Everything about 88 Heroes is utterly absurd, but in all of the right ways. Think back to 8:08am on the 8th of August 1988. Do you remember an evil genius named Dr. H8 and his plan to bring total annihilation to the world unless he’s paid $88 octillion in 88 minutes? Me neither, but that’s the premise of the game and it’s a fantastic one. Fortunately we have the 88 Heroes, a group of heroes that… well… aren’t always the most effective, but somehow manage to get the job done. It’s up to them to bring an end to Dr. H8’s evil plan and save the world in the process.
There are 88 chaotic levels to work through, each of which is imposed with an 88 second time limit. You’ve got to get through the entirety of the game within 88 minutes too, so there’s plenty going on to make the journey a frantic one. Fortunately though it’s incredibly enjoyable, with 88 Heroes providing one of the most uniquely bizarre platforming experiences I’ve had in some time.
Naturally the real highlight of 88 Heroes is the heroes themselves, with (unsurprisingly) 88 playable characters to use in total. Every time you start a new level you’re given one of these characters at random, or alternatively each time you die a different character is introduced. Dying in 88 Heroes means that character can’t be used again, unless you collect (you guessed it) 88 coins and revive them. This isn’t a cut and dry process though seeing as you’re given a choice of three random dead characters to revive, meaning it’s no guarantee you’ll be able to bring back the character you were hoping to.
It’s what each of these 88 characters brings to the game that’s most special though. The cast is completely bonkers, with a diverse mixture of pop-culture parodies and some highly original creations on offer. You’ve got heroes like the barbaric Gonan and his giant sword, suave cocktail glass carrying spy 0088, Rick Roll and his unfaltering commitment to ‘never giving you up’, as well as four armadillos who look suspiciously similar to a group of ‘teenage turtles’ you might be familiar with…
It’s isn’t just their appearance that’s great though, but how each character plays too. Whilst there are certainly some which don’t differentiate all that much between each other, some are incredibly unique and really show the imagination the development team had when putting the game together – they offer so many different ways to play 88 Heroes that it almost makes it impossible to fully define the game’s genre.
Take the Bat Bot for example – not only can he fly around freely through levels, but time only moves forward when he’s in motion. There’s also the Stroppy Chick whose momentum in movement is kept up by constantly tapping a button in a similar way to cult mobile hit ‘Flappy Bird’. Talking about mobile games, there’s also Retro Reptile who makes the game literally play like the classic ‘Snake’ game found on old Nokia mobile phones. Then there’s the likes of Mighty Mite whose super tiny but can jump incredibly high, Captain Colossus who is absolutely huge and can crush those smaller than him, and Miss Fortune whose power is a coin toss – get heads and you automatically complete the level, but get tails and it’s an instant death. There isn’t just platforming on offer in 88 Heroes, but an incredibly diverse amount of ways to play that constantly challenges the player to adapt to the hero they’re given.
The fact that you’re only with each hero for a short amount of time keeps the game feeling incredibly fresh. I found myself genuinely excited to see who I’d play as and what exactly they brought to the game. Sure, there were some disasters along the way where my complete lack of knowledge would see me accidentally kill my character instantly, but that just added to the novelty of the experience. Nearly all of the characters in 88 Heroes are fun to play as though, with their absurdity adding to the overall charm.
The 88 levels are spread out across only four different environments, so there is a small sense of familiarity to be found as you progress through the game. The short nature of it (it’s only meant to last 88 minutes after all) means you never really get fed up of them though, so don’t expect to feel bored at any time. Each level is incredibly well designed too, with them not only typically offering multiple routes and secrets to be found, but also providing a decent challenge along the way. There’s also the fact that new mechanics are introduced as you progress, meaning you’ve constantly got to adjust how you play as well as look out for any new hazards that’ll try to hinder your progress.
There are a few awkward instances in the level design though, such as when the previously mentioned Captain Colossus was unable to progress through a stage due to the walls not accommodating his huge size. Given that each hero’s life is pretty sacred (especially for a badass like the Captain) it was a shame to have to simply sacrifice him thanks to some iffy design in one level. It only occurred to me once, but it did leave me wondering if given similar circumstances it could happen on other levels too.
This random nature of the game adds a sense of imbalance to the difficulty too, with some characters much better suited for some levels than others. Now this isn’t really a complaint since the game was built around it, but it can be frustrating to constantly end up with characters that aren’t well suited to a particular level’s design. There were a few occasions where I’d really need a character that can fight at distance, only to get a plethora of close-range heroes sent my way. It could be frustrating, but that’s the way 88 Heroes works.
On the flip side, it also means levels have an extra degree of replayability to them. Each character plays so differently that you constantly have to adapt to find ways to progress through. I remember one occasion where I struggled my way through a level only to be killed by a falling exploding cat right at the very end; with the new character I was given and his different set of abilities, I had to find a whole new way to get through the level the second time around. It ensures the game is constantly kept entertaining and it rarely feels like you’re doing the same thing more than once – it’s a sign of solid game design and something I could really appreciate.
Outside of the standard story mode there’s also ‘The Magnificent 8’ mode that sees you take eight heroes of your choice through the game, as well as ‘Solo’ mode that let’s you take just one hero through. It’s a good way to play if you’ve found a particular hero you like and would rather play the game as a traditional platformer, but losing the randomness of what the game throws at you takes away from some of the charm. These modes aren’t available from the get go though, so you’ve got to experience the game as it’s meant to be played first anyway.
I’ve got a lot of love for 88 Heroes and the diverse gameplay experience it constantly delivers. You really never know what to expect each time a new character enters the fray – the game constantly switches up how you have to play, but without sacrificing the enjoyment of the player in the process.
As much as I want to give the game an 8.8 score though, there are a few things that hold it back. It’s a fairly short experience and there isn’t a whole lot to come back to after completing it, whilst I did encounter one moment where I wasn’t able to progress because of my hero’s power. Sure, it wasn’t a constant problem, but the one occasion was enough to frustrate.
Still, none of those issues stops 88 Heroes offering a great platforming experience. If you want some zany fun with a cast of some of the most anarchic heroes you’ll ever come across, you really need to check it out.
Developer: Bitmap Bureau
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Release Date: 24/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed),PC, Mac, Linux