Back in those mythical days of the early 90′s, where I roamed the aisles of arcades like some sort of ravenous predator looking for its latest prey, my ultimate goal was to find “The Next Street Fighter.” It was pretty evident that we weren’t gonna get a “proper” Street Fighter 3 anytime soon, since all we got were minute changes that resulted in increasingly ridiculous adjectives being tacked behind the Two in SF’s title. So while I still loved my Chun Lis and my E Hondas, I wanted that game that would up the stakes and be just as badass as SF2 was the first time I played it.
When I first played World Heroes, I thought I found that game. Then I literally beat the damn thing on the first token I spent on it.
So yeah, World Heroes wasn’t that next evolution in fighting game shit. In retrospect it was little more than a mediocre SF wannabe released at the peak of that period of time when everyone wanted to jump the bandwagon. But like another “lesser” fighting game, Street Fighter EX, I have a hell of a lot of affection for the damn thing. Call it fighting game hipsterdom turned into genuine, non-ironic nostalgia.
Despite the fact that I was able to beat the whole game on a single toke the first time I played it, and despite its now-obvious mediocrity, for a brief amount of time I really did prefer the game over Street Fighter and its more well-known competitors such as Mortal Kombat. I think I can chalk that up to how damn silly the game was.
Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and the other copycats that were released in ’92 and ’93 were all pretty straight-laced. Dan was years away from appearing in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat had yet to lapse into self-parody with Friendships and the like, and we hadn’t been subjected to the likes of Power Instinct with its denture-tossing old granny character. The genre was still pretty new, so it had yet to try to mock itself. And World Heroes may have been the first.
The question is whether said parody was intentional or not. I have no fucking clue.
The plot of the game is pretty standard. Fighters from across the world are brought together to compete with one another in a tournament, and said tournament’s ultimate purpose is to find someone strong enough to defeat some evil robot thing that wants to destroy the Earth. For whatever reason, said fighters are assembled from different time periods. I guess they’re going for the greatest warriors of all time rather than just depending on fighters alive right now (“right now” equalling 1992, that is). Hey, if you have T-1000-styled robot end bosses, you can have time travel too.
And who do you get to gather these dudes? Dr. Brown. As in Doc Brown from Back to the Future. For reals. He isn’t a playable character, unfortunately, but the character who gathers everyone together in the story is named Dr. Brown and he looks exactly like Christopher Lloyd’s character. And the peeps that he gathers are supposed to be based on historical figures. Like Janne, the chick with the sword from the first picture. She’s supposed to be a riff on Joan of Arc, but the only similarities between the two of them begin and end with “French sword chick.” Joan of Arc fought the English and got burned at the stake. Jeanne travels around with a circus and laughs like Kodachi from Ranma 1/2. But she’s still supposed to be Joan of Arc.
That’s World Heroes’ charm, if you wanna put it that way. It goes for this “Civilization the Fighting Game” vibe, but then it rapes historical accuracy. Rasputin is made into a magician who can create giant magical hands and who creates rainbows and flowers when he wins all while having a maniacal laugh. Other historical peeps, like Genghis Khan and Erik the Red, get off fairly easily, although Khan is turned into what amounts to a Blanka ripoff style-wise. And other characters are based off of historical stereotypes rather than specific people. The Ken and Ryu of the game are stereotypical anime-styled ninjas, for instance, while Brocken is a German soldier who’s clearly a Nazi (but never called such) if the Nazis created Inspector Gadget.
And it was those crazy quirks that made me dig World Heroes at the time. It may have been insanely easy, and few people may have lined up to play it in arcades, but I would flock to it first rather than Street Fighter for a period of time. And the game got crazier as time went on. The sequel introduced characters like an evil football player and one of my all-time favorite fighting game characters: Mudman. Mudman’s an extremely stereotypical Pacific islander, complete with tribal mask, who fights by summoning cute little spirits that he hurls around as projectiles and shit. He’s insane in all the right ways, and he’s the sort of fighting game character we haven’t seen before or since style-wise.
The game also has some gameplay quirks that made it stand out for me. You can play the game normally or you can play it in “death match” style. In these death matches, traps pop up all around you, and you have to worry about the environment just as much as you have to worry about your opponent. But what makes this mode awesome is the seesaw style health meter.
You don’t get your traditional health meter in this mode. Instead, there’s one long meter stretching across the screen with a bar starting dead center. Every time your opponent takes damage, the bar moves closer to his side of the screen, while every time you take damage the bar moves closer to your side of the screen. If the bar ever reaches the end of your side of the screen, you lose, and if the time runs out before either character is KOed, whoever has the bar on their side of the screen looses. So you might take an insane amount of damage from a combo, and might be right on the brink of being KOed, but you always have the chance to turn the table. It makes matches that much more tense, especially since you have to watch out for those spinning blades, land mines, and death lasers. I’d love to see a mode like that inserted into a modern era game, like the SF4 series or one of the King of Fighters games.
Despite all of these quirks that appealed to me, the game never really caught on. Some of the characters appeared in SNK compilations, like Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, and apparently there was a World Heroes manga that lasted for several years that starred Jeanne, but that was about it. It never got the sort of revivals that fellow Neo Geo fighters Fatal Fury and King of Fighters got over the years. I would flip over a HD remake of World Heroes 2. But that’s one of those “It’ll only happen if I win the lotto” situations.
I need to win the lotto.