Imagine, if you will, a band of great heroes. The world’s best hope in times of darkness. Who came to your mind? Perhaps it was the Justice League or the Avengers, superheroes banded together to fight for justice and right. Maybe you pictured The Fellowship of the Ring, or the crew of Starship Enterprise. Now if you will continue imagining, let’s say that all those great heroes are off on some other business when a terrible threat comes to destroy the world. Who is left to stop the darkness? What barrels have had their bottoms scraped in order to put together a crew capable of saving the planet?
That’s the question 88 Heroes seeks to answer.
88 Heroes is a 2D platformer about – well, 88 heroes. When the world is threatened and its greatest protectors can’t come, these are the 88 bozos that the rest of us have to count on. When Dr H8 attacks the planet to blackmail the world’s greatest nations out of 88 octillion dollars, these heroes rise to the challenge and seek to save the world. To do it, they’ll have to traverse 88 trap-filled areas in only 88 minutes. As if that isn’t enough, they have only 88 seconds to complete each room or Dr H8 will blast them to smithereens (88 smithereens, to be exact). Your goal as the player is to guide each of the 88 heroes through these challenges in order to defeat Dr H8 and save the world. But is this challenge worth 88 seconds of your time, let alone 88 minutes or more?
I’ll specifically be reviewing the 98 Heroes Edition of the game on the Nintendo Switch. This version is the ‘definitive edition’ of 88 Heroes, including all of the DLC along with the original game. As I haven’t played the original, I’ll be speaking about the whole package from my perspective as a total newbie to 88 Heroes.
88 Heroes is a 2D platformer styled after retro titles in the same genre. This game is not bringing photo-realistic graphics to the table, and it isn’t trying to. The visual style of the game is clearly modelled after older titles and that aesthetic works for it. These aren’t the Earth’s mightiest heroes, so the sprite art (and in some cases, pixel art) is a better fit for showing off just how goofy and ridiculous these people are.
Each of the heroes has a distinct design that makes them instantly recognizable. These designs don’t necessarily ‘go together’ in the sense that the heroes don’t all share one grand theme. Some are fantasy heroes with swords or sorcery, some are science fiction heroes with advanced technology. Some embrace the retro vibe strongly while others feel more modern in their design. This helps each hero to feel different, and there is a pretty solid amount of design diversity – although sometimes that diversity edges a little too closely to the ‘potential racism’ mark. I’m looking at you, circus panda that doesn’t speak in complete sentences.
Enemies, like playable characters, have a good variety of designs and some feel more retro than others. Their designs suit their environment nicely. The suit-wearing lizard swordsmen protecting the office are pretty distinct from the zombified rat monstrosities that scavenge the sewers. Speaking of the environments, the game features four distinct worlds to explore and they feel separate. Each one not only has different enemies to watch out for but different traps to navigate. Every environment has different set pieces that give it a distinct flavor and it definitely amps up how deadly everything feels. I remember my first transition from the relatively benign office to the darker, grittier sewer levels – the moment you change worlds the difference in design is clear and makes an immediate impact. I liked the different environments for the most part, but I felt that the volcano world was hard to see – many of the enemies or traps blended with the red-and-metal palette of the environment itself.
An interesting visual choice for this game is that you see the whole thing from the villain’s perspective. Everything happens on Dr H8’s master screen and this adds some fun visual touches to the game. He throws confetti whenever a hero is defeated, sometimes his robot minions block off parts of the screen or disconnect it entirely, and when Dr H8 himself comes to join the fray, he disappears from the seat where he is otherwise constantly perched while you platform. It’s not a huge touch but this was a clever way to add some gags to the game.
Sound design is as important as visual presentation, and the game does well in this category too, although perhaps a bit less so. The different levels within the same world have the same theme, so those songs tend to blend together pretty quickly. What changes things up musically is that specific characters have themes of their own. Saxy Dave, for example, always brings some smooth jazz along for his adventures, while the Conga Master inspires a tune you can really shake your groove thing to.
In addition to some characters having unique themes, all characters have soundbites or voice lines to enjoy. Hearing a character’s introduction is a big part of experiencing their personality; it really sets the tone for what the hero is like. This is a nice touch in a game that has no intention of exploring these heroes on a deeper level – they are expendable, after all, so no need to get too attached. I’ll be dedicating a whole section of this review to the heroes themselves, so we’ll talk about specific good and bad examples in a few minutes.
For me, the game’s music is where the presentation fell a bit short. Most of it didn’t feel particularly memorable, and the only song from the game I tend to get stuck in my head is the theme song. The sound design doesn’t detract from the game, but doesn’t necessarily add a lot to it either. This is an easy game to play while catching up on your favorite YouTuber’s videos – I mean, er, listening to A Tale of Two Cities being read by Judy Dench. That’s right, I’m classy enough for this blog!
Story and characters
Much of the story of this game I established in the overview above – 88 heroes are tasked with defeating Dr H8 before he destroys the world (or robs it of 88 octillion dollars, I suppose). It doesn’t get more detailed than that and it really doesn’t have to. Retro-inspired 2D platformer, right? This game is very much about the gameplay and about the goofy characters that inhabit the game world, so let’s talk in more detail about the 98 heroes you’ll meet.
88 Heroes is chock full of references to the retro games which have inspired it. You know that bubble-shooting puzzle game with the dinosaur? That dinosaur is a character. The snake from Snake is a character. There are characters inspired by Mario, Indiana Jones and Aladdin, all heroes of early platforming adventures. But those aren’t the only references you’ll find here. There are references to Rick-rolling, the Harlem Globetrotters, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Ninja Turtles. There’s a character with a Portal gun, if you like your gaming references a little more modern. And if a character isn’t a reference, their name is probably a pun that will make you groan louder than a Dad joke at a zombie convention.
Most of the character designs and their audio quips are a lot of fun. There are a few designs that are guilty of being a bit uninspired, but really only one that I consider to be flat-out bad. One cruddy design and a few mediocre ones ultimately is pretty solid for a game with almost 100 characters! Of course, a solid design from a technical perspective and a solid design from a mechanical one can be very different things, and it can be frustrating to play as a character who looks cool but can’t deliver when it comes to trying to beat a level.
My favorite character in the game is probably What? No, stop answering! That wasn’t a question! What? is a big question mark in the style of the Microsoft Office paperclip who interrupts the action of the game with quips and advice. The game doesn’t keep going while it’s talking so you can take a second to read the joke and laugh at the circumstances. Some of my favorite interruptions have been when What? told me the potential prison sentence for murdering a bad guy, or when it asked me to consider what I could have done differently when I planted it into a bubbling vat of acid.
I enjoyed many other characters as well, some for their mechanical applications and some for their design. Retro Reptile is really frustrating to play as, but it’s pretty cool to try to figure out how to get through a level while playing Snake at the same time. Batbot stops time when it stops moving, so you can carefully navigate around traps by moving tiny increments at a time, and its ability to fly enables you to skip entire sections of some levels. The Enemy blends in with the bad guys so they won’t try to attack it when it moves around the level. As you play you’ll learn more about how each character operates and develop your own preferences.
While it’s tough to experiment with each character in 88 Mode (the main game mode), you can play around with them in Training in order to test out what they can do. While most characters are pretty simple in their applications, some have special abilities that you can only figure out by taking risks. Nibbles the Destroyer, for example, seems like he cannot attack, but can actually defeat enemies and destroy certain kinds of traps by rolling into them at top speed. Conga Master draws enemies into the conga line by passing by them. Captain President can become temporarily invulnerable by pressing the attack button while ducking. Because preserving heroes is important to ultimately completing this game, you’ll want to learn how they operate in the field. That brings us nicely to what is perhaps the most important category:
88 Heroes has a very simple control scheme. You move, you have a jump button and an action button, and you can hold ZL/ZR and move the control stick to look around the level. Because different characters play in unique ways, this is sometimes changed up a bit. Some characters cannot jump, others cannot duck, and some really odd ones cannot do either. Sometimes the action button is an attack, sometimes it is a shield, sometimes it is a movement ability. You’ll have to learn the nuances between each character but it isn’t as if you are learning a drastically different control scheme for each one. And if you need help, there’s always a basic description of what the character can do when they first hit the field.
As a platformer, the goal of this game is for you to run, jump, and duck your way through a level to reach the ‘other side’, or in this case an exit door that leads to the next level. There are few variations to this challenge, with the most interesting (in my opinion) being the sewer area where you have to retrieve keys to open the door. You’ll sometimes spawn right next to the door, but have to go retrieve the key and then come all the way back to open it. Most of the other areas aren’t that complex – the only challenge with the door is navigating the traps and enemies around it. Sometimes the level might be maze-like so it’s difficult to find the door, as well.
I personally am pretty awful at platformers, and I discovered that fact very quickly in this game. You have to be patient but you also can’t hesitate, because running ahead unprepared and taking too long to make a jump are both things that will get you killed in most levels. There were times where the controls (particularly the jump button) felt a bit unresponsive to me; I wasn’t able to identify if it was this game specifically or something related to the Switch, but at this point I’m contributing it to my lack of skill as a player. The further into the game you get the trickier the jumps and timing – there are sometimes very small squares of safety in an area, and when you throw in characters with weird gravity or abnormally large body shapes, you can often find yourself getting destroyed for even the slightest misstep.
The race against the clock is part of what really amps up the challenge of the game. In my most successful playthrough, I just barely made it to the early parts of the volcano with only a handful of heroes remaining. My final hero ended up being Batbot, who I described earlier as being a character that both flies and stops time when it isn’t moving. Having this character as my final living hero allowed me to clear a massive portion of the game – without having to worry about other heroes, each defeat simply gave me a game over that then immediately allowed me to retry the level. With the power to stop time, Batbot carried me through the entire volcano world and up to the very end of the space base. The thing is, I had already consumed too much time in the sewer, so by the time I got to the final three levels, I had only one second left and it became completely impossible for me to complete the game on that playthrough. In order to finish, I’d have to start over again and clear everything out faster.
This is an aspect of the game that’s really interesting but also really frustrating. The constantly ticking clock forces you to move through each level as quickly as possible, especially when you boil it down to the fact that the levels actually give you more time than you can realistically spend. Let’s look at the math again. You have 88 seconds to complete each level but only 88 minutes to complete the entire game. Since there are 88 rooms to navigate, that means you can really only spend an average of 60 seconds per room if you want to beat the game. Having almost an extra 30 seconds per level can tempt you into taking a lot more time than is truly appropriate, and once again, this isn’t helped by the fact that some characters just aren’t mechanically optimized for the experience. While some characters have specialties that make them really good in specific levels, you honestly do yourself a favor by cutting out the less-than-ideal heroes immediately with the “deton8” option instead of wasting time trying to finish the game with them in your party.
In this way, 88 Heroes is actually a pretty challenging game. The fact that you can take too much time early on and make victory impossible for yourself is pretty much a guarantee that this game will take multiple playthroughs. Like many 2D platformers, the game is about memorizing patterns and mastering your control of the character so you can muscle-memory your way through each level in as little time as possible. I described this gameplay style to my wife and she equated it to speedrunning, which I think is a pretty appropriate comparison.
I say all this to say that 88 Heroes will probably appeal to a specific type of gamer. If you enjoy repeating a level until you have mastered it, trying to beat your best time, and memorizing the patterns of traps and enemies, this game will be right up your alley. If you are someone who wants to be able to take your time so you can complete a challenge on the first go, this game will likely not appeal to you. You won’t be able to get to the end that way.
For me, that was frustrating more often than it was fun. Because I tended to struggle the most during the middle/end of the sewers, it wasn’t as if I could easily practice those levels specifically in order to get better at them. I would have to struggle my way through, get down to one last cruddy hero, and then repeat the whole office area again to get back to where I was in the sewers. Each time I was a little better at the levels I had completed before, but once I got to those later levels again my familiarity was lower because I’d only been able to practice once. I can imagine that this would be even more frustrating at even later points in the game – in my experience I was able to circumvent that somewhat by playing as Batbot, but honestly being able to just fly through most of the levels cheapened the experience a bit. At that point, platforming was no longer part of the equation – it was just about well-timed flying.
So let’s talk about getting your money’s worth. I played this game for free thanks to the generous folks at Reverb Inc. and the equally generous folks here at A Most Agreeable Pastime. It’s hard for me to ‘objectively’ discuss the subject of value. But having set aside some of my sparse free time to play this game for the purpose of reviewing it, I’ve invested something into it and I think I can manufacture a pretty healthy understanding of what this thing should reasonably cost.
First off, let’s look at it mathematically. 88 Heroes – 98 Heroes Edition costs $29.95 in ‘Murica Cash(TM) to buy from Nintendo on the eShop. Now that doesn’t feel completely unreasonable if we’re thinking about the fact that the game has two DLC packs included alongside the original game, right? Here’s the thing, though – the DLC characters and stages are free. This means you are playing nearly $30 for 88 levels you have to complete in 88 minutes with 88 characters. That’s not a small amount of money, particularly when you can get the regular version of this game on Steam for $15 and then just download the free DLC. Does Switch portability make it $15 more? For me personally, I would say no.
Now one thing I haven’t discussed yet when it comes to value is that there’s more than one game mode here. The classic mode is 88 Mode where you play through the levels with 88 of the 98 available heroes. There’s also the Magnificent 8, where you choose only 8 of the heroes to try and survive the whole game. And finally, there is Solo Mode, where you choose only 1 of the heroes to try and survive the whole game. While this certainly adds replayability in the form of trying to get achievements for finishing these modes, it doesn’t add replayability in the sense that you are ultimately playing the same levels over again, just with a smaller selection of characters.
“But Ian,” you might say, “you said yourself that this isn’t your kind of game. Would this game be worth $30 to someone who enjoys challenging 2D platformers with a strict time limit?” Well, that’s certainly a possibility, and it is ultimately YOUR decision as the consumer whether or not you think this game will be worth it for you. But I’m a frugal guy with a limited budget, and if I can get this exact same content for fifteen bucks on my computer and the only disadvantage is that I can’t play on the go – well, I’m willing to make that sacrifice. If you use a service like GameFly or you have a store locally that still does video game rentals, this is a Switch game that I would recommend as a ‘rent’ rather than a ‘buy’. It’s fun for what it is, but the typical player won’t get $30 of mileage out of it.
88 Heroes – 98 Heroes Edition is a fun little indie gem that challenges your platforming ability with a fun and quirky cast of characters. It is overpriced on the Switch but an identical experience is available for another platform at half the price – if you’re interested in 2D platformers and my descriptions of what this game is like sounded fun to you, I fully recommend you check out the Steam version of the game. I enjoyed my time with 88 Heroes, but this isn’t my sort of game – so if you do enjoy the genre then I think there is definitely something to love here for you.
I want to say a big thanks to Lucius for inviting me to write this review and providing me with a free code so I could try out this game. If you’re reading this review and are not yet a follower of A Most Agreeable Pastime, I fully recommend that you rectify that immediately. There’s some great talent here and you don’t want to miss out on the other reviews they have coming up.
If you read this whole thing and thought something like “hey, this Ian guy isn’t so bad, maybe I would read his other stuff,” then you check out my blog Adventure Rules by clicking the link. I don’t do a ton of reviews but I have a lot of opinion pieces and some guides, so you can check those out if you like. Thanks for taking the time to read this review today, and I hope it helped you make a firm decision about 88 Heroes – 98 Heroes Edition!
Disclosure statement: Review code for 88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition was provided by Reverb Inc. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.
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