Pile-driving pig people
I remember being intrigued while watching my old roommate play through Hybrid Heaven. In my younger days, I had rented it and written it off for a reason I think is perfectly valid: all the environments look the same. Watching him play through it didn’t prove otherwise. Hybrid Heaven is metallic corridors from eyebrows to toe-hairs. But something about the way he was enjoying it was infectious.
After he completed it, he told me that “he probably wouldn’t have tolerated it without save states.” That is not glowing praise, but the experience was enough to keep Hybrid Heaven rolling around in my head for years until I finally found it for a reasonable price. By now, the game has been built up in my mind that I almost had to play through the entire thing. Good or bad.
Man, put some clothes on, will you?
It’s a pretty unusual game, Hybrid Heaven. While its visual design is familiar and the gameplay has similarities to other games, it was built as if someone had burned the book of game design to heat their tent. It’s bizarre, and it plays like something that shouldn’t work, almost doesn’t, but somehow does.
It’s a mix between an RPG and a wrestling game. You read right. In a fight, you’re not only able to punch and kick your enemy but also suplex them. You could suplex aliens decades before No More Heroes 3 hit the scene. You start off with a limited moveset, but you learn new moves by letting the aliens perform them on you first. Does that make any less sense than finding luchador masks lying around?
You also upgrade your stats as you go, and the stat system is almost too complex for its own good. Not only do you have a defense and offense stat, but your body and each of your extremities also level up separately. So if you use your right arm a lot (I’m not judging), it will become more powerful. I don’t really get how things are judged; speed, stamina, and reflex are all their own category, but what do they do? How is speed different than reflex?
I looked it up in the manual, and it was pretty vague. I looked up a guide online for Hybrid Heaven, and while it says that speed affects how quickly you move in battle, they’re only “pretty sure” that reflex is how well you block.
The storyline here involves a race of aliens living underground and trying to replace people with clones. They’re also creating hybrid monsters who are more powerful. Then there’s another race of aliens who don’t like them and are using you to help them. There are a decent number of cutscenes that play out, but I couldn’t really bring myself to care about the story. Not when there were aliens to suplex.
There are some light exploration elements and platforming, but it all feels like fluff between the fights. The movement system is obviously not really built for platforming, as your character controls like a hybridization of a shopping cart and a cow. To make matters worse, there’s a smattering of insta-kill death pits, while save points are sparse.
There are minor enemies who try to whittle down your health but can largely be ignored. They sometimes drop items, but taking them down with your pop gun is tedious. Really, Hybrid Heaven struggles to find any way to be compelling beyond its combat system.
Boston Crab’d to death
When fights happen, things get interesting. You have an action bar that starts to fill. It needs to get to a certain point to use a move. Do you know what’s better than just using your energy the moment it’s available? Letting it stockpile. As your stamina (I think) increases, you get multiple bars to fill. Once you have enough, you can unleash combos of moves to do a lot of damage to your hapless opponent. Meanwhile, the enemies work on a similar system, so fights involve a lot of scooching around before someone throws a kick.
Two separate people had this to tell me about Hybrid Heaven: there isn’t much opportunity to grind, and the secret to winning is just to learn combos. They obviously don’t understand my blind tenacity.
Firstly, there are rooms that spawn monsters whenever you enter them. You beat them up, leave, then return to fight them again. There’s a cap on how many times these things will spawn, but most normal humans probably won’t have the patience to see it. I, on the other hand, just continually charged in. If things got too hairy, I would double back through the whole area just to save and continue to grind. My super-power is turning a 12-hour game into 20 hours.
Secondly, combos are nice, but I got a lot of mileage out of grabbing dudes, piledriving them, then applying floor combat moves like the backbreaker. Note that special moves level up separately, so you shouldn’t just repeat the same ones constantly, but I found much more enjoyment with the grapple system, even if the combos were neat. I think a better compromise would be if I could add suplexes into the combo system.
Hybrid Heaven also uses the Expansion Pak, which isn’t as rare to see as some people think. It’s not required, but you can use it to bump up the resolution. While this looks significantly better, it also tanks the framerate. I consider myself inoculated against the N64’s commonly awful framerates, but this was too much for me. Even the title screen gets choppy after you switch it to high-res mode.
It’s ridiculous. I stand by my thoughts that the environments are as aesthetically interesting as a stainless steel travel mug. It just shocks me that any game would slow down so significantly when most of its rooms are cubes. Hybrid Heaven, what about this is so demanding? What are you rendering under the hood that is turning you into a slideshow? Do you remember when people would have strobe lights on their lawn on Hallowe’en? That’s what playing Hybrid Heaven is like in high-resolution mode. It’s just slightly more friendly to people with epilepsy.
So, I hope you appreciate why some of these screenshots look nicer than the others. My brain couldn’t decide whether it preferred blurriness or choppiness, so I kept switching back and forth.
The interior of a dumpster
Hybrid Heaven is a pretty long game given its genre of turn-based pro wrestling. I haven’t hit the ending yet, and I feel like I’ve been poking at it for an eternity. The fact that I’m still poking at it says something. There’s something here. Hybrid Heaven is like a cargo ship fire. You wonder why you keep watching because it hasn’t done anything different for hours.
The spectacle of piledriving pig people and guys who look like David Duchovny can only carry a game so far, which turns out to be rather far. I think the reason I’ve become so engrossed in Hybrid Heaven is simply that I haven’t seen anything quite like it. Aesthetically, it’s a bomb. Narratively, it shows its age. But whenever a fight broke out, I wondered why we don’t have turn-based wrestle games.
There was no follow-up to Hybrid Heaven, and as far as its influence goes, I can’t think of a game that’s quite like it. It’s quite a trip, even if it’s through a bunch of environments that look indistinguishable from the interior of a dumpster. Give it a try, but be prepared to play it with one eyebrow constantly elevated.