Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Everyone who gamed in the '90s — and many who didn't — remembers Street Fighter II. Across numerous iterations, the six buttons and one joystick comprised quite possibly the best fighting games ever created. What more people would care to forget are the many, many rip-offs that were made in the process. Technically, one could call Fatal Fury an aping of elements of Street Fighter (I don't), and to this day, many other games are mechanically similar. There were obvious rip-offs ... and then there were strange rip-offs. SNK's World Heroes series manages to fit under both categories, practically serving as a parody of the Street Fighter series at the same time that it proved to be SNK's least competent fighting series ever produced.
There's actually a semblance of a plot besides "fighting tournament" for each of the four World Heroes games. Dr. Brown has invented a time machine, and while the game packaging describes him as "diabolical," he seems more intellectually curious, since he wants to figure out which fighter is the strongest by looking at excellent fighters throughout Earth's existence. So he puts together ... a tournament, of course. With this classic framing device, the player goes in and fights the AI or other players in the same vein that any gamer has experienced at least once.
World Heroes Anthology collects the four iterations of this series and gives them to you, devoid of any special features. You get character color editing and a competent sound test, and that's it. There probably weren't enough people who were nostalgic for the series for the focus to be there. Surprisingly, the games are very competently ported. You select a game, and you get the arcade-original attract screens. Once you click in to begin play, the game's one significant difference from the originals shows up: a startlingly plain difficulty selection screen. It lets you choose from four to six difficulty variations and always offers an "MVS" difficulty that follows the arcade difficulty almost precisely. Other than that, if you've played it before, it's exactly as recalled. If you haven't ...
Well, there's no way to explain this other than to just describe every last character. I tried, three times. Besides the three "boss" characters, you get to play as, in roughly increasing order of weirdness: Two ninjas, one pirate, a Muay Thai fighter, a tomboyish female Ryu expy (exported character), a pretty straight rip-off of Street Fighter's Fei Long, a pike-toting Central Asian warrior (some fighters use weapons, others don't), a German bionic soldier who is also an expy of M. Bison from Street Fighter but plays kind of like Dhalsim, Jengis Carn, a female French knight (in true '90s fighter sexist depictions, she's impractically armored and prone to slapping enemies before she uses the sword she is holding in her hand — and she even manages to look like she's jiggling under the armor), a Hulk Hogan expy who somehow manages to capture the old Hulkamania attitude better than any World Wrestling Entertainment game, a Viking warrior, a slightly demonic-looking football player, a freakish purple guy who fights in the buff and morphs into other fighters, a voodoo shaman who wears a giant mask, and a '70s Brit-punk Jack The Ripper. Oh, and Rasputin. Yes, that Rasputin. Around the time you kick Hulk Hogan's ass with Brett Favre, only to lose to a Viking warrior, you realize the SNK had a potential hit on their hands here; they managed to play the weird stereotypes of the fighting game genre way too well.
Unfortunately, something had to give if this series is going to hold its place as SNK's worst fighting game (to the point where the Capcom vs. SNK series basically ignored its existence) — and that place ended up being the fighting mechanics. Until the fourth version, World Heroes Perfect, the series uses two buttons and the stick, with every additional button being automatic combinations, if it's used at all. These two buttons mean little to no variety of attacks, preventing the game from developing any semblance of variety in the fighting, even though characters have maybe five special moves apiece. Only World Heroes Perfect introduces a super gauge (that almost no player will ever figure out how to work using a PS2 controller) and the idea of having more than two buttons for the base controls, making it, by far and by default, the best iteration here. It still offers sorely little variety in attack options, making it far weaker in strategic potential than even its contemporaries, and, unfortunately, making the title hardly worth bothering to release on the host console of the Guilty Gear series and SNK's own King of Fighters series, just to name a couple of major examples.
At least World Heroes Anthology looks pretty and sounds good. The Neo Geo doesn't impress players used to modern, fancily drawn 2-D fighter juggernauts like Guilty Gear or the upcoming HD remix of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, but it does demonstrate that SNK did one thing very well in its era: It always drew gorgeous characters and backgrounds. While the characters are often generic and the stages more so (and the females get rather manly faces), they manage to be surprisingly animated in a number of frames that's on par with games of the time, and they're beautifully free of hit box quirks, too. The sound effects were ... well, of its time. The music is modestly catchy for being so simplistic, and the sound effects may as well have been copies from whatever nether source Street Fighter II got theirs. Only the voices sound a tiny bit different from the '90s source material.
Overall, World Heroes Anthology really isn't much. With a generic premise, and a more generic and relatively poor in implementation, the title stands on basically one leg: the truly strange cast of characters. It's a relic from an era that isn't entirely obsolete but certainly has had its major shifts. If you really liked the originals, they're here in all their glory at an affordable price. Otherwise, just don't bother. You aren't missing out on much, even if kicking a football player's ass as Hulk Hogan is a laugh riot.