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Throwback Thursday - Hybrid Heaven (1999)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 03:53pm 09/04/15 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a weekly column here on Ausgamers where Kosta opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!

Watch Kosta fight some "Hybrids" in this not-so "Heavenly" RPG

The Game: Hybrid Heaven
The Year: 1999
The Developer: Konami
The System: Nintendo 64

There’s no denying that the Nintendo 64 had its fair share of great games, in fact you could say that the console was home to some of the greatest of all time. As the last cartridge-only home console, the Nintendo 64 stood out because of its focus on pure gameplay with little to no frills. Now this was probably born from the limited storage capacity of the cartridges themselves, which placed severe frill limitations on developers. But, the games from Nintendo and second-party studios like Rare proved that a good game begins and ends with how it plays.

It’s important to note that sticking to the cartridge format for the Nintendo 64 was ultimately a mistake. And it did hurt the company overall, which the effects of the decision can still be seen today. This focus on pure gaming may have sounded noble at the time but it was an unnecessary and costly burden. Not only that, but the decision came at a time when the compact disc was opening the door to a world of rich multimedia. The simple fact was that people during the mid-to-late ‘90s wanted music and video in their software, more than an ice-addict today wants some Walter White blue.

The modern day meth dealer

This lack of storage and increased manufacturing costs led to the much publicised departure of Squaresoft, who moved their Final Fantasy franchise over to the Sony PlayStation. And this was only the tip of the iceberg, third-party support for the Nintendo 64 was limited at the best of times and all but absent at the worst. And all due to the decision to stick with cartridges. So, this means that you can count the number of traditional story-driven RPGs released for the Nintendo 64 on one hand.

Well, you’d probably only need a couple of fingers to count the number of Nintendo 64 RPGs. And one of those fingers represents the very strange, Hybrid Heaven from Konami.

Before its release in 1999 there was a lot of press coverage around Hybrid Heaven, mainly due to the studio pedigree and the fact that it was an RPG for the Nintendo 64. From the company behind Metal Gear Solid no less. This resulted in several magazine cover stories, detailed previews, monthly development updates, and hype surrounding a game that by all accounts wouldn’t have been able to garner this much attention on a competing platform. In a lot of ways its like how conservative political parties thrust their minority members into the spotlight. A person of colour in the Liberal party!? An RPG on the Nintendo 64!?

Watch out behind you, it's some sort of sci-fi matador

On paper Hybrid Heaven is an intriguing concept, taking place in New York City on the eve of a presidential treaty. The game follows a mysterious protagonist who ends up shedding light on an extra-terrestrial body-swap plot. One that involves replacing humanity with like-for-like hybrids, starting with the President of the United States. A sort of X-Files meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Intriguing? More like @mulderandscullyfan-tastic! Ahem.

So how does it stack up today? Well, pretty poorly. But not due to the turn-based RPG battle mechanics, which are still fascinating and could probably serve as the foundation of a truly great game. The way it works is pretty simple, hand-to-hand combat where you first select your weapon of choice and then style of attack. So, selecting Punch opens the door to a variety of moves, from mid-level gut punches, to head punches, to uppercuts, and even hook punches - i.e. Russell Crowe heaven. With the moves selected one at a time the turn-based nature of the game is given some real-time flair by giving players the option to move around and then strike once their power meter charges. This gives players the freedom to pre-empt enemy attacks with weaker attacks, as the turn-based nature of the system is in name-only. Seasoned players can conduct entire fights without letting their opponents get a hit in. Defending from attacks is also kept strategic, with options to try and counter, absorb the attack, or move out of the way.

Sure why not. After all, this game came out in 1999

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the whole system is how deep it actually gets. Individual limbs level up separately for both offense and defense, and new moves are only acquired once you allow an enemy to hit you with one. This also extends to the grapple system, which takes its cue from everything from wrestling to judo. So, in order to learn how to pile drive a foe, you’ll need to survive one beforehand. This adds a layer of conditioning to each encounter, which is a fascinating concept for an RPG. And that is, letting your opponents keep hitting you in order for you to get stronger.

It’s a shame then that the game surrounding the battle system is so, well, crappy. One of the most important parts of an RPG, the location, is essentially a bland underground facility for the entirety of Hybrid Heaven. Exploration is limited to moving from bland corridor to bland room to another bland corridor with a slightly different grey colour scheme. In a lot of ways the environments in the game feel like those virtual reality training rooms you can find in certain action games. Empty, lifeless, and cold. Which makes the nature of one of the main character Diaz’s bright red jacket and face-paint all the more weird.

Kick Punch: The Game

The story, which does feature a pretty impressively ambiguous introduction sequence, never really grows into anything beyond a few simple character interactions. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to see where the three years of development went into making Hybrid Heaven. Outside of the battle system the entire game feels like it was rushed and slapped together as a mere proof of concept. Even at the time of its release it was considered pretty ugly. And that's going by Nintendo 64 standards. But even so, Hybrid Heaven is somewhat memorable, if only for the way in which you can condition your left leg into becoming a deadly roundhouse-dispensing super-weapon. Like Chuck Norris.

Throwback Rating:

Best Forgotten /A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Previous Throwbacks:

Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album recently released.

Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.

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