Back in my day, references to pop culture were typically considered an Easter Egg. Nowadays entire games are themed around these references in an attempt to be funny. Are simple references funny? Does everyone else love that one coworker that quotes Borat, Austin Powers, and says, “that’s what she said” all the time? Perhaps I’m the weird one, as clearly there are people out there likes Family Guy, a show essentially built on references to random bits of pop culture.
88 Heroes is a bland, by-the-books platformer with the twist of having 88 different characters to play as through 88 levels with 88 seconds per level and 88 minutes to finish the whole game. While that premise might sound comical on paper, it is infuriating in execution.
Each time a level starts, one of the 88 characters—billed as “the strangest, dumbest, and most pointless superheroes ever by the developers—is randomly selected. Most of the characters are references to different bits of pop culture such as the 4 armadillos wearing colourful ninja masks (an obvious reference to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and the character named Rick Roll is just Rick Astley. Hilarious? I don’t think so. While many of the characters have unique mechanics, like a flying character that causes the enemies to only move when he does, or a guy with a grappling hook for an arm, a lot of them are just “pop culture reference with a linear projectile.” That is both good and bad; good because characters that control like traditional platformer characters tend to work best, and bad because the game preaches variety.
While I will concede some of the characters got a chuckle out of me, they typically just act as a wasted life, such as the characters that blow themselves up if you press their attack button, or the giant carrying a tiny man in his hand that has trouble fitting places. Even worse, many characters can’t complete certain levels based on their size or shape, making objectives such as the keys found in the second area unreachable.
If you take out the novelty of having 88 characters, what’s left is a bland, repetitive platformer with simplistic graphics and a forgettable soundtrack. Lasers and enemies to dodge, spikes to avoid, spiked balls on chains and spinning sticks of fire seemingly ripped straight from Super Mario Bros. Thing is, the levels aren’t particularly fun or memorable and reminded me of some of the bad 16-bit platformers found on the Sega Genesis.
Perhaps worst of all is that the game screen is presented as if the antagonist is watching remotely on a large screen. He constantly makes quips and his henchmen walk by blocking some of the game screen. Even if there had been an option to turn that off (there wasn’t one that I could find) the screen is already filled with a giant timer at the top and other information in all four corners.
If the developers meant to create a platformer that lacks any actual comedy other than referencing pop cultural and memes, that actively distracts and annoys its players, they’ve done it. Mission accomplished.