Twitch-based action-platformers have become a minor hit over the past few years. Games like Super Meat Boy made precision platformers popular again, while games like Broforce gave it a more action-oriented flare. 88 Heroes takes the idea of getting from point A to B with a character and mixes it up in about 88 different ways. While your core goal is to get to the end of the level, how you do it will change with every character you use. As the name implies, you have 88 heroes with which to play the stages with — and you swap out characters with each death. It’s one of the game’s many unique aspects, along with its bizarre storyline. Dr. H8 is obsessed with the number eight demands $88 octillion dollars be delivered to him in 88 or he’ll launch 88 warheads and take out Earth. It’s up to our heroes to save the day, and some of them sure do have their work cut out for them.
Every character plays a bit differently and like Broforce, it does draw some inspiration from popular culture for some characters. Gonan is a big brutish barbarian, while Not Crockett and Tubbs offer up a bit of single-controller co-op play to get tot he end of the level. El Delayo is both a favorite and a hindrance because true to his name, he has about a second of input lag before every command. Each playable character works differently in some form or fashion. 0088 is my favorite because he’s both accurate with jumping and shooting, but also holds a shaken and not stirred martini while trying to save the world. Harley Trotter offers up the most bizarre basketball player in a platformer action since Chaos in the Windy City, and he’s a surprisingly versatile character thanks to his jumping. Another character has the ability to shut off the power around him – which makes platforming challenges harder since you have less light to rely on, but makes enemies easier since they’re usually robotic and deactivated in the process.
Thankfully, the game goes beyond pop culture for most of its characters and delivers things that are truly absurd in a glorious way. Retro Reptile lets you get through a stage Snake-style, by gobbling up enemies and moving along a block-by-block path to success. Booster Goose uses his rocket-fueled capsule to possibly bypass the entire level if you want — but you have to be careful and observant of when you’re boosting and just what you’re throwing yourself into. Mr. Kung Fu loves avenging his master, but also throwing fireballs and punching enemies to kingdom come and is a lot of fun for those looking to inject a bit of beat-em-up style into a platformer. Nibbles is truly bizarre, and lets you go through levels with a defenseless hamster protected by a plastic ball. Power Jose is one of the most fun characters, and his fire-red outfit is one of the best-looking in the game and his powerful hose attack allows you to not only send yourself upwards, but also send enemies hurdling off-screen.
The game’s roster is a lot of fun to use and they all control really well. Given how different the characters need to move given their size, shape, and being animals encased in random things, you would expect a few of them to falter. However, except for El Delayo, where that’s the point of the character, every character controls just as you would expect them to. Their timing has to be learned, but once you do that over a few deaths, you’re good. The hardest part of the learning curve comes from switching from an offensive-based character to one that is entirely defensive. You have to retrain your brain a bit and make sure to use the brief starting areas with no enemies when they pop up to tinker with them for a moment and figure out whether they use short or long-range attacks or simply use defenses to win the day.
Beyond the diverse roster, one of the game’s most unique features lies in having Dr. H8 oversee the action from his lair. It gives the game a visual flair that stands out immediately since you’re almost in the background in a sense with him in the foreground staring at a screen and barking orders at, and maybe beating up from time to time, his underlings. The game’s sprite art is incredibly detailed and shows off some of the best-looking backgrounds in a 2D game in quite some time. Artwork is featured in many stages and it is all richly-drawn. The character art stands out, and with such a diverse roster, it really needed to. Each character feels different thanks to their animation and body language, and that couldn’t have been an easy feat given the sheer volume of playable characters featured.
88 Heroes does an incredible job at nailing a 16-bit style for everything, but the soundtrack does fall a bit short. It fits the theme and would be right at home on a Saturday morning cartoon, but isn’t really all that memorable outside of the game. There isn’t anything that will have you humming after a play session and it feels like a missed opportunity. Fortunately, the voice and sound effect work is outstanding and helps make up for that issue to a large degree. Most of the characters have voice work done for them and it’s all solid — even if there isn’t a lot to go on. It fits the characters, and adds to the overall presentation.
88 Heroes is an excellent 2D platformer that makes great use of a unique premise to make it infinitely replayable. Having 88 characters to choose from keeps each play session different while also giving you enough familiarity with the main goal to ensure that you have some idea of what to do for each stage. The controls are sharp and the graphics are gorgeous for what they need to be. The music could use some improvement, but its shortcomings are overcome by strong voice and sound effect work. Anyone craving a new 2D platformer with a unique twist on classic gameplay should check it out.