The game plays like many other fighting games, but instead of a 6-button layout, the original World Heroes uses only 3 of the standard 4 Neo Geo buttons: one for punching, another for kicking, and the last for throwing. The former two buttons can be held pressed longer in order to deliver stronger attacks which is similar to the first Street Fighter control scheme, only there are only 2 levels of strength here and it uses standard buttons instead of pneumatic buttons. In the SNES version (and later games, starting with World Heroes 2 Jet), it is possible to assign the 4 basic attacks to different buttons. In World Heroes Perfect, each character had a traditional four-button attack layout, but could also achieve stronger attacks by pushing down two respective punch or kick buttons at the same time.
In World Heroes Perfect, every character has an ABC Special Move that can be activated by pressing the A, B, and C buttons at the same time. Moves vary by character, though they all require strategic use and are easy to activate, allowing for more tactical battles. For example, the character Fuuma's ABC Special allows him to fake a special move; J. Max's ABC Special allows him to catch, hold onto, and throw back projectiles; and Kim Dragon's ABC Special allows him to perform counters while blocking.
Aside from the normal tournament mode, there is also a popular Deathmatch mode (which was removed in World Heroes 2 Jet and World Heroes Perfect). In it, the arenas are filled with different kinds of traps that can change conditions in the bouts or even damage the characters (such as spikes, bombs, greasy or sticky floors, etc.). Deathmatch mode might have been inspired by the growing popularity of deathmatch style professional wrestling in Japan at the time, mostly made famous by Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling.
- World Heroes (1992)
Originally released for Neo-Geo. Also ported onto Sega Genesis and SNES by Sega and Sunsoft, respectively. The Neo-Geo version has been released through Nintendo's Virtual Console service.
- World Heroes 2 (1993)
Originally released for Neo-Geo. Also ported onto SNES and TurboGrafx CD by Saurus and Hudson Soft, respectively.
- World Heroes 2 Jet (1994)
Originally released for Neo-Geo. Also ported onto Game Boy by Takara.
- World Heroes Perfect (1995)
Originally released for Neo-Geo. Also ported onto Sega Saturn.
- World Heroes Anthology (2007)
A compilation for PlayStation 2, featuring all four World Heroes games. It was release in Japan under the title World Heroes Gorgeous.