What do you get when you combine Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and classic 80’s gaming? The brand new 2D platformer, 88 Heroes.
Built by rising indie stars Bitmap Bureau, the object of the game is simple: a roster of 88 second (third, and fourth)-string heroes are called to action to stop the evil plans of Dr. H8. With a time limit of 88 seconds per room and 88 lives, the player must navigate 88 levels full of death traps. Each of the titular 88 heroes come with unique abilities, and generally a heap of parody as well. Whether you’re playing as one of the four pizza-scarfing ninja aardvarks, or the big-hearted ginger-haired crooner Rick Roll, you might be laughing too hard to stay focused on the game. But don’t feel too bad when your heroes inevitably fall into spike traps, or get crushed by giant, bouncing technicolor skulls – there’s plenty more where they came from.
Although minimalist arcade-style games are often rehashed among small developers, very few can truly capture the quirks and magic of what was such a formative era for the gaming industry. Such games need to be easy to pick up but hard to master, and enticing enough that you push through no matter how many Game-Overs you get, and flashy enough to encourage your peers to cheer you on (or trash talk) while they wait for their turn at the controls For a deceptively simple 2D platformer, it’s a lot of balls (and one rocket-propelled space goose) to keep in the air. But with smooth mechanics and a lot of heart, they pull it off.
Controls tend to be straightforward – generally, heroes can jump, with one or two unique moves which range from offense to strategic. You might blast through baddies as Boomstick Benny, or prefer a speedrun where you streak past obstacles as Jim Nastics. Suffice it to say, if you prefer games that are somber or at least less on the nose, you can wait outside and I’ll see you in 88 minutes. But it’s often seemingly simple things that require complex thought and design, which is evident from the massive roster of hilarious heroes, many of which aren’t as straightforward as they seem.
There is no denying that the game can be, just like its style suggests, vintage-style hard. The lives system can make the difficulty curve unpredictable at times – a foul step with a character you were enjoying, and you respawn at the start of the level with a hero whose skill set may not compliment your own. It can get tense and sometimes even fatalistic when time and lives become limited, but each playable character has their own one-of-a-kind and highly imaginative abilities, which just about makes the journey more fun than the destination. This is a rare sort of game that remains fun even while losing, so you’re never down and out for long. Compared to the current trend of dark and moody triple-A games that opt for hardness and level-grinding over substance, a game like 88 Heroes is a breath of fresh, candy-colored and pizza-flavored air. Rather than flippantly suggesting for players to “Git Gud,” the developers at Bitmap sat down and created an engaging, joyful, and yes, good game.
Overall, it’s a rare thing to see games where the developers clearly had as much fun making it as people do playing it, but 88 Heroes hits the spot.
Developer: Bitmap Bureau
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Released: March 24th, 2017
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