Sometimes the best games are the ones that don’t themselves too seriously. 88 Heroes – 98 Heroes Edition is exactly that. It imagines a world where the evil Dr. H8 has brought the world to its knees with the threat of launching 88 thermo-nuclear warheads at the Earth. His demands are that the citizens pay him $88 octillion within 88 minutes. Yeah, he has a thing with the number eight. The best superheroes were called upon, but they were too busy, so instead we get stuck with 88 (well this version actually has 98) hero rejects. Will you be able to defeat Dr. H8 and save the world in time with this ragtag group?
I absolutely love the way this game is laid out. Starting each level you are assigned a random hero from your pool of viable (alive) characters. You never know which one you’re going to get, so each level automatically has a sense of randomness to it because each and every character you play as has his or her unique abilities. Your goal is simple: find the exit before your 88 seconds run out. This is easier said than done since each stage is filled with hazards like spikes, lasers, rockets, and enemies. Your first time in each level can be gloriously stressful because you’re getting the lay of the land, figuring out how to best use your hero’s abilities, and trying to find the exit before the timer runs out and you’re put to death.
Much of the game’s charm lies with its vast array of superheroes. Most of the time they are very funny shells of characters we’ve come to know and love. Although sometimes they’re just weird and wacky, just the way I like them. For example, you might get stuck with a seemingly useless character in a rather difficult course. Glass Girl comes to mind. She’s as advertised: a girl made completely out of glass. That means you can’t fall too far or she’ll shatter. You can’t get too close to explosives or she’ll break. So basically, if you drew the short straw and get her on the wrong course, the difficulty has just spiked!
Every time a hero falls in battle the stage immediately resets and a new random hero is pulled from the ether. As you destroy enemies they will drop small blue coins that you can collect. After you’ve amassed enough you’ll be able to resurrect one of three possible heroes that have fallen in battle so they can be added back into the pool of heroes to use later in the game. You’ll need to make it through all of the game’s levels before running out of heroes or it will be game over!
Other notable heroes that I stumbled across were plenty strange, and some were extraordinarily fun to control. My favorite has to be Laser Kitty. That’s right, this little fur ball has a nice jump, but the best part is it can fire a huge green laser out of its mouth. This thing’s deadly and can take out anything in its path – the perfect weapon when you’re in a pinch. The tiny meow seals the deal! Dino Pop is a reject from Bubble Bobble. You’re a drunken dinosaur that can fart toxic bubbles to take out the enemies in your path. Anthony Gravity is a fun one to play because this alien can reverse gravity. That means he can traverse the ceilings at will, allowing you to completely avoid enemies and even find shortcuts, assuming the level you’re on has any. And then there’s War Snail. He’s a bit of a slow mover with an American flag painted on his shell. The mounted machine guns on the side of his body make short work of anything that stands in his way. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with many more heroes to control. Some won’t have any attack methods at all, and others will have wonky controls, but overall it’s fun to experiment with each and every one, and it’s really exciting when you get a specific character on a level and kind of break it to find the goal in unexpected ways.
I also really adore the presentation in 88 Heroes. The developers sort of aped Mystery Science Theater 3000 in that on the bottom of the screen is the evil Dr. H8 watching your every move on the monitor (which is the area you actually play on). During your entire game you’ll see him moving about, messing around with buttons and levers and quipping at how bad/good your are. Other characters will mill about by him as well, and sometimes they overlap with the bottom of your actual play area, which can be distracting at times, but it’s a really cool aesthetic. The game itself is presented with retro 2D graphics that look really good on the Switch. I like that there are realistic shadows that appear on the backgrounds, giving a bit of depth to the otherwise flat levels. For having so many playable characters I am equally impressed with the level of animation provided on each sprite. This must have taken a very long time to detail each superhero, which is all the more crazy because you often spend only a few seconds with each one.
The audio works well, but isn’t all that memorable. The soundtrack doesn’t get in the way and keeps the action moving. I do like Dr. H8’s evil quips and some of the heroes’ voices are funny as well.
I have to admit I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed my time with 88 Heroes. It’s a zany and fun game that you can instantly pick up and play for a few minutes and then come back to it at a later time. Each level is so small and contained that it lends itself perfectly to a handheld, which is how I mostly played through the game. However, it can become rather difficult as the game progresses, to the point where some will inevitably give up. Having a randomized hero can have a positive or negative impact on your success in any given stage, but it also keep you on your toes and makes each play through different than the last. Since you only get one chance with each hero, it can be hard to learn each of their special powers and to get good at them. The timer makes it impossible to fully explore each room and you could easily find yourself in a bind later on in the game because you’ve burned up all of your heroes. The other big negative is the price – $29.99 seems a bit much to pay for this type of game. Still, if money’s no object or if you find this one on sale, you’re bound to have a fun time!