World Heroes Anthology
Question for you: When you think of SNK, what kinds of games come to mind? Chances are, you’ll think of the King of Fighters series, and for good reason; those well crafted titles helped shape the development of fighting games beyond the countless Street Fighter II clones flooding the gaming scene. Or perhaps you’d mention the Fatal Fury or Art of Fighting series, both which provided the origins for countless other SNK titles. What you probably wouldn’t remember, however, is a humble fighting game series called World Heroes. Don’t feel bad about it; the few gamers that actually remember playing these titles will likely shudder at the bad memories. Compared to later games, the World Heroes titles are laughable in their simplicity and shallowness. As such, it’s little wonder why the series was overshadowed by SNK’s more popular projects. Despite its shortcomings, the series retained its own charms that, until the recent release of World Heroes Anthology, would have gone overlooked in the annals of gaming history.
The premise of the series is simple: a demented professor creates a time machine and uses its power to gather the world’s legendary warriors for a brawl for the ages. Never mind trying to benefit mankind or worrying about the timeline-altering consequences (much to the chagrin of Back to the Future fans); this is about crowning the greatest fighter who ever lived. You’re given cheap knockoffs of iconic figures, like an impossibly endowed blonde version of Joan of Arc, an effeminate Rasputin, and what appears to be a lobotomized Hulk Hogan. Their designs may be laughable, but it’s their unoriginal movesets that make them pathetic. Take Brocken, for example: his background as a cyborg from World War II Germany (like that makes any sense) makes appear and fight as if he were the bastard lovechild of Street Fighter II’s Dhalsim and M. Bison. That’s aside from the fact that the two generic ninja guys in the cast have nearly identical (albeit more flashy) moves to those of Capcom’s series. The simplistic controls don’t help much, either; rather than mapping out different moves to the controller, the strength of your attacks depends on how hard you push the punch or kick buttons. Combined with ridiculously sluggish controls, slow pacing, and broken combat mechanics, the original World Heroes isn’t worth playing at all.
World Heroes 2 isn’t much better, either. Rather than addressing the main issues with the original game, SNK tries to distract its audience by supplementing the old roster with a fresher and surprisingly badass cast. You’ve got the Viking might of Erik the Red, a demonic Joe Montana, an utterly broken Joe Higashi clone, and some guy wearing an oversized tribal mask. Not to mention Captain Kidd, whose ability to fire off shark-shaped fireballs and sheer brawn make him one of the most memorable SNK characters ever. Despite the slight modifications to allow for varying attack ranges and priority, the game still retains the problems of its predecessor. The game tries to balance out the flawed gameplay of the original game by introducing a couple of modification to the combat mechanics. If your blocking is timed properly, you can reflect an oncoming projectile back to its creator. The problem is that it devolves the combat into a back and forth contest of which fighter has the defending abilities. The same goes for the counter-throwing mechanics; trying to toss your foe across the screen usually ends up with your character in an awkward struggle for leverage. Though these features and the updated roster offered a small step in the right direction for the series, World Heroes 2 has far too many problems to be enjoyable.
Things start shaping up, however, with the advent of World Heroes 2: Jet. The vast majority of this game is borrowed from its predecessor; the characters’ pixilated sprites and levels remain unchanged. There are only two additional playable characters (a cheesy Lu Bu impersonator and a decidedly punk-rock version of Jack the Ripper) that also serve as sub-bosses for the latter part of the arcade mode. It’s the game’s structure that has undergone the most drastic change; rather than having you face a gauntlet of foes one at a time, you’ll have to face three of them, one match at a time in a ranking tournament. If you win two out of three rounds, you’ll continue to move up the brackets until you reach the finals. While such an approach is refreshing compared to the traditional arcade challenges, it’s the game’s combat that will keep you coming back. As its name implies, this game focuses on the speed and pacing of the fighting. With faster animation frames, backwards and forwards dashing mechanics, responsive controls, and a handful of new attacks for each character, it’s apparent that the series gotten over its obsession with Street Fighter II clones in favor of technical combat.
But if you think that’s a huge step forward, you’ll be amazed with World Heroes Perfect. It ditches the tournament-style structure of the previous game and returns to the traditional one-on-one arcade battles. While this may be a little disappointing to veterans of the series, the game makes up for it with its impressive combat mechanics. Throughout the series, the strength of your attacks was determined by how hard you were pushing on the corresponding buttons. In this game, however, the attacks have been mapped to different buttons and have been greatly revised and expanded. No longer are you forced to mash a couple buttons and pray that your attacks connect; with these new movesets, you can dish out plenty of combos and fast-paced assaults. The movelist is supplemented with several new modifications to the combat mechanics; you’ll be able to perform projectile deflection and nullification, feints, guard-breaking tactics, midair guarding as well as your standard attacks. These features add plenty in terms of depth and strategy to the otherwise simplistic gameplay. There’s also the inclusion of the Hero Gauge that, when filled to its capacity, allows you to execute some flashy supermoves. Unfortunately, this underscores the biggest flaw of World Heroes Perfect: its balance. Some characters and their attacks are broken beyond belief. But considering how awesome everything else is, you might not care.
These four games comprise the World Heroes Anthology. Four faithful ports of their original versions, including their problems, cheesy character designs, and dated gameplay mechanics. Most contemporary gamers might find some of these titles completely unplayable. The aggravating flaws in the first two games will grind on anyone’s nerves, no matter how accustomed you are to 2D fighting. World Heroes 2: Jet’s speed may put it on par with pacing of modern fighting games, but it’s still only above average at best. World Heroes Perfect steals the show with its advanced gameplay mechanics and challenge, though that might not be enough to justify purchasing the entire anthology. Considering that the only other features present are Sound Test, Training, and Color Edit modes, there’s not a lot of content to be looked over. Some unlockable character art or information about the games would have made this collection far more appealing to those that have yet to experience the series.
But hey, don’t give up on World Heroes Anthology just yet. The series may have gotten an abysmal start, but it progressed into something remarkable. The concept of having history’s greatest warriors clash is as charming as it is nonsensical. Where else can you find Rasputin kicking Bruce Lee’s ass? Or how about slashing Hulk Hogan to ribbons with Jack the Ripper? Of course, such things don’t save the games from being utterly pathetic. There are so many flaws, glitches, and botched combat mechanics that it’s little wonder why SNK ditched the series. Considering how only half the anthology is worth playing and the features are pretty basic, you might not feel this collection is worth your time. But if you’re a retro fighting game fan and willing to support SNK’s release of their anthologies, then give this a go. Nostalgia has its limits, but at least you’ll be guaranteed one quality game overall.