88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition is one of those games that has a completely ridiculous concept and execution. It's the kind of game you just laugh at the first couple of times you play it because you're not sure what's going on. The more I played it, though, the more I found myself getting invested in the mechanics, trying my best to complete it. This silly arcade title has some enjoyable mechanics at its core, even if it is marred by some frustrating elements.
On August 8, 1988, the evil Dr. H8 has come to lay the smackdown on humanity. He has a doomsday device ready to go off in 88 minutes unless he receives $88 octillion dollars, and it's up to 88 of Earth's most mediocre heroes to stop him (though this new version of the game comes with an additional ten heroes). In case you haven't noticed, there's a theme here: the story is completely absurd. But that's fine, because it matches the absurd gameplay.
The game, at its core, is a basic action platformer. You'll jump from one platform to the next, evading obstacles and attacking enemies, in order to get to the elevator in each room. You'll proceed upwards through the 96 (88, plus another eight) rooms, occasionally taking a break to fight a boss every 22 rooms or so. This would be pretty unremarkable on its own, but the game immediately takes a turn for the bizarre.
In the game's standard 88 Mode, you have 88 expendable heroes to play as while making your way up the tower. You're given a new random hero every time you die or enter a new level, and critically, each one plays differently from the rest. Some characters are your standard run-and-gun characters, some can fly, some can't attack, some have special abilities, and some are just complete jokes. You'll never know what you're about to get, and with every death or every success you have to adapt to a totally new set of mechanics. It's totally absurd, but it's also a lot of fun, for the most part.
Some characters are perfectly suited for this sort of game, and other characters are completely and totally useless, only there for the humor value. This includes characters like El Delayo, whose every action is incredibly delayed from when you press the button, and What?, a character who periodically gives you tips, making fun of Clippy the Paperclip from Microsoft Office. Other characters pay homage to other games like Portal or Superhot, while still others come directly from other games, like Rusty from the Steamworld series. The joke characters seem there just to be annoying or humorous, and you'll go through them quickly as you move on to a character that can platform competently. It can be funny to suddenly switch to an absurd character, though when you start running into several of them in a row it can get kind of annoying, especially when you start to get desperately low on heroes.
You start with the full army of 88 heroes, and each time a character dies, it's taken out of the rotation. You can get them back, though. Hidden through the levels are a number of coins, and once you collect 88 coins, you're able to resurrect a dead hero and bring it back into the rotation. This can be extremely useful when you've lost your favorite hero and want to get them back, and it makes the loss of a really useful hero sting a bit less. It still does sting, though; I ran into several heroes that were unquestionably my top performers, and whenever I lost one it was a painful moment. I don't know how I would have gotten through many of those levels without Bat Bot.
For the most part, the levels are well designed. They get challenging pretty quickly, and once you get into the second of four areas you'll have to show some significant skill to make it through each room. Unfortunately, you are going to lose a lot of lives to things you simply couldn't see, and it's going to be very frustrating. Your viewport isn't quite big enough to see all the obstacles that can kill you; I was often killed by a laser that suddenly appeared, having been shot from offscreen, and it was awful every time it happened. Not only that, but whenever you're given a new hero, a good 60% of the screen is covered in a quick refresher on how that character controls, and it can completely hide the fact that there's a spike pit to your right. If I could just see more, I would have liked this game a lot more; as it was, there were too many deaths that felt unfair and left me yelling at my Switch.
After you play 88 Mode and see a bunch of the game's heroes, several other modes become available to you. The Magnificent 8 lets you choose eight heroes to tackle the game with, so you can choose a capable army that you're used to; I like this mode a lot, as it lets me play the game in a much more serious way, buckling down to take on the game's levels. Solo Mode gives you a single hero, challenging you to get as far as you can. Lastly, H8 Mode gives you all 88 heroes to play through eight extremely difficult levels. These extra modes are great, as they let you play the game more seriously if you feel like it, and don't want to deal with playing as a dog that has one Frisbee to attack with.
The game has some pretty good pixelated art going on. There's nothing too special about the levels themselves, but the heroes all have different styles to them and are well drawn. The whole game is viewed through Dr. H8's monitor as he watches the heroes bumble their way through his lair, and it's fun to watch him take sips of his drink, talk to underlings, and drop confetti whenever a hero dies. The sound is alright, too: each of the heroes has its own voice, as well as Dr. H8, and they're all fun and over-the-top. The game has solid music as well, but it's not the kind of stuff that will stick with you for a while.
88 Heroes is an arcade-style game through and through; your standard game is going to be capped out at 88 minutes, and it's going to take you numerous playthroughs before you make it all the way to the end. It's fun to replay, though, and the randomness of the heroes helps each playthrough feel more fresh; it's hard to memorize a game if you can't predict who you'll be playing it work. Your game is automatically saved at the beginning of each room, so this game can be played in short bursts as well as for longer stretches.
Overall I enjoyed my time with 88 Heroes: 98 Heroes Edition, though I had several misgivings with the level design that brought the experience down for me. It's a ridiculous game that you can have a silly and fun time with, but it comes with a number of extra modes that let you tackle it more seriously as well. It's not an easy game, so you'll have to bring your skills to see the end no matter what mode you play. If you're just looking for a fun laugh, and you don't mind dying a few times, this is an action platformer worth checking out.
Final score: 66 out of 88 (7.5 out of 10)
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.