Monday, September 28, 2015

List of Single Player Beat 'Em Ups (Part 1)

Author: Zachary Latour

When I play a Beat ‘Em Up, I like having the 3 B’s: a buddy, a beer, and a bag of chips (preferably Doritos). As a kid growing up in the 90’s, both playing video games and hanging out with friends were very near and dear to my heart. With that being said, it is clear that playing a co-op video game is complete bliss to me. Beat ‘Em Ups are perfect for this. Though everyone plays as a team to achieve one ultimate goal, each person has their own score to brag about.

When looking for classic Beat ‘Em Ups, one has to look no further than the arcade. There are many great examples, including the massive 6-player X-Men, 4-player Simpsons, 4-player Ninja Turtles, and the 4-player Captain Commando. Though some of these made the conversion to home consoles, others never saw the light of day on retail shelves. Unfortunately, arcades have gone the way of the dinosaur in recent years. Maybe it’s due to people not wanting to touch arcade sticks covered in sweat and Cheetos dust. Maybe it’s because arcades use more power than your average emergency room. Or, maybe it’s because people would rather play games in the comfort of their own home. Whatever the reason for the disappearance, the decline in arcades has not resulted in the death of the Beat ‘Em Up genre. In recent years, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: The Game kicked so much ass, and also showed us that awesome Beat ‘Em Ups can still be made.

Many games are able to pull off the single player experience exceptionally well. Most RPGs revolve around immersing a single player in a gaming experience. Secret of Mana, however, is a great RPG that pulled off an effective optional multiplayer. Tetris is, at its heart, a great single player puzzle game. Yes, there is a multiplayer mode, but it really is just isolated simultaneous play. Both players are free to perform in whatever way they want and their actions have zero impact on the other player. It’s no different from two people running next to each other on identical treadmills. Tetris Attack expanded the game to include multiplayer combat. In Attack, your actions actually affect the amount of pieces dropped on the opponent’s side of the screen. That said, take the “Tetris” in Tetris Attack lightly: It’s about as Tetris as stacking four traffic cones on top of each other and calling it Tetris Pyramid.

Not all gaming experiences need to be co-op or multiplayer to enhance the fun, but with certain genres it is definitely a welcome choice. When it comes to a Beat ‘Em Up, I say the more players, the merrier. The 6-Player X-Men game is approximately the size and weight of a house. Due to its size and player count, it actually requires two television screens to show everything. I have a lot of respect for the people who designed this. They saw what was already out in arcades and were able to create something even bigger and better. But, maybe four really is the magic number when it comes to Beat ‘Em Ups. Any less might have friends sitting and waiting for their turn. Any more might make you realize that your social circle is a lot smaller than you actually thought it was.

Before I discuss some examples of the genre, I will just say it: I am not a fan of the idea of 1-player Beat ‘Em Ups. There are multiple characters to choose from, two controllers to use, and enough room on the right side of the screen for another health bar, so why not include a second player? I’m not saying that they can’t be great games, I just think that no Beat ‘Em Up did it better than Turtles in Time. I guess that in order for me to truly enjoy these games, I would have to be stranded on a deserted island or in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Then, I wouldn’t be able to complain that it’s a 1-player game because there won’t be anyone else to play it with me anyway. At that point I’d have to find something new to whine about, like the fact that I’d be all out of Doritos.

The Death and Return of Super Man (SNES/GEN) – 1994/1995

‘The Death and Return of Superman’ is a side scrolling Beat ‘Em Up set in the Superman universe, chronicling the DC comic timeline of the same name. With colorful, vibrant graphics and very comic-esque cut scenes, the plot effectively mimics its source. There are five playable characters as you progress through the game: Superman, Superboy, Steel, Eradicator, and Cyborg. The player controls all five in the same manner, but the art, the fighting moves performed, and resulting animations differ between characters.

This game has numerous types of enemies, so you don’t just fight the same tired designs throughout the whole game. This variety keeps the game from getting stale. Most of the levels simply scroll to the right as you beat up enemies to get to the level boss, but there are some Shoot ‘Em Up stages thrown in. Although they do change things up, they are very easy and don’t really add anything to the game. One drawback of this game is that everything is sluggish. All of the characters walk very slowly, and there is no run button or the ability to double tap a direction to dash. Both get irritating quickly. After the second level of the game, the protagonist changes from Superman to one of the other four playable characters. This welcome change keeps the game from becoming repetitive. Not only do the other characters come with unique levels, but they all have different animations when fighting, walking, or using their special move. This variety isn’t without fault though. At this point the game could have gone into a Mega Man-style selection screen where the player picked which character to play, completing the game in whichever order he or she preferred. Heck, even Final Fantasy VI allowed you to pick which order you played the game once the character paths branched out from each other. The Death and Return of Superman should have been no different. Or alternately, this could have been a perfect time for the game to become 2-player. There was a great idea for variation in the game, but it was unfortunately executed poorly. In general the game controls work well, though strangely there is no block button. That aside, one nice feature is the button configurations in the options menu. This was not common back in the day, so it was great to have multiple layouts to find the one that best fit your playing style.

When you double jump, your character will actually fly, which is a very interesting and fitting for the game. There are sequences in stages where you are fighting on street level, and then you actually have to fly up the side of a building to fight on the top of it. When flying you are able to fight other airborne enemies, smash down onto enemies below, or just cruise around to your heart’s content. The ability to double jump and fly actually creates a flawless transition between fighting on the ground and in the air. This is one area where I will praise this game: It is very well executed and works perfect.

All five characters shoot a beam, either from their eyes or their hands. It can be shot quickly or charged to do more damage. This beam is almost worthless since it takes a while just to shoot the quick shot and the damage dealt from it is next to nothing. It is best used as a means of stunning enemies, rather than a straight attack.

Each character has a special move that can be used when you have enough orbs to do so. This attack is used to clear the whole screen of baddies, or to do damage to a level boss. The animations when using this attack are beautiful, and Eradicator’s special move looks especially epic. Most Beat ‘Em Ups allow you to hit multiple enemies with your punches and kicks, but this is not one of those games. When there are 2+ enemies next to each other, you never can hit more than one at the same time. This allows for many cheap hits from the enemies you aren’t currently fighting. Furthermore, when you get hit, knocked down, or electrocuted by something, you don’t get even a second of invulnerability to get back on your feet. This can lead to rapid health loss when a boss knocks you down, or when three or more enemies come at you at once.

Using foreign objects as weapons has always been a staple in the Beat ‘Em Up genre. One thing I like in this game is the ability to pick up boxes and debris on the ground and throw it at enemies. Another way of getting throwable objects is by kicking enemies off motorcycles or smashing their planes down. The remains are then able to be used as a weapon. One huge positive of this is the potential to hit multiple enemies at once with a projectile. However, even this ability has issues. For example, Superman actually throws in a weird arc. You have to get used to how to throw or you will miss every enemy on the screen. Another problem is that you can’t fly while holding anything. If you’re holding a broken motorcycle and arrive at a part of the level where you have to fly up the side of a building, you have to leave the object behind. It really becomes a waste of resources at that point. I don’t understand this thought process both in the context of Superman and in video games in general. Superman should be able to lift any of these objects without any issue while flying, and as it is not the end of a level, you shouldn’t be forced to give your weapon up.

In general, The Death and Return of Superman is visually well done. Superman’s pose after beating a level looks particularly awesome. When walking, the graphics are very fluid and the characters’ capes look great as they are blowing around. One thing I really like about this game is the layered backgrounds. There’s one level in particular that contains a fence behind you. You can see water far beyond the fence, but also can see though the missing panels at the city directly on the other side of it. All of these backgrounds scroll individually, so the collective scenery is spectacular. However, not all of the visuals are effective. The game is also a victim of artwork in the foreground. Although it is not anywhere near as cluttered as ‘Separation Anxiety’, I still just don’t see any point in having it. Showing newspaper boxes, street signs, poles, or vita chambers in the foreground does not make me feel any more immersed in the game. Even though they don’t get too in the way of gameplay, the foreground art should have been left out altogether.

Though the game does offer infinite continues, it doesn’t let you use them on the spot. Personally, I always prefer limited instant continues over unlimited continues that take you to a game over screen and make you restart from the beginning of a level. The levels aren’t very long, but it does get tedious going through the same parts over and over again. That said, the game over screen is beautiful. Watching Superman’s tattered cape blowing in the wind is very well done and fits the mood of the game.

When it comes down to it, this game fights against itself more than tries to save the day. There are a lot of good ideas here, but for every positive this game has to offer I can think of at least two negatives to counteract it. As a whole this game is a brutally and unnecessarily frustrating mess compared to other games released in the genre. I would even go as far as saying that after playing this for a while, I didn’t even find it fun anymore. I really wanted to like this game, maybe due to nostalgia or maybe due to just wanting to play a great retro Beat ‘Em Up. If the developers had made a handful of changes to this game, it could easily be in the Top 5 of Beat ‘Em Ups. But, this is the unfortunate final product and hindsight is always 20/20.

Batman ReturnsSNES (1993)

I’m not sure if any movie based game nailed the atmosphere of its source material better than Batman Returns on the SNES. Everything looks spot on, especially the cutscene graphics. Taken right from the movie, the cutscenes use lots of blacks, whites, and grays, rather than a bright color pallet. The colors make the game feel exactly like the movie, and in general, this game does it justice. The Batman Returns movie was dark and gritty, and so is the game.

The first thing you notice when starting this game is that the sprites are very large and colorful. The opening shows a beautiful scene of the Batmobile driving into Gotham. The backgrounds in the game are very detailed and rich. For example, in one of the first levels there is a large Christmas tree in backdrop. The colored lights on the tree continuously change as you fight your way through the level, giving the whole sequence something extra. The backgrounds are also interactive: You can bang enemies off of street signs, throw them into store windows that smash upon the impact, and more. Throughout the game, Batman has many methods of attacks. He is able to punch, jump and kick, swan dive, spin around hitting enemies with his cape (a special move), throw test tubes, or use his batarang and grapple hook. The test tube is used to clear the screen of baddies or damage a boss. While you only have a limited supply, you do pick up extras on your way through the game. The grapple hook is mostly used to swing out of the way, but you can also use it to swing into and hit enemies. The downside of this attack is as soon as you make contact with an enemy, you lose health. I understand that games take health away when you use you special move (this game being no different), but it makes no sense why you lose health when utilizing the grapple hook to combat enemies. It is not your special move.

All of the enemies in this game, with the exception of bosses, are clowns. There are many different types of them: Tall clowns, fat clowns, clowns juggling bowling pins, clowns on stilts, fire breathing clowns, grenade shooting clowns, sword swallowing clowns, clowns on motorcycles, clowns throwing bombs, and large, monstrous clowns that act as stage bosses. This definitely is taken from the movie, but the clown theme does get repetitive. Though Catwoman and the Penguin are the star villains of the movie, in the game all of these clowns seem to take center stage. One of the most satisfying things in the game is grabbing two clowns and smashing them into each other, knocking both out. Beating up enough of these guys throughout the game rewards you with extra lives, which is a huge help.

The bosses in this game are beyond unfair. A few of them are the monstrous clowns previously mentioned, but you also have Catwoman and the Penguin. Catwoman is insanely quick, has ranged attacks with her whip, and can fly back and forth across the screen in a second. I swear she has moments of invincibility too. You can figure out her pattern, but it is still very hard to get out of her way, as Batman is not the most agile superhero ever to live. The Penguin battles are cheap too. There is a time when you fight him in his Rubber Duck vehicle. You have to jump under it as it ascends and then get out of its way before it comes back down. You can just barely make it, but since this game doesn’t have a dash button, I got hit almost every time. Bosses are prime time to be using your stash of test tubes.

This game is yet another casualty of interference from foreground artwork. From street signs to statues to poles, let’s just say they make a better door than a window. There’s one part where a statue covers the entire left side of the screen. It gets in the way and is an unnecessary annoyance. There is another level where there are lots of rocket shooting, armored penguins in the foreground throughout the whole thing. This is pretty much the only time I’ll give foreground art a pass. The penguins look so funny here that you can’t help but laugh. A large army of armored penguins shooting rockets and flapping their beaks talking to each other is pretty hilarious. I was laughing throughout the entire level looking at these guys.

Overall, this game is very well done. However, here are a few negatives that stuck out to me. First, when you finally get to drive the Batmobile, it is nowhere near as awesome as I thought it was going to be. Second, When you are knocked down you aren't even granted a moment of invincibility to get back onto your feet. Third, fighting Catwoman is hard enough, but the second time you fight her there are poles in the foreground that block you from seeing everything that’s going on. Also, Catwoman’s laugh is so annoying that it will haunt your dreams if you play this game too much. Finally, in the game’s option menu it says that in order to use a test tube, you just have to press X. While playing, I could not get the action to work with the X button. I honestly thought my controller was broken and tried using a second controller, but got the same results. Only after I looked this up on the internet did I discover that you have to press either L or R, and THEN press X. It is completely unacceptable to have incorrect information in the options menu.

There are some great Batman games and some terrible ones. Same goes with movies. Batman on NES and the recent Arkham releases are great games. Batman Forever comes to mind as a horrible one. As far as Beat ‘Em Ups go, this one is a great example of a well-made game. The fact that this particular game is 1 –Player really grinds my Batgears. This game feels so much like an arcade game that you can practically see the words ‘2P Insert Coin’ flashing in the top right hand corner of the screen. I understand this follows the movie and there’s not much wiggle room here for a sidekick, seeing as Batman acts alone in the film, but any of these would have been acceptable as the second player’s character: a palette swap of Batman, the Batmobile transformed into some type of bipedal Terminator machine, or even a rocket shooting armored penguin gone rogue. As far as Batman games go, while this might not be the best, it is far from the worst. Batman Returns is personally my favorite of the movies. I remember seeing it as a kid, and the Penguin scared me and my sisters out of our minds. Next time you’re in the mood for Batman, watch the movie and then play the SNES game afterwards. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with both.

Mighty Morphin’ Power RangersSNES (1994)

First off, the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” game for SNES completely rocks! It’s honestly one of my favorite games from the 16-Bit era. This game proves that excellent games can be made from licensed properties.

This game is a side scrolling Beat ‘Em Up where you begin the levels as your un-morphed chosen character and fight your way to until you meet the boss of the stage. At that point your character morphs into their respective Power Ranger with a killer animation while at the same time filling up your health bar. Then you fight through the rest of the level until reaching the boss.

The game is fast. All of the Power Rangers move quickly in the game. They can jump all over the place, even off walls. There is no run button, nor you can’t double tap a direction to dash, but I really feel that the game is fast enough and works well without either.

You are able to choose your character from one of the five different Power Rangers: Trini, Billy, Jason, Kimberly, and Zach. The characters all have the same controls, but each has a unique look, move set, and respective colored uniform and weapons. One great feature of character selection in this game is that you choose a character before every stage. You can continue you play as the same character throughout the whole game, or you can switch it up. If you beat stage one with Zach, and wanted to play stage two with Kimberly, that is entirely possible. This is one of my favorite features of the game because it really keeps everything fresh. However, as is my major complaint with the entire genre, the game suffers from the lack of a two player mode. All five characters were created for the game so why not utilize as many as possible simultaneously?

The game is on the easier side on the spectrum of difficulties. It wasn’t meant to be very hard and it wasn’t meant to be cryptic. It was made for a younger audience and it needs to be taken as that. When it comes to health pickups, nothing is wasted here. If your health bar is full when you pick up a medical kit it will actually heal you past the end of your health bar. On the other hand, if you fall into a pit you do lose all of your health instead of just a portion of it.

The enemies are almost exclusively the Putties from the T.V. show. They come in an array of colors from gray to green to red and so on. The different colors of the Putties are used to differentiate the amount of hits until they’re defeated and also the type of weapon they wield. Even though there isn’t a vast array of enemies, I never felt bored beating them up throughout the game. This game is similar to the ‘Secret of the Ooze’ with regards to the bosses because although I did watch the show as a kid, I didn’t recognize any of them. The bosses do not have health bars, but rather change form as you deal damage to them until they are eventually destroyed.

The soundtrack in the game is one of the best I’ve ever heard. It comes as no surprise, as the music in this game was composed by Kinuyo Yamashita (Yamashita’s other famous works include Castlevania and Mega Man X3) From the 16-bit rendition of the theme song to the amazing Depot level music to the ending song, you will be rocking out the entire time. The music is so fistpump-worthy that you will find yourself humming the songs long after you’ve finished the game. I actually let the ending song continue to play on my T.V. while I was finishing up other things in my room because it is such a great song.

A cool detail of the game is the subtle homage to some classic games. Most of the healing items are medical kits, but every so often you’ll find a turkey leg with a large bone sticking out of it to heal you, a reference to Castlevania. Also, in the first level some Putties roll up in cars. After you defeat the Putties, you have the option to destroy the cars by punching and kicking them Street Fighter II style. It doesn’t affect the game at all, but it’s a nice nod to other games.

While it has many positive aspects, the game is not without its faults. There are some sections that completely derail the game. There are certain sequences where you have to crawl on your knees to get through the level. I really don’t think this was necessary, and it really looks weird seeing the Power Rangers crawling on their hands and knees. All of the authority of their presence is taken away in these sections. The worst part of the game is when you have to swim. You are not able to fight underwater, but Putties are still able to hit you when they’re submerged. You also can’t stand up underwater. This means that you have to wait for the water to clear in order to beat up the enemies or start breaking down a barrier. After a few seconds the water fills up again, forcing you to stop what you’re doing and swim out of range of the enemy attacks. Then, the water will drain again and you can finish off the baddie or destroy the blockage in order to continue on your way. These sections are pointless and only take away from the game.

“Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” is a licensed game that was made correctly. It’s fast, fun, and pulls very well from its source material. The largest drawback of this game is that it is only single player. Though not the end of the world, it really would have much more replayability if you could play co-op in the game. I felt satisfied throughout the game, especially when everything came together in the end. When the Megazord makes its appearance, it completely pumps you up and really give you a second wind to get to the end. This is definitely one of the best 1-Player Beat ‘Em Up games.



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