88 Heroes has actually been out for several months now. It came out originally on the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC at the very beginning of this year. Sold largely as an arcade-y platformer with an emphasis on referential humor, 88 Heroes saw decent reception from critics and did well enough for Rising Star Games to give the go ahead to Bitmap Bureau to put out DLC. They came up with H8 Mode; effectively 8 new, diabolical levels that test the limits of its players.
88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition is a version of the game made for the Switch that has the original game included along with H8 Mode and 10 new characters (which were released as downloads for the other versions of the game). However, these new characters are actually guest characters from other Rising Star Games franchises. You’ll find Rusty from Steamworld Dig, the Conga Masters from Conga Master, The Ninja from Ninja Showdown, etc. All that combined with the added portability that comes inherently with the Switch makes 88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition the definitive version of the game.
What to Expect
The concept behind 88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition is simple: there are 98 different playable characters, and 88 levels. For each level, you are given control of one randomly assigned character, and you must survive to the end of the level to progress. If you die, that character is taken out of the pool of potential characters, and you must then attempt the level with a new character. These characters aren’t just different skins either; every single character has their own moveset, physics, and hitboxes that you’ll have to master if you want any chance of finishing the game. Sticking with the theme of 88, you’ll have 88 levels to travel through in 88 seconds each. And if you can’t finish the game in 88 minutes, it’s Game Over.
For true masochists, there’s the Magnificent 8 mode, where you choose whichever 8 characters you feel most comfortable with. From there, you’ll play through the entire game with only those 8 characters. Trust us; you’ll want to make sure you don’t touch this mode until you’ve mastered the main game. You’re going to die a lot in the normal story mode alone. You may want to spend some time in the training mode getting used to how each character handles before you even get into the meat of the campaign.
88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition – Nintendo Switch Edition:
Oh woe! The nefarious Dr. H8 is holding the world for ransom! He demands $88 Octillion on August 8th 1988 within 88 minutes or else he’ll blast Earth with 88 nukes and cause the fall of civilization as we know it! Never fear though, the 88 Heroes are on the job! Can they stop Dr. H8’s crackpot schemes with their mediocre powers?
88 Heroes’ main writing draw is the comedy. It’s going for a clearly over-the-top narrative with an almost inappropriate amount of 8s where the comedy comes from just how much the developers are forcing the concept. It even goes as far as the gameplay; you have 88 seconds to complete a level, 88 minutes to complete the entire game, and you need 88 coins to revive a fallen character. It’s the sort of humor that attempts to go past the point of just being repetitive and into absurdity.
However, repetition is only one level to the comedy. Otherwise, 88 Heroes relies on an endless barrage of pop culture references to garner the yuks. We’re not going to lie: the writing here is weak due to the heart of the comedy relying on making a reference, then twisting it slightly, and making that minor subversion the joke. A good example of this is Wang Wei, the Panda who rides a unicycle and has reverse controls. The gag here is that the character’s name is a Chinese mispronunciation of wrong way, referencing how the panda controls. And that’s about the extent of the joke. It’s just sort of a cheap, lame pun where it feels like the game is nudging you in the gut going “Get it? It’s Chinese”. 88 Heroes does this constantly with its reference humor. There’s Big Lou, a surly Mario knock-off where the joke is that the character is Mario, an Evil Dead homage where the joke is the character is Ash, flat-out Rick Astley where the joke is they’re singing “Never Going to Give you Up” poorly, and so forth. There’s just nothing particularly clever about the gags here.
88 Heroes is the sort of game you play based on the strength of the hook alone. There’s no denying that it’s a neat idea. It almost feels like they wanted to make a platformer, but couldn’t decide on a main character and decided to say “Screw it”. Instead, they included as many different concepts as they could. You’ve got characters that can teleport short distances, a pair that you have to be careful about which attack button you press or you’ll accidentally shoot yourself, a fireman who can’t beat any enemy but can push them away with his water blasts or can use his hose to propel himself, etc. Some of the gaming reference characters just take their mechanics straight from the games they’re parodying, but even then, you’ll find a lot of creativity within each of these different playstyles.
Since this diversity in mechanics is a major draw of the 88 Heroes, the levels naturally need to be designed to highlight the flexibility of the system. Unfortunately, this is where 88 Heroes’ biggest weakness lies. Each level has to be designed so that every single one of its characters could theoretically complete it. You’ve generally got a main path you can follow, but, depending on the character, you could branch off in a different direction if they’ve got a flight ability, crawling in their moveset, a higher jump, and so forth.
This isn’t a bad strategy to make use of everyone’s unique movesets on paper, but in practice, it’s just sort of a mess. See, there aren’t really any unique or interesting challenges in each level since they’re limited by what you can do with your given character’s moveset. You can’t have a stationary enemy blocking off a path if your character doesn’t even have the ability to attack, for example. You can’t make gaps that actually make use of a character’s hover because then how can anyone without hover manage to cross the gap? So, as a result, the level designers compensated by putting death traps pretty much at every point they could get away with. Since there’s no real health system in the 88 Heroes (barring some very few exceptions), touching any obstacle is a guaranteed death.
This can be exceedingly frustrating since several different heroes have abilities that you don’t even realize can kill them until it’s too late, adding to the threat level. A great example of this is with Techno Tank, who can shoot missiles. All you’re told when you start a level is that the A and Y buttons are your attack buttons. What it doesn’t tell you is that your attack has an explosion effect that can kill you if you’re within its radius. So you may be moving along, come face to face with an enemy, instinctively attack, and kill yourself without realizing that you were too close. Since other heroes don’t have this problem, and because the game does very little to introduce you to any of its characters’ abilities, this often feels like an issue with the design rather than your own fault. It’s all trial-and-error memorization, which is just not terribly satisfying mechanically.
But more often than not, you’ll die because you jumped into a swinging flail that was off-screen or you get zapped by a laser that you couldn’t even see due to the game’s frustrating camera system. The camera is dead-center on the screen to keep your character from getting obscured by the admittedly unique UI (where it takes place from the perspective of Dr. H8 watching the action play out on a video screen). However, because of this, you are never able to get a full view of where you’re going. 88 Heroes is so stringent on this rule that you will literally have dead space take up the bottom half of your screen while being unable to see where you need to go above you. You’ll be shot by enemies that were obscured by the camera before, blasted by bombs that are shot clear from the other side of a room, and so forth.
Even as masocore (an impossible game where the fun comes from the pure satisfaction of saying you completed it), 88 Heroes fails since the object placement is never self-aware about its frustration. There’s nothing particularly clever about how 88 Heroes obscures or plays with its level arrangements. It just seems to be aggravating in order to waste the player’s time so they can say they got more game time than an hour and a half out of it.
To 88 Heroes’ credit, you do have the ability to stand in place and at least scope out the level ahead of time. However, the problem with this is that 88 Heroes is also quite intent in pressuring the player to complete its levels as fast as possible thanks to the two ever-present time limits. While the 88 second limit on completing a single level is pretty manageable, the problem comes from the 88 minute timer on the campaign. This limit is a huge problem because, while the level timer resets upon a death, the game timer does not. This means you really cannot waste time looking around with each hero because, if you die, you’ll have just wasted time and have to go all the way back to the beginning of a level. If you lose all your heroes, you always have the option of restarting with the very last hero you died with. However, you’ll also be stuck with whatever the game timer was set on, so if you don’t have enough time to complete the game, you’ll just end up getting stuck and not realizing it was too late.
Honey's Gameplay Consensus:
88 Heroes is the sort of game that might have been interesting as a side mode to a more fully fleshed-out title. Unfortunately, as a stand-alone game, 88 Heroes leaves a lot to be desired in spite of its fun premise due almost exclusively to its poor level design that’s more frustrating than it is satisfyingly challenging. The comedic writing feels like it’s there to make the frustration more bearable so you feel in on the joke, but most of the gags just ring hollow.
Extremely neat concept that you have to wonder why no one ever attempted something like it before
Appealing art style that’s satisfyingly crisp yet retro at the same time
Weak level design that’s simultaneously uninteresting and irritating
Humor for the most part falls flat
Bad camera that doesn’t draw attention to where you need to go next
Honey's Final Verdict:
At $30, 88 Heroes: 98 Heroes is a really tough sell. There’s not enough content in the game that will keep you playing long enough to justify the price, and what’s there is average at best. We’d love to see a redesigned follow-up that takes advantage of the fantastic set-up, but it’s probably best if the designers go back to the drawing board on this one and figure out what it is they want to do with the game that actually takes advantage of the alternating heroes mechanic, as well as a rewrite to the script. Have you played 88 Heroes? What’s your take on it? Let us know in the comments below!
Author: Matt Knodle
I come from Indiana, where I grew up near a video rental shop that proudly stated “The widest selection of anime in the state”, setting me on a course to enjoy as much anime as possible. I’ve devoted myself to over-analyzing various sports anime and video games probably more than they were ever intended. I currently co-host a weekly sports anime fan podcast called KoshienCast with my good friend, Matt.