Apparently these new-fangled superhero movies are all the rage nowadays! People seem to really connect with demi-gods fighting insectoid aliens while destroying cities, and with such memorable characters how could you not? There's Wonder Woman, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Batman, Glass Girl, Jim Nastics, The Great Bloctopus - all classics! Oh, and if you don't recognise a few names from that list then you'd better get acquainted with a new wave of superzeroes, the only ones left who can save the day when things kick into 8th gear and calamity strikes.
88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition takes the superhero cliché and turns it on its head by simply asking - what if they all sucked? It's fine and dandy when Superman is on call, but when the best are busy it's a totally different story as a team of freaks and outcasts are sent instead. Bitmap Bureau has packed in ten extra characters and a new game mode for this Switch release, so without a doubt it's a tempting deal, but can there be too much of a good thing?
First things first; yes there absolutely are 98 different heroes available to play as over the course of the game, each of them touting their own set of abilities with varying degrees of ineffectiveness. They aren't the only stars of the show however, as the entire game is viewed from the perspective of its villain, Dr.H8. This tentacled creep keeps a watchful eye over everything from a gigantic monitor, and both he and his minions are a permanent fixture of the foreground. If his demands for $88 octillion aren't met within 88 minutes, then he's got 88 nuclear warheads ready to turn earth into space rubble, a grim f8 to be sure. Humour undoubtedly plays a huge part in proceedings, and even your death is celebrated as confetti falls in front of Dr.H8's screen amidst his gleeful taunting. The unique perspective lends so much personality to the entire game that we struggle to imagine playing without that villainous alien sitting in our peripheral vision.
While your abilities will vary greatly from hero to hero, in general things play out as a standard platformer with traps, enemies, and pitfalls to avoid. There are several different modes to try out, the main event being 88 Mode, where you have to clear 88 levels within 88 minutes using 88 lives. Each life represents a different hero, who will randomly be chosen at the start of each level. Much of the game's appeal comes from this random roulette of losers, as you wonder who on earth could be next up in your team and try to figure out what way each hero works. As you spawn there's a brief explanation of their dubious powers, but putting that into practice is an entirely different matter.
Take Harley Trotter for example. He controls like a standard platform hero and can toss a basketball as his main attack, but is left absolutely powerless until you manually chase after the ball and pick it back up again. Drop it down a pit by mistake, and you're stuck without any attack at all. Or MK Twice, a Miami cop duo who tote double the fire power, but can easily shoot each other by mistake if one gets caught in the crossfire.These simple little twists keep you on your toes and will easily result in more than a few accidental deaths, as you're presented with a hero only to watch them crash and burn within seconds. There's even one character who arrives holding an active bomb, forcing you to keep the attack button pressed for the entire level to avoid an untimely detonation.
There are some familiar faces amongst the lineup as well, with the addition of characters from other indie titles, such as good ol' Rusty from SteamWorld Dig and the Conga Master from Conga Master Party. It's a dubious honour to feature alongside thoroughly useless heroes such as Mr.Average, but it's still a fun surprise to see them pop up every once in a while. Expect plenty of references to pop culture and internet memes as well, though thankfully the original characters shine through the most, with some fun voice acting for every single hero.
This undeniable variety keeps each new life feeling different and fresh, with new abilities to work with and a different way to tackle tricky situations. The levels are basic by necessity, as they need to cater for a multitude of playstyles, especially considering several characters can smash through walls, teleport around obstacles, or even fly around and skip entire sections. You'll move from office blocks to sewers and beyond, but everything begins to feel uninspired and samey after a while due to the fairly rudimentary, blocky design which permeates each area regardless of the aesthetic. In an attempt to cater for every single hero, the game strikes a mediocre balance in level design that's utilitarian rather than exciting. Each level runs on an 88 second time limit, so there's an element of trial and error as you explore, with every hero dying after a single hit. You can look ahead to scope out possible threats, but with a timer ticking you're far more likely to be caught unawares and watch that full team of 88 drop very quickly indeed.
The difficulty ramps up in later areas, but offers a substantial challenge even early on, as you adjust to the unique gameplay options and struggle to navigate around even simple hazards. Levels are dotted with keys, traps and coins, the latter of which is used to buy back your favourite fallen heroes from a limited selection. Having so many characters is both hilarious and unfortunately frustrating when some are objectively better than others, so losing them is a real blow. Once you're out of lives there's the option to continue with the last hero left alive, but attempting to clear the rest of the levels with just one remaining character is a tall order, making restarts downright inevitable. While playing through the exact same areas all over again, attempting to preserve the best heroes, it's easy to feel irritation kick in and wipe away much of the fun.
88 Mode might be the main event, but there are variations on this with both Solo and The Magnificent 8 modes, which allow you to hand pick a single hero or a team of 8 to try and clear the game. There's also the devious H8 mode included with this Switch release, a set of 8 additional levels which are designed to really test your skills by throwing extra spikes, extra lasers, and extra everything into the mix. If you'd like to get to grips with some particular characters then there's a training mode available as well, which can provide a welcome bit of breathing room given the time constraint of the actual levels in-game. Also included are a few dozen token achievements, if you're inclined to play long enough to earn them all.
All of these modes essentially work the same way, which makes for an extremely basic and frustrating platformer that relies on its charm and character to keep your attention. Due to the presentation, music and humour being so strong in this case, for the first couple of hours this actually pays off, and 88 Heroes can even work with a crowd watching on as you discover all the weirdo heroes, laughing at the bizarre voice work and the added fun of Dr. H8's security camera perspective. Again, all of the emphasis has been placed on the 98 main characters, as the enemy designs are both repetitive and poorly animated, while the heroes themselves look and move a whole lot better. Some of the most half-baked examples are the bosses which cap off the final level in each area. They're beyond lazy and feel like a useless inclusion, again due to the fact that they need to cater to 98 different playstyles.
Technically, it's possible by design to clear the main mode within the 88 minute time limit, but it's unlikely that most players will manage this on their first few attempts. The levels aren't mixed up in any way on repeated playthroughs, so it does get stale before too long, giving little reason to play on once you've grown accustomed to all of the heroes on offer. If you come in expecting a fun two or three hours of gameplay then you won't be disappointed, but for the asking price at the time of writing that's a bit of a stretch.
88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition took on the gargantuan challenge of cramming 98 playable characters into a single game, and while we commend the attempt the results have been a little shy of heroic. There's so much diversity to the size, shape, and moveset of each hero, that it comes at the cost of a more tightly designed set of levels and challenges. There's a lot of personality to every aspect of its presentation, and the heroes themselves are fantastic fun to mess around with, so it's just a shame that it falls a little short overall. If you're looking for something thoroughly silly and don't mind it being a short lived experience, then this is almost gr8, but don't expect much in the way of replayability m8.