The header image for this post was created by DeviantArt user daRoz, the original version is available here
It’s Christmas time in New York and there are some shady goings on regarding the President and his aides. On top of that, one of the Presidents bodyguards, Johnny Slater
which is one of the most American sounding names I've ever heard
has been killed while waiting for a train in a New York subway. Or was he?
Hybrid Heaven was an Action Adventure RPG game developed for the Nintendo 64 by Konami (under the name Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka), and published by Konami in 1999.
Metal Gear?! It’s Can’t Be!
Hybrid Heaven is unrelated to Metal Gear Solid, aside from the fact that it was made by the same company
However the overall design of the game, combined with the success of MGS and the lack of games like Hybrid Heaven on the N64 drove some reviewers to make a lot of comparisons. This made the public think that something as game changing
if you'll pardon the pun
as MGS was coming to the N64.
Hybrid Heaven is a unique game, for sure. Perhaps not as genre defining as MGS, and it definitely didn’t have the success of MGS, but it was still very unique for its time period.
I’ll be honest it was the box art which drew me in, when I first saw it.
the box art is very similar to the header image for this post
What’s It All About?
The story is a little convoluted at the beginning, if I’m honest.
It’s Christmas time in New York
I already said that, didn't I?
and Johnny Slater is chilling out in his apartment, watching a news story about the President. He’s interrupted by the Secretary of Defence who tells him that the balloon is about to go up and that he must be ready.
Johnny heads to the subway and is killed, in front of his girlfriend, by a Native American looking fellow - we’re informed that his name is “Mr. Diaz”. Johnny’s body fades to nothing, as the killer is taken away by some shady looking men in black suits.
Mr. Diaz kills the two men in black and is thrown down a large shaft.
And that's where the game begins
It turns out that Johnny isn’t dead and Mr. Diaz is, in fact, Johnny in disguise. This is revealed by an alien creature: one of the “Gargantuans”.
It turns out that, whilst the Gargantuans where travelling from their home world to Earth, one of their number decided that they’d like to rule Earth. This Gargantuan started cloning important members of upper US society, splicing the clone DNA with that of Gargantuan DNA and calling them Hybrids.
The Johnny that was killed in the subway
again, in front of his girlfriend
was a Hybrid.
It’s up to Mr. Diaz/Johnny to make his way through the Gargantuan
in both senses of the word
underground facility, figure out how to stop the Hybrids from switching the US President for a Hybrid, kill the leader of the Hybrids, and get out in time to meet his girlfriend under the Christmas Tree at the White House on Christmas Eve.
talk about a convoluted win scenario
Action Adventure RPG?
The game is split into two “modes”, if you will.
First there’s the adventure game part, which has you wandering about the subterranean hideout
which is absolutely massive
You’re solving puzzles and travelling around doing other action adventure gamey things.
The subterranean hideout has a very distinctly industrial and dystopian feel to it, and it borrows heavily from the “dirty” looking science fiction shows and movies of the 80s
which were, themselves, based on Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Alien
Making Johnny move about is pretty simple. Along the same lines as Super Mario 64 (and a lot of N64 games), the analogue stick is how you move Johnny about the 3D environment and the A button is how you make him jump. Just like with Super Mario 64, you move Johnny around using the opposite of tank controls
I'm not sure what the "official" name of it would be, though
That’s about where the similarities end, though.
Unlike like Super Mario 64, Hybrid Heaven uses fixed camera angles
just like the early Resident Evil games
this can lead to some “interesting” moments when the camera angle changes and Johnny ends up running into a wall. Especially during the section with this rather large fellow:
Basically, in order to break up the formula of “run about a bit until you get into a fight”
more on that in a moment
there’s a section which has you running away from this monstrosity of a creature. It happens to be about five times larger than Johnny and can bring him down with a single swipe of it’s huge arms.
Due to the quick changing camera angles (especially when you’re not expecting it) and the fact that Johnny can just about outrun this thing, but only when running in a straight line, means that you’ll end up getting knocked down a lot.
Holding R makes Johnny bring up a “diffuser”
no, not one of those
which he can attack certain things in his environments; stuff like cameras, switches and robotic enemies.
A lot of the areas are “move from point A to point B” style, using the standard adventure games template. All the standard tropes are here including bottomless pits;
traps; jumps which require incredible timing; shimmying along ledges. The whole shebang.
The rest of the action/adventure platformy bits are a little cut and dry.
That all changes as soon as you spot a large yellow tile on the floor of a room with some kind of creature growing from it.
As soon as you enter one of these rooms, some kind of creature is spawned from the glowing yellow tile (it’s a different creature in each of the rooms, by the way).
As soon as they’ve finished spawning, they’ll make a bee line for Johnny and start a fight with him. This is where the RPG elements come in.
The fight system is where the genius of this game is (in my opinion, at least). It’s a little like a mixture between a turn based MMA game and an active time battle RPG.
Johnny has a power bar which slowly fills, once it has filled to a certain level he can launch into an attack. The strength of the attack will depend on how full his power bar is, and as Johnny’s level increases he unlocks more of these powerbars so that he can chain up combos.
He also has a stamina bar, all offensive and defensive moves that he makes will take down different amounts of stamina. Defensive moves don’t depend on Johnny’s powerbar level, he can defend against attacks even when he’s unable to attack.
Moving around the battle arena will affect the speed at which Johnny’s power bar fills, and the speed at which Johnny moves around in the battle area is directly related to the amount of pressure you put on the analogue stick.
If you want Johnny to move around with the light footed step of a kick boxer, then move the analogue stick VERY slightly; but if you want him to take large strides, then move the analogue very harshly. Moving him slowly will cause his powerbar to fill quickly, but moving him quickly means that he’ll be out of range for any enemy attacks.
Once you’ve built up enough power, you can let loose with the fire and fury. There’s a full menu system for attacking the enemy, and you can attack with either punches or kicks. You’ll first need to decide whether a punch or a kick is called for, then choose a specific type of punch or kick.
remember when I said it was a little MMA? Well, here's where the MMA bit comes in
You can also grab hold of the enemy and perform throws and other types of take downs.
Johnny doesn’t know many attacks to start with (one type of punch, kick and throw/take down), but as he gets attacked he’ll learn them
just like any other martial arts training, I guess
You can also use items - things like healing items, stamina refreshers and status affecting items (on yourself and the enemy).
Each attack will damage the enemy differently depending on where it lands, and you can temporarily disable certain limbs on both the enemy and yourself
if you attack a particularly tough body part, for instance
Temporarily disabled limbs need to be rested before they can be used again. This can lead to some interesting strategies. For instance, I always spend the early part of the game building up Johnny’s leg strength
I'll come back to that in a moment
only to find that one of the bosses will get an early attack in which destroys the offensive use of his legs for (what feels like) forever and a day.
This limb statuses only take effect for 30 seconds (or so) or until the battle ends, but it can feel like an eternity. Also, they make defensive moves with that limb weaker.
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
The more that you attack or defend with a body part
you'll see why I've switched to "body part" in a moment
the stronger it gets. So if you attack exclusively with the left leg, then it will become stronger at giving out punishment.
But, and here’s the kicker, it doesn’t do a thing for defence.
To build up your defence, you have to successfully defend attacks to that limb. So to build up the defence of your left leg you have to hope that the enemy will attack it, and you have to choose to defend when they attack
as opposed to stepping out of the way (which never works for me) or counter attacking
You can attack (or defend) with any of the following:
The head and body attacks are limited to the take downs that Johnny knows. The headbutt take down, for instance, is a double attack with his head
he grabs the enemy; butts them once; then butts them again and throws them to the ground
It certainly wasn’t down to a lack of enthusiasm in the gaming press. Most of the previews of Hybrid Heaven lauded it’s combination of Action/Adventure and the innovative fighting system.
But the main reason why a lot of people didn’t hear about this game, when it first came out, was because of a certain first party Nintendo game which came out at the same time:
Almost anything could have been released for the N64 at the same time as this game, and it wouldn’t have done as well as this game - even taking into account how annoying Navi was in the original version
she was toned down for the 3DS re-release
Other games released around this time where:
Tomb Raider III
StarCraft: Brood War
Obviously these weren’t N64 games, but they were all incredibly strong games in their own right. A lot of people give it abuse but Sonic Adventure was fun