In an era dominated by self-serving politicians, Brexit, and ecological apathy, one might expect a thematic shift toward the serious across the arts. But occasionally, the pressing issues of the day can overwhelm- requiring at least a short-term dose of escapism. Those seeking diversion from the distressing would be advised to give 88 Heroes. Crafted by several former MegaDev developers (Super House of Dead Ninjas, Knightfall) the title is a deft diversion, extending a roster of comical protagonists and mechanics that will test the prowess of platforming aficionados.
88 Heroes’ opening test crawl signals its barrage of irreverent humor, extending a retro-inspired impetus to drive the action. Dr. H8, a cycloptic, glass-helmet wearing, antagonist has offered the Earth an ultimatum: either pay an 88-octillion dollar ransom within 88 minutes or the 88 thermo-nuclear warheads will be launched. With the world’s first-string saviors occupied with other duties, liberation is left to the 88 Heroes, a group of rag-tag wannabees that allow Bitmap Bureau to flaunt their satirical strengths.
88 Heroes’ goal is surprisingly straightforward. Players must navigate through 88 stages (broken into four different milieu), moving from a starting gate to an escape door which leads to the next stage. At the end of each quadrant, they face Dr. H8 for a brief boss battle that recall the timeless showdowns between Sonic and Dr. Robotnik. Although procedurally generated levels are prevalent for platformers, Heroes shirks the trend, with each subsequent stage slowly increasing the level of challenge. Initially, threats are sporadic with the occasional bottomless pit and platform capable of crushing the protagonist. But Dr. H8’s growing increasing incensed by your progress, as spikes, laser beams, and patrolling guards make each jaunt a learning experience.
Nuance, as the title implies, stems from your selection of secondary saviors. Play through 88 Mode and you’ll have the entire cast at your disposal, with a procession of protags having 88 seconds to make it to the exit. Initially, you’ve given a small area to discover the abilities of each assigned hero. Beyond different movement speeds, and jump heights, most come with a special ability. Some are articulated by the game, like Disco the dog’s ability to release and fetch a Frisbee or the Dojo Duo’s ability to toss shuriken. But other capacities come from careful study or even accident, with the Pitfall Harry-like Penelope Pixel able to walk across spikes or Amira Of Arabia able to pull herself up ledges, Prince of Persia style.
Miraculously, almost every character pokes fun at video game clichés, or popular properties. ‘What?’ is a question mark icon who lampoons Clippy, the notorious Microsoft Office assistant, pausing play to deliver irreverent advice, while Saxy Dave references the spirited saxophone player meme’d after the 2010 Eurovision contest. While many Heroes exhibit competency, there are some who lack any offensive ability or like have significant weakness. More than a few times, with an exit door was in sight, we neglected to use Glass Girl’s wall-descending ability and watched her tragically shatter. Yes, there will be times when you might feel that 88 Heroes doesn’t give you a fair shake, but all too often watching a protagonist die an instant death is all too humorous.
The levity does help to offset the high level of difficulty. While you have 88 opportunities to surpass all the of the stages (plus any extras by collecting 88 coins and thereby resurrecting a hero), a strict 88-minute time limit ensures a high degree of tension as players close in on the last few stages. Numerous times we either ran out of heroes or time, producing a succession of no less than 888 profanities. But like many modern titles, there’s a slender path to success. But identifying that path is part of the fun, and should please players seeking an elevated challenge, as they learn the game’s stages and master control of each character.
Beyond 88 Mode, The Magnificent 8 avoids the random selection of Heroes after each death or cleared stage, allowing players to select an octet of their favorites. Solo mode involves selecting a single character, signifying a level of challenge that puts Super Meat Boy to shame. On PC, the game largely runs without any hitches on even modest rigs, save for a sporadic instance of stutter for a micro-second witness on a number of machines. It’s so brief, that you probably won’t notice unless you’re looking for it, but purists should be warned. Although the game’s soundtrack is rather mild, bit of dialog from Heroes and Dr. H8 endow personality.
While 88 Heroes mechanics and level design are solid, it’s the actual Heroes that are the stars of the game. While pixelated, each conveys personality though action, appearance, and utterance, making 88 Heroes a memorable experience for platforming masochists. In a picture-perfect world, beating the game would unlock 3D printer designs for its roster, offering players a chance to tribute to this fine cast of secondaries.
88 Heroes was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developers: Bitmap Bureau
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Release date: March 24th, 2017
Launch Price: $14.99 via Steam, PSN, and XGS, retail version $19.99 (PS4 and Xbox One)