World Heroes Anthology Review
Assembling a fantastic compilation requires more than just slapping together titles from a franchise and putting them all on one disc. No, the developer should probably attempt to include a few other features that cater specifically to avid followers of the series in question, and that might include unlockables (for screenshot or even video galleries), added characters or levels, and/or updated visuals. Unfortunately, SNK Playmore believed the four World Heroes titles was all they needed to produce a high-quality Anthology, and the result is a lackluster production that may not even appeal to hardcore fans of the classic fighter. Back in the day of the Neo-Geo, these games were a big draw, primarily because of their original cast of characters and high-impact combat action that helped to define the ‘90s video game scene. But now, a lot of that old panache is gone, and this compilation doesn't do much to revive it.
Typically, we're advocates for keeping the same graphical palette when reproducing classic video games in compilations. Revamping the visuals just doesn't seem to fit with the spirit of the old-school collection, so at first, we were happy to learn that SNK wasn't going to upgrade the graphics in World Heroes Anthology. Each of the titles included should appear just as they did back in the day, which is exactly what we wanted...or so we thought. We had forgotten how these games paled in comparison to other fighting franchises of the time, and that includes the likes of Street Fighter and Art of Fighting. The artistry and animation just isn't up to snuff, and this unfortunate downfall is especially prevalent in the first two World Heroes titles featured on this collection. It also seems as if they could've done a great deal more with the backdrops and environments, although they stand out more in World Heroes Perfect. The only good news involves the impressive cast of unique characters, which - for the most part - retain their charm and cheesy charisma. Of course, we say "cheesy" in a good-hearted way; such was the norm in video games back then. But all in all, the graphics just don't cut it.
The sound isn't any better. Again, other fighting franchises have boasted far better sound effects and soundtracks, so it would've been in SNK's best interest if they opted to overhaul this aspect of the compilation. Instead, we're stuck with what we had, and that's a bunch of generic impact sounds, music that's both repetitive and even grating at times, and a mediocre presentation the whole way ‘round. We never really anticipated anything too fantastic (being familiar with these titles from yesteryear), but much like the graphics, we were only reminded once again of one immutable fact: the technicals in the World Heroes games lagged behind other blockbuster fighters. Now, we suppose one could make the argument that this "lagging" is actually a positive aspect of the collection, primarily because it's a nostalgic bonus. We can all take a trip back in time and remember the good ol' days of gaming; ignoring any and all comparisons to competing titles. But we can't afford to do that...this is a review, after all. The graphics and sound certainly won't impress - or even satisfy - anyone.
As we mentioned earlier, the biggest reason these games garnered attention in the first place was thanks to the intriguing cast of characters. Many of them are actually based (loosely, of course) on historical figures, like Joan of Arc, Rasputin and Hanzo Hattori, which lends the game a whole new dimension of appeal. Furthermore, the diversity of these characters is excellent, even though the fighting mechanic isn't exactly deep or intricate. You will notice that each successive title in this collection boasts more and more characters, most of which were taken directly from previous titles, so World Heroes Perfect has the most comprehensive list. Not surprisingly, it's also the most accomplished of the four games, although World Heroes 2 Jet is close. Sadly, there's very little reason to play either of the first two - World Heroes and World Heroes 2 - because they're simply not worth your time, even if you're a die-hard fan of the series. The fighting mechanic is clunky and slow in comparison, and there aren't as many characters.
We're talking about fighting games, here. What else should we be talking about? All that matters is the cast of characters and the gameplay itself, and the last two installments in this compilation completely outshine the first two. The single biggest drawback of these games centers on the lack of speed and responsiveness, and this is painfully obvious in World Heroes and World Heroes 2. Thankfully, SNK worked to upgrade both later on with Jet and Perfect, and this shines through clearly as you progress through each entry in the series. But like we just said, by the time you've experienced the later efforts of the developer, there's virtually no reason whatsoever to return to the first two original titles. Again, some might be able to defend their inclusion, tossing down the "nostalgia card" one more. But as much as we love that card, and as much as we play it ourselves, we just can't get past the technical and artistic failings of the earlier World Heroes titles. We're not about to make excuses just for the sake of rose-colored look-to-the-past-with-respect glasses.
As for a premise, it doesn't get much simpler. Dr. Brown has snagged the previously mentioned historical figures from all over the globe and from all time periods, and he wants them to throw down in a massive fighting tournament. You can choose from a wide variety of quirky characters and you'll be facing a horde of foes that won't cut you any slack, regardless of the difficulty level. You can choose to work your way through the Tournament or you can opt for a Deathmatch - something you can do in every one of the four games included - but the gameplay doesn't change much. By using a combination of the face buttons and directional pad, you'll be able to execute regular, special and grappling attacks that are mostly dependent on the character selected. The controls are fine, although we didn't really need the Square button to be set for taunt...just because that makes very little sense, what with the X and Triangle buttons designated for actual attacks. All you really have to focus on is timely attacks amidst frequent blocking, which gets a little tiresome after a few hours.
World Heroes Anthology includes the four titles that comprise the series, and not much more. Further hampering the package is the fact that only Jet and Perfect are worth a significant amount of playtime, which greatly limits the scope and range of this compilation. However, fans of the series - you know who you are; you probably still have the Neo-Geo in your closet - may appreciate what SNK Playmore has done, here. Perhaps you want the bare-bones approach to a classic collection, and aren't interested in any frills or other additional accoutrements. But either way, there is a major issue when it comes to the speed and responsiveness, and it's so bare-bones that unless you're completely enamored with each game, you'll be bored very quickly. By this time, there are plenty of compilations on the market for the PS2 (just check the past six months of releases), and we guarantee there are better ones out there. This one is just...vanilla. And we don't even get a dollop of hot fudge, either.
3/31/2008 Ben Dutka