ducking, and jump kick or elbow drop while leaping. He can also block enemy attacks with the B-button or backdash with the triggers, defensive moves which are rarely if ever needed though not entirely without merit. While the game controls well, the enemies don’t pose much of a threat to the player, particularly given how easy they are to evade. I was a bit disappointed to see that I could hop over the initial cooks and drunken patrons in the second level and make a beeline for the exit, never seeing any more enemies appear to stop my progress. Fighting less enemies means a lower score, but the lack of a time limit also means that players can just as easily farm enemies if so desired. I read that Keatley was going to include negative food bonuses in the game, but I never saw an enemy drop one after a half dozen trips through Love Hurts. The game is playable and fun, but Love Hurts’ is also short on depth as it is on length, a simple arcade romp which most players should breeze through thanks to the low difficulty, generous health meter, and stock of extra lives. It’s a far cry from Run Away for sure, and while the ease of the challenge presented should lure more into the game, it also means it’ll be shelved that much sooner.
Jon Corp may have yet to release a truly great game, but Keatley’s games have a warmth about them that I just don’t feel from other releases, a palpable love of his creation which draws me to his games. I tend to look at Jon-Paul Keatley the same way as I do Daniel Benmergui, each Developer releasing these short little Video game gems which demand to be played more for what they are instead of what they do. Keatley’s titles may be overlooked as silly distractions, but with Run Away and now Love Hurts, there’s a fair amount of relatable material in each game, characters and hopeless relationships which provide the foundation for the often sad but all to real bits of humor that make for some of the most touching games on the market.