Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: 88 Heroes


A game like 88 Heroes is pretty difficult to put a simple label on since to a pretty wild degree it is obviously determined to play by its own rules. The game’s story of impending doom with a whole lot of 88s involved may not be too odd but the eclectic crew of “heroes” you’ll take control of in order to save the world certainly are. Playing out half like a running gag and half as a relatively basic platformer I would certainly say I’ve never played anything quite like it, and there are both positives and negatives to go with that sentiment.


Visually 88 Heroes is a bit of a mixed bag, though I’d say it has clearly been designed to look the way it does and can respect the follow through. In the foreground you’ll see the alien coming to destroy us all lording over a video screen as members of his crew mill around and generally act as periodic distractions. It’s all a bit weird but it does lend to flavor. In terms of the game space itself the graphics actually look a bit like some older arcade titles I played back in the day. They’re generally simple and the spaces are a bit sparse but there’s some variety and flavor as you move around all the same. From hero to hero there’s a visual consistency to some degree but at the same time many of the them are essentially caricatures of characters from other games or popular culture so they take some liberties in some cases. For as many heroes as there are I have to give credit, they’re all well-drawn and animated for their somewhat limited move sets so I appreciate the dedication to doing as much as possible to make the game work visually while keeping a pretty simple art style.

In terms of gameplay it’s a really mixed bag for the most part, and to some degree I think the entire conceit of the heroes and their varying (and sometimes worthless) abilities is constructed merely to paint over the shortcomings and issues of the core gameplay. The levels themselves aren’t generally all that complex, they have combinations of jumping puzzles, traps, and enemies that will all kill your hero in one hit. Even some simple things like being under a platform and being touched by it will result in your exploding into pieces so things like that can be a bit aggravating at times. Jumping, in general, works well but overall how jumping is handled mechanically from hero to hero will vary a bit and this can also result in unnecessary deaths simply because you just started out but didn’t have a hang of the way they move or jump. Some heroes also have powers to shoot or attack but since this varies wildly in terms of if they shoot, how many shots they have, if their power is just cosmetic or does damage, and what range their attacks may have it’s a real crapshoot. Most of the time the level is simple enough to navigate and get through but it isn’t the level you’re fighting with, it is the random hero you’ve been assigned.


What will make or break the overall experience is the heroes and whether you enjoy the humor and antics associated with them or are aggravated by them. I absolutely laughed out loud at some of the ridiculous heroes and their powers that are often useful, but in some cases the gags involving heroes’ powers can get the best of you for negative outcomes. I worry potentially in ways that could be almost game-breaking if you did the wrong things. Some heroes have the ability to destroy walls or even the floor and in a critical spot I’d wonder if it would be possible to essentially make a portion of the map unpassable, at least for the majority of your heroes. Then there’s the problem of heroes that simply aren’t particularly well-suited to survival in the platforming scenarios they’re thrown into, with some of them I’d wager likely unable to get out of a paper bag. It’s a difficult line to walk between the absurdist humor of a hero who’s a mime who can only do the “pretending to be in a box” thing and the fact that for the most part his purpose is to be funny cannon fodder to die and not be seen again. In theory you could persevere and be successful even with poorly-matched heroes, and that can be cool, but at the same time a significant portion of your roster is there for laughs first and gaming success last and that can bite you a bit at times.

Ultimately 88 Heroes is a title that lives and dies by its humor, and that statement has meaning on several levels. It isn’t only that many of the heroes aren’t very useful, a compounding problem is that since almost all of them are unique in some way as a player you often have very little basis for how this character “works”. There’s no real opportunity to “git gud” with them or understand their nuances, you’re just going to run at your problems head-on and hope that your luck and reflexes will help you win the day. Granted, as you play through the game there’s no doubt you’d begin to work some of these things out but since the gameplay is relatively shallow once the surprises and jokes wear thin I’m not so positive the action itself holds up on its own to keep you compelled. I enjoyed my time with the game to a degree and some of the referential humor is a lot of fun but once you contemplate your third or fourth run and you’re looking to really play and beat the game as your priority nothing is going to stop some of the problems from seeping in.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • There are some great characters and jokes around popular movies and games that are entertaining
  • If you’re looking for something to just play and enjoy and you aren’t necessarily hyper-focused on success the game’s problems won’t bother you as much
  • Credit to the developers for having their concept and sticking with it, it is well-executed on the whole

Cons:
  • If the jokes fail to connect for you or quickly wear thin the game beneath it all isn’t terribly compelling
  • All of your heroes are quite fragile and you’ll often die due to your lack of familiarity with the hero you’re using since their abilities and movements vary pretty wildly
  • There are some serious problems you can get into with some heroes powers and their ability to ruin the level, opening the door to accidentally making parts of them problematic for many heroes
  • Given the overall content the MSRP feels a bit high, even if it does have a physical release


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