Review by: Petter Walsh
Arcade anthologies can be a mixed blessing. Drawn by the odd classic you often have to take one or two gems with a horde of sub-standard titles than even the purest of retroheads would quickly overlook. By that measure many would quickly overlook the World of Heroes series of the mid-nineties as second rate to its superior cousin: the Street Fighter series. The new World Heroes Anthology challenges that prejudice, and calls for the series to be regarded in its own right.
Which is fair enough had it not started off as such a blatant rip-off of Street Fighter. The original World Heroes for the Neo-Geo feels like a painfully rushed port of Street Fighter, capitalising on the lack of beat-em-ups available for the home console market at the time. The premise of a mad scientist gathering the greatest fighters from across history is decent enough, but it’s the gameplay itself which lets the game down.
The action is relatively slow, and jumping in particular feels painfully floaty and imprecise. Controls are limited to just three buttons, punch, kick and throw, meaning that a solid bit of button bashing can result in some extravagant (if not always effective) moves.
Yet the strength of the first game lies in its differences to Street Fighter, most notably in the rather oddball line-up of playable characters. Between the eight we find one carbon copy of Bruce Lee, and another of Hulk Hogan, and a pair of identical fighters with different animations sets, like Ryu and Ken in Street Fighter, only these guys sport hairdos that make Guile’s blonde wedge haircut look understated.
The prize for most derivative character would have to go to the German ‘Brocken’, looking identical to Bison he has the android status of T-1000, with the mannerisms of a camp sailor, and the move set of Dhalsim thrown in for good measure. His bizarreness is only outdone by Rasputin, a Russian Jesus look-a-like whose special moves include Cossack dancing, projecting massive hands to squeeze and throw the enemy, and using a spinning pirouette attack to whip the opponent with the end of his monk’s gown. Both Brocken and Rasputin’s posturing and posing at the end of rounds would put even Kenneth Williams to shame. This may all sound ridiculously out of place in a beat-em-up, but it’s all absurd enough to lighten a game which on the whole feels rather underdeveloped.
World Heroes 2 came only a year later, but this proved to be enough time for developers ADK to actually make a playable title. The action is a lot faster, the sprites are larger and a lot more fluid, and the gameplay has moved above and beyond the button mashing simplicity of the first game. Control is still limited to three buttons, but the combo list for each character has doubled making for much more tactical game.
It still lacks the nuance of Street Fighter, but like its original source it suffers from poor balance, with some characters possessing far more projectile attacks than should be humanly allowed. The worst offender would no doubt be Capt. Kidd, a bare-chested steroid-pumped pirate who endlessly summons unblockable projectile ghost sharks and ships. Other additions to the roster include the rather Un-PC ‘Mudman’ from Papa New Guinea, and the Jason-Voorhees-meets-the-NFL character J.Max.
A welcome addition to the gameplay is a ‘Deathmatch’ mode, adding burning walls, mines, and on occasion oil slicks. Energy is won and lost on a ‘tug-of-war’ style scale, rewarding those skilled enough to string together a consistent chain of hits. If knocked out you have to mash some buttons to get your character off the mat. This does stray somewhat into WWF territory, and rounds in this mode do to drag on, but it is none the less a welcome break from the norm.
Yet when World Heroes 2 JET came after another year in development, ADK rather sadly dispensed of the new if arduous ‘Deathmatch’ mode, replacing it instead with ‘The Forging of Warriors’. Or the rather dull pick-your-opponent mode as it’s also known. The normal story mode has been split into separate ‘days’ with three opponents for each day. Beyond adding the artifice of a tournament storyline, very little is added by this.
Gameplay itself takes rather drastic move of replacing the throw button with a ‘provocation’ button. Throws haven’t disappeared completely, they just take a bit of comboing to achieve. Annoying at first, the decision to remove the easiest move in the game really challenges the player. Which would be fair enough, weren’t the game hard as nails to begin with.
The final iteration is ‘World Heroes Perfect’ which while not living up to the rather grand title does represent the game at its most complete. It only adds two new characters to roster, but does kick sprite animation and backgrounds up a notch, practically humming with bright colours. The combo list has once again been expanded, with a special attack meter added for the more complex moves. While this isn’t quite the revelation that it was for the Street Fighter series, it does add another layer to what was once quite a simple beat-em-up.
While this final version isn’t particularly ‘Perfect’ it is quite satisfying to approach it having seen the originals meagre beginnings. The series will be of little interest to anyone outside the most devout of beat-em-up fans, but for those curious about the development of this genre through the mid-nineties will find this collection of certain archival value. For the unconverted this really isn’t going to provide a welcoming gateway in.