Saturday, October 13, 2012

Game Club 199X Dispatch - Hybrid Purgatory

The Game Club 199X pick for October is Hybrid Heaven, which basically involves the mysterious Mr. Diaz waging a one-man war on an underground facility full of freaky creatures who know martial arts and professional wrestling moves. Except not really, but that's all that can be said for anyone who doesn't play past the first two areas. It gained some degree of notability (and a cover spot for Nintendo Power #123) for being one of the VERY few RPGs on the N64, a console which is otherwise barren of that particular genre. However, it's not really a straight RPG, more like a turn-based beat-em-up interspersed with third-person shooting segments and a bit of non-linear exploration. There really is no other game like it, but I really have yet to determine whether or not that's a good thing. Hybrid Heaven is like a flawed diamond that you eventually come to realize is a perfect zircon; it has a lot of stupid design decisions and general weirdness, but you come to appreciate it for what it is after the absurdity of it all sinks in after enough playtime.

The screenshot above may deceive any first-glancers into thinking it's a third-person shooter along the lines of Winback (another good potential GC9X candidate for the future), but get to an actual enemy and the game initiates a semi-real-time combat system. You can move around freely, but actually attacking or defending halts the action as you get to decide what your next move is. It's a novel concept, but it does seem a bit overblown to wait several seconds and build up power just to toss out a single upper right punch. You can also grab or be grabbed by enemies and be subject to moves that would make Ric Flair proud. Being taken down by a pigman's shoulder buster really puts the merit of this game in perspective. The unorthodox combat does beg the question: Would HH have been any better if it were just a straight beat-em-up? While novel, fights do feel far slower than they ideally should be and get decidedly boring once you realize that out of all the strikes and throws you learn, you only really need about five of them. Interspersed with fights are more active segments that involve some shooting, taking down droids and missile pods with a weak laser pistol that gets no upgrades throughout the game. The least these bits could have done is include a dodge button to alleviate some of the stiffness. Some stages don't always indicate where your next destination should be, and the automap is almost no help at all. 

Yet in spite of all those faults, you can tell that the developers at least tried to make HH the most unique and twisted game it could be. That effort alone is what earns its place on the N64's veritable "hidden gems" list. That, and it's penny-cheap on eBay. The gameplay is actually strangely fun once you know what you're doing, and even if repetitive after a prolonged period of time, it's fun to piledrive abominations in short bursts. Without spoiling too much, my personal favorite thing about it is the ridiculous plot, which is like a Metal Gear story boiled down to its absolute minimum with a heavy dose of Independence Day-style science-fiction thrown in. While ultimately window dressing, it tightrope-walks the line between legitimately entertaining and insanely stupid. Hell, HH as a whole IS both entertaining and stupid, and it's definitely worth at least one play for anyone looking for something different by N64 standards, let alone standards defined by ANY other game (perhaps except for Vagrant Story).


  1. I was going to metion Vagrant Story. But you did so I'll just go and get dinner.

  2. I like this game a LOT more than Vagrant Story. And I don't like this game.

  3. I played this game back in the day. It's not even close to perfect, but it's certainly underappreciated. Good stuff if you want something completely off the beaten path.

  4. I bought this when it came out. I really liked it and finished it.. Ah memories ;)