Indie Platformers have carved their own niche amongst gamers in the modern era, with a lot of them successfully capitalizing on the old school nostalgia (and flavouring) to create memorable games in their own right, with games like Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight etc. bringing back the old school, addictive challenge and yet tweaking around it to make it accessible to modern audiences. To us, they’re like water in the desert and respite from usual pretentious, holier than thou Indie titles that claim to be ‘art games’.
We’ve enjoyed a lot of this 8-bit pixelated resurgence over the last few years and now it’s Bitmap Bureau turn to wow us with their twist on the traditional platformers with their latest game, 88 Heroes, published by Rising Star Games.. A game that quite literally prides itself in the number ‘88’ by having 88 different characters across 88 different levels in 88 seconds each ( I know, right?). It’s a bold, risky gamble that hopes to both innovate and freshen up the Indie platformer scene by trying something radically different. But does it pay off? Read on to find out.
The central hook of 88 heroes involve clearing 88 stages, with a time limit of 88 seconds to clear each of them and 88 player lives overall to do so. Each player life manifests itself in a different ‘hero’ and when one dies, the next one on the list automatically resumes duty. Each of them are vastly different in abilities and appearance and interact with the bite-sized (but extremely difficult) levels in various ways. Some may just shoot and long jump, others may crawl up walls and heck, even open PORTAL like dimensional gateways. This adds to a sense of unpredictability in the gameplay where the player may never be sure which one he’d encounter after his/her next death.
You can also detonate (or ‘deton8’) a specific hero at any point, just to suit your long form strategy and some heroes can circumvent stages altogether by breaking them or stopping time. It’s really dynamic and really entertaining throughout. In many ways, this game plays like a fully featured ‘time attack survival’ mode that we used to get in games of the days past. And to complete it, memorization and long form strategy are important. It’s not going to happen in two days, guaranteed.
Which brings us to another problem: In the review build, the single player ‘solo’ mode and another one called’ The magnificent 8’ were LOCKED , which made my job slightly harder. Don’t get me wrong, while the central game is great, it can quite possibly be too intimidating for casual players. The core gameplay is so fun and responsive that I’m pretty sure most people will select a character and spend most of their time besting through levels on Solo mode instead.
The game gives you a practice mode where you can try out/get a feel for any hero you choose and that’s a great thing.
Here is where this game excels and gains major brownie points. Platformers live and die on their charm and lucky for us, Bitmap Bureau have got that base fully covered. The ‘heroes’ in the game are all inspired by various pop culture tropes throughout the decades, including video games, movies, music and even social caricature. There are variations on Tony Montana, Rambo, Crockett and Tubbs from MIAMI VICE, James Bond, Rick Astley (yes) , MC Hammer, Portal etc. the list goes on and on. My personal favorite is a robotic version of Christian Bale’s Batman from the Christopher Nolan Batman movie that stops time when static. (Complete with gravelly voice to boot).
Such charm added with a superb, foot-tapping soundtrack and a bright, pixelated color palette and sharp controls make the game a joy to play, even as you’re being destroyed over and over and over again. All the ‘heroes’ have their own custom quips which never fails to make the player giggle and keep the mood lighthearted throughout. It’s an astonishingly creative game that is as much fun to watch as it is to play.
Story And Narrative
As with most platformers, there isn’t a particularly over-arching narrative. It’s your typical ‘kooky alien threatens the planet and has to be stopped’ but the delightfully charming vibe and constant snarky one liners keep everything fresh and funny.
I had a lot of fun with 88 heroes and my only gripe was the lack of access to the ‘Solo’ and ‘The magnificent 8’ mode at launch. I would have loved to taken an individual hero and used it to clear all 88 stages. Whilst the central ‘survival/time attack’ motif is fine, it can be perhaps too overwhelming for newer players, who will most probably run out of almost all their heroes around the 15th stage the first time through (although they can be revived as well). I understand that this is part of the design and I applaud the devs for taking risks, I can’t help but feel that the game will emerge more popular as a ‘character based’ platformer as well and most people will continue to play with their specific favorite characters.