June 2022 was a momentous month for fans of beat ’em up games, with back-to-back releases of two highly anticipated titles: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: SHREDDER’S REVENGE, and FINAL VENDETTA. While TMNT is understandably getting the lion’s share of attention (and it is a pretty great game!), I’ve found myself far more captivated by FINAL VENDETTA.
Bitmap Bureau’s latest game is a rare modern beat ’em up that’s very explicitly – uncompromisingly, even – designed like a classic arcade game. Lots of games claim to be, but I’ve been very impressed with how well FINAL VENDETTA lives up to this ideal. It’s well paced, controls great, and has a finely tuned and engaging level of challenge.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed the game – I’d say it’s up there with STREETS OF RAGE 4 as a favourite of the genre in recent memory – but it’s not perfect. Here’s my analysis of what I think makes FINAL VENDETTA such a great game – and where I think it’s got some room for improvement.
Continue reading FINAL VENDETTA: What it gets right (and where it misses the mark)
Side-scrolling beat ’em ups have always been near and dear to my heart. It’s one of my absolute favourite genres of games, but also one that’s had some major ups and downs over the decades. Ever since the late ’90s, I feel there’s a fairly pervasive view of beat ’em ups as a “dated” genre; a style of game made obsolete by the transition from arcades to consoles, repetitive quarter-munchers that have no place in the current era – unless wholly reinvented for modern audiences. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with this more!
Rather than beat ’em ups becoming dated, my view is more that the genre really fell off the wagon once people started attempting to “reinvent” it instead of respectfully iterating on it – and it’s only very recently that we’ve started seeing more successful attempts at new takes on the classic template.
While I’m happy to see games like FIGHT’N RAGE and STREETS OF RAGE 4 bucking the trends of the last decade and change, the fact remains that in the eyes of many people – developers and players both – the key to making a good beat ’em up appears to be adding a ton of time-wasting cruft that dilutes the experience. But in my mind, there are simply a number of fundamental design principles that go into a quality, compelling entry in the genre. So as a PSA, here’s my attempt at outlining what makes for a good beat ’em up – or at the very least, some things I’d like to see more of them do well!
Continue reading So, what makes a good beat ’em up, anyway?
When METROID DREAD was unveiled at E3 2021, I immediately had mixed feelings – massive excitement for a new 2D METROID, naturally, but also tempered expectations as it was being developed by MercurySteam. I never had the chance to play their previous METROID game – SAMUS RETURNS – but I did play through their earlier attempt at the genre, the absolutely abysmal CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW: MIRROR OF FATE. That game showed such a fundamental failure to understand the appeal of this style of game, that even with SAMUS RETURNS having a decent reputation, I found it difficult to have too much faith in MercurySteam’s ability to deliver a worthy sequel.
Still, I knew that I wanted to play the game, for academic purposes if nothing else. I spent the months leading up to the game’s release playing through a number of 2D METROID games – some for the first time, some not – and as I kind of charted the series’ evolution from playing them all back to back, I became increasingly curious to see specifically how DREAD fit into that equation. Would it be a largely toothless retread of SUPER METROID the way ZERO MISSION had been, or would it actually incorporate aspects of FUSION… or perish the thought, break some new ground?
Continue reading Thoughts on METROID DREAD, 2D METROID design, and MercurySteam’s redemption arc
In what started as an arbitrary choice to dig up some Halloween-seasonally appropriate games from my back log – and what quickly turned into a series mini-marathon – I’ve been playing through the three CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOWS games. I had never thought or expected much of the games, not having much trust in reboots of Japanese game series outsourced to western developers in general, and perhaps even less trust in Konami’s late-era output in particular.
The original LORDS OF SHADOW ended up… well, if not impressing me, at least exceeding my (admittedly low) expectations in some ways, while in other ways being even more mediocre than I would’ve thought. Still, at the end of the day I definitely came away from it more positive than I went in.
The same, however, can not be said for the 2D spin-off game CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW: MIRROR OF FATE.
Continue reading Thoughts on CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW: MIRROR OF FATE, or “How not to do a METROID-style game”
It’s not a secret that I was looking forward to STREETS OF RAGE 4 with some trepidation after its announcement in 2018. As a huge fan of the series since the first game, having dreamt up my own fantasy sequel(s) for the better part of the last 25 years, the announcement was of course a happy surprise. But on the flipside, between questionable artistic choices and my general lack of faith in reboots of old games, I felt there was a significant risk they’d screw things up.
After trying out a demo build at EGX 2019 I became significantly more optimistic. I did – and still do – have some misgivings about the artistic direction, but going hands-on with the game convinced me that the developers had the right idea where it truly matters: game mechanics, pacing, enemy design – ie “gameplay”.
Now, having had a few months to think about and digest the final game, let me give you my full Thoughts On STREETS OF RAGE 4.
Continue reading Thoughts on STREETS OF RAGE 4: a brighter future for beat ’em ups?
Although my tastes have evolved and my particular interests have changed over the years, I think it’s fair to say I’ve always had more of an affinity for mechanically driven over narrative driven games. Of course, there have been plenty of story-heavy games which I have fallen in love with in large part due to the writing; THE SECRET OF MONKEY ISLAND kickstarted my passion for point & click adventures as a kid, and in more recent years I have sunk hundreds of hours into the YAKUZA games. And I’d probably be lying if I said the narrative and storytelling of DEAD RISING wasn’t a big reason I fell in love with that game, too.
Still, these examples all feel like outliers to me. If I were to attempt listing the aspects of a game that typically draw me in, I’d say it’d be kind of a toss-up between aesthetics, tone/atmosphere and game mechanics – if I enjoy the narrative it’s still usually secondary to one or all of those. Most of my favourite games or series of games are things like STRIDER HIRYU, VIRTUA FIGHTER, PRINCE OF PERSIA, BAYONETTA, BARE KNUCKLE, etc, etc.
Long story short, I tend to favour short-form, mechanically focused (if not mechanically dense) action games. Games which more or less inherently invite repeated play by making the act of playing the game the goal in itself, as opposed to making it to the end of a journey. This all probably informs my long held hot take: more often than not, games are like, way too long, man.
Continue reading Pacing, tempo and tedious grinds (or: “Short games are good, actually”)
There’s no shortage of different types of games, and I think it goes without saying that there’s no one recipe for how to put together a good game (much less a successful one!). Even on a personal, subjective level, I might have a general preference or tendency towards certain types of games – arcadey and action-focused games in my case – but there are always exceptions. Certain games manages to either overcome some inherent bias on my part, or just appeal in a different way, for totally different reasons.
There’s no real central thread connecting what makes different types of games compelling, and as such, it would be sort of inane to suggest there are rules that any and every type of game should follow. Now, having said all that, throughout my years of obsessing over big and small details in games, there are a couple of things I’ve found can increase my enjoyment of a game – any game. So without further ado, presented in no particular order: Five things that can make any game better: Continue reading Five things that can make any game better
I finished YAIBA last night, and… well, I felt rather compelled to amend my previous post on the game.
I still largely stand by what I wrote – the game isn’t AS bad as rumors make it out to be, the combat is pretty serviceable, the semi-automatic jumpy platformy bits are a fun palate cleanser, and the writing and story are atrocious. But what I can say with the benefit of hindsight, is that before writing the other post, I had happened to stop playing right before an absurd difficulty spike that served to highlight and exacerbate most of the game’s biggest problems: Mission 5.
“Mission 5: Ryu Hayabusa” is essentially nothing but a boss fight. Having reached the point where I was mostly satisfied with what I’d seen and was kind of waiting for the game to wrap up, I was thrilled to see the level starting with you facing off against Hayabusa right off the bat, without the need to go through a long level. I didn’t really talk about it last time, but up until that point, the boss fights had actually been decently fun. They had certainly exposed some of the weaknesses of the combat system; many combo attacks make cancelling into dodging or blocking inconsistent and thus completely unreliable – but figuring out how to work around that sort of became part of the puzzle, and coming out on top was just hard enough to make it a satisfying challenge to overcome.
Unfortunately, Hayabusa throws all that out the window. Continue reading Additional thoughts on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
So as part of my silly 1000 Follower special thing over on Twitch, I’ve been playing – among other things – YAIBA: NINJA GAIDEN Z. This was one of countless games in my collection that I’d picked up at one point or another with no particular desire to necessarily play it, beyond a general sense of “eh, why the heck not”. YAIBA I suppose has more reason for being in my collection than plenty of other games I’ve bought; it is (theoretically at any rate) part of a series I have traditionally enjoyed, but more importantly it’s a game I’d been curious to try out since it has, er… a reputation. That is, a very, very bad reputation.
Anyone who is even somewhat familiar with my streaming/collecting/game playing habits may know that I have a soft spot for “bad” games. Obviously that’s not to say I enjoy not enjoying something, but I’m often drawn to games with poor reputations because one way or another, less polished games seem to often have more personality, peculiarities or unique quirks than the kind of polished-to-a-sheen AAA games commonly agreed upon as “good”. And sure, sometimes…. a lot of the time even, “bad” games are really bad. But I do find that more often than not, even the worst crap at the bottom of the barrel has something going for it – some kernel of fun, a good idea or something interesting and unique if you’re just willing to look for it.
So, YAIBA. Now, there were many reasons to not question the narrative surrounding the game – it’s an odd, western-developed off-shoot of a revered (if less so with each successive mainline entry) Japanese action game series, that neither seems to look or feel much like its source material, nor be something that anyone really asked for. On top of that, it’s a god damned zombie game! So I gotta admit – I was pretty surprised to find that I… don’t really hate it. Continue reading Thoughts on YAIBA: NINJA GAIDEN Z