For the past thirteen years I have felt like, deep down, I was a little bit crazy. It started in my childhood years, upon acquiring that fated cardboard box that held what I would later discover to be a rare gem. However, this gem was one I could never share with anyone else, primarily due to the fact that no one that I knew had a shred of interest in what the seemingly humble grey cartridge in that cardboard box held.
Hybrid Heaven is a game that needs to be played in order be able to truly understand and experience what it has to offer. Simply put, Hybrid Heaven is a game where you play as a man named Mr. Diaz, running around laboratories containing monsters–or ‘biological weapons’ as coined by the game–fighting them, using not weapons, but your fists, legs and arsenal of wrestling moves. Also, the initial cutscene follows a completely different character to the protagonist, and has him killed off by the time you actually take control. Oh! And aliens are trying to switch bodies with the president or something… It’s not important.
As this is my own personal little love letter to Hybrid Heaven, I’m going to focus on gameplay because the story made absolutely no sense to me when I was younger.
The general gameplay combines elements from both action-adventure and RPG games, and as I said before, will have you wrestling a tonne of odd looking alien-things.
The enemy design in this game, commendable at the time, seems somewhat ridiculous now. You’ll fight what looks like a humanoid-shaped brick wall that knows Taekwondo, hungry, red lizard-fish men and, of course, fat, skinless lumps that look like skinned-sheep.
In order to fight them, you’re going to need to pull out your best WWE moves. The enemies in this game may seem like uncivilised hunks of terror, but conversely seem more than eager, when approached, to put their arms up for a good ol’ round of gentlemanly fisticuffs.
Somehow this sense of instant refinement the enemies possess when entering combat makes them all the more menacing. There’s something truly frightening about the prospect of a brick wall approaching you, politely waiting it’s turn and then abruptly body-slamming you into the ground.
On a more technical note, the combat system affords quite a decent amount of strategy. There is a bar that charges up, similar to the ATB system from certain Final Fantasy games, which can be utilised at any point of its charging (beyond the initial red part of the bar). Hitting A will stop this bar allowing you to select a limb to attack with. There are your typical punches and kicks, ranging from high to low, each with their own range and situational efficiency. There is also the option to grapple the opponent, which is where all the bone-crunching, high-flying moves ripped straight from nineties wrestling can be experienced.
When the enemy decides to attack, you have the choice to move take a single step in any direction to avoid the attack, guard or counter. In the case of being grappled, you’ll even have the opportunity to simply take the fall or reverse the move.
Depending on the limbs you decided to attack and defend with, they will level up, in turn levelling you up overall in the process.
Later on in the game you’ll have the option to set combos which utilise a lot more of your bar than singular moves.
Also, there are a plethora of items and single-use weapons that can be found throughout your adventuring which can be used in place of your typical moves.
Apart from the combat, you’ll find yourself running (in some cases, away from things), jumping and solving puzzles as you progress through various sci-fi inspired areas.
Hybrid Heaven did so many things right, yet somehow fell under the category of obscurity. No one I knew as a kid enjoyed the game. I felt like I’d found a huge chunk of gold, but when I’d show it to people, they’d look at me like I was cupping a mound of uninteresting dirt in my hand.
Perhaps it was the general demographic of Nintendo 64 owners of the time. Perhaps it was the immaturity of the gaming industry and the subsequent dismissing of original, somewhat experimental design at the time. Perhaps my friends are just terrible judges of video games (I’m most inclined to go with this theory).
In any case I’d like to extend thanks to the team at Konami who produced the game, and anyone and everyone responsible for its subsequent release. To this day, I can still enjoy Hybrid Heaven immensely. No game released recently has managed to create a combat system quite like the one in Hybrid Heaven. It may be the case that we’re beyond the point of this type of gameplay. Technically, it would, of course, be a step back, but I can’t help but think that the industry just doesn’t take the risks anymore with this kind of thing.
Looking at a lot of recent releases that have taken a less serious design approach to, I’ve found that those particular titles have been the ones to immerse me most. Their originality has far surpassed any need for them to be ‘realistic’ or ‘gritty’ as is the current trend. These titles can and would break the fourth wall multiple times, or surprise me with completely irrational and quirky segments of gameplay and story, but this would only compliment the experience.
Basically, I’d rather fight a ridiculous-looking, alien, brick wall that knows Taekwondo and enjoy myself than fire a realistic gun at a realistic enemy in some realistic city in the world covered in bloom.
The trend reminds me of a quote from the ancient philosopher Seneca: “It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.” A statement particularly relevant to certain current developers, failing in their sales, upon releasing a uninteresting clone.
So, to Konami I say thank you. Thank you for letting me uppercut odd, fighting pig-things. Thank you for immersing me in a ridiculous sci-fi world. Thank you for providing the kid that I once was with a shitload of fun. Thank you for taking a risk and putting time and effort into making your ideas a playable reality. Thank you for making a truly enjoyable game.