Release Date: September 18, 2018Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PCDeveloper: CapcomPublisher: CapcomGenre: Beat ‘Em Up
Capcom has always been big on re-releases. That’s who the company is. It’s in its DNA. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times Street Fighter II was up for sale. Now, Capcom has hit a point when it can put together collections of 20-year-old classics in a brand new, nostalgic package.
With the 2D Street Fighter and Mega Man stuff already collected and out for current-gen consoles, Capcom went in a very intriguing direction for its next batch of re-releases. Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle was announced so abruptly, I’m surprised it isn’t a Cloverfield tie-in.
The collection comes with seven games, spanning from Capcom making its mark on the genre with Final Fight in 1989 to 1997’s Battle Circuit, a more obscure beat em up releases at a time when the genre had gone out of style. What’s fantastic here is the diversity of the titles. Even if the gameplay is similar, each game has very different aesthetics for the most part. You have street gang warfare, colorful superheroes, medieval fantasy, giant robot battles, wacky bounty hunters from the future, and so on.
The unfortunate elephant in the room is that there are some absolute gems that aren’t included due to licensing issues. Games like Punisher and Alien vs. Predator are the pinnacle of beat ‘em ups, but are restricted by pesky licenses. Same with Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, which I admittedly haven’t played but hear great things about.
What we do have is still great. We start with Final Fight, which has aged extremely well for a game that’s nearly 30 years old. 1987’s Street Fighter still comes off as burning garbage, but this game from two years later holds very well. Everything looks great, sounds great, plays great, and outside of the final stage going on a little too long, the pacing is perfect. It’s easy to see why this grindhouse story of a wrestling mayor and his friends would integrate itself into the Street Fighter games over time.
The King of Dragons is a very different game that more heavily leans on skill. You have five characters to choose from with different stats that measure fighting and magic skills, range, and agility. The more you play, the more your characters level up. This game is probably the biggest departure from the Final Fight formula, but it works well, especially when jumping into multiplayer. It also features fantastic boss designs, including what is essentially Smaug in the finale.
Captain Commando is a game that looks like it should be completely awesome, but just doesn’t live up to its potential. The designs are great and I love the character selection (our titular superhero, a knife-wielding mummy, a ninja, and a baby in a mech), but it’s not different enough from Final Fight. Final Fight feels more down-to-earth and the limited amount of attacks matches that feel. Captain Commando and his crew can do about the same amount of stuff, making the boss battles feel tedious. That in itself is an issue since every level is extremely short and dives too quickly into boss fights.
Knights of the Round feels like the weakest game on the list. Picking one of three heroes from Arthurian legend, you have to rely on sword combos and a block-and-counter system that I could never time correctly with PS4 controls. It’s not a bad game, but it really feels the least inspired of the bundle. I suppose being the only thematically redundant game (King of Dragons is the superior medieval entry) had a lot to do with that. I do like that each warrior’s armor gets a visual upgrade as the characters level up.
Warriors of Fate is solid. Now, third-century China isn’t my go-to place for video game settings, but the gameplay makes up for it. Of the five playable characters, you can choose from bare-handed brawlers, swordsmen, or the worst archer I have ever seen. I mean, I suck at archery, but at least I can aim higher than my knee. These guys take part in a fairly straightforward take on the Final Fight style, but with more diverse fighting styles. I even like how riding a horse feels like a much bigger advantage than in Knights of the Round or the mechs from Captain Commando.
That it took so long for Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit to make it to consoles is criminal.
Playing Armored Warriors for the first time is a definite, “Where have you been all my life?” moment. Sweet Jesus, this game rules. It’s a visual prequel (for lack of a better term) to the one-on-one fighter Cyberbots where you just go around in a giant robot and cut through leagues of enemy robots all while assimilating their tech and mowing down enemy gunmen who are stupid enough to get in the way. Really, the worst thing I can say about Armored Warriors is that it’s sometimes confusing when you see all these mechs crashing around on screen like a shaky-cam fight scene in a Transformers movie.
Last but definitely not least is Battle Circuit. It’s a futuristic and cartoony adventure about outrageous bounty hunters constantly chasing down their mad scientist arch nemesis while being attacked at every turn by a street gang run by an Elvis impersonator. Our heroes – which include a girl riding an ostrich, a Venus flytrap, and other weirdoes – have the option to add to their movesets in-between levels by either buying new attacks or increasing their stats. There’s also the ability to add buffs during levels.
Now, the sidescroller beat’em up genre is, for better or worse, a relic of its time. It’s something that best exists in an arcade in the ’90s where your endurance is linked to how much money your parents gave you to turn into tokens. That you had to specifically leave your house made it enough of a novelty that it remained shiny and fresh. Bringing these games home led to a balancing act that could kill their enjoyment.
In the SNES/Genesis days, developers would limit your continues and that would make the game frustrating and tedious. The gameplay is already in danger of becoming repetitive, but then you have to play through the early levels over and over again while knowing that screwing up and losing a life at a key point could ruin your run. On the other hand, an arcade-perfect port means unlimited continues and no real challenge. Plus the games are designed to be anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes long and once you’re done, you’ve usually seen all there is to offer.
You had to be charming as hell to work as a console beat ‘em up. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time was a damn miracle in retrospect.
While you can fiddle with each game to figure out how hard the AI is, how many lives you get per credit, languages, and other stuff, you’re ultimately left with a game that you can’t truly lose unless you choose to…times seven. That’s not to say that there isn’t replay value. Altogether, you have nearly 30 characters to choose from and a few of the games even have multiple endings depending on who you choose and/or whether you fulfill certain objectives. Granted, I can’t imagine anyone putting aside the time to see every single ending.
At least playing multiplayer spruces things up by allowing you and your friends to share the mindless joy of kicking ass with infinite lives or jumping in on an existing game online. That said, only Captain Commando and Battle Circuit allow you to have four players. Most other games only allow up to three and Final Fight only allows two despite having three characters to choose from. I suppose I’m just spoiled from Konami giving us a 6-player X-Men game back in 1992.
In terms of extras, there’s not much. The bundle comes with an art gallery for each game, featuring preliminary concept art. Neat to see, but nothing mind-blowing.
What’s important here is the price. It’s only twenty bucks. Add tax and you get each game for about three bucks. Unlimited arcade play for twelve quarters apiece. Nitpicking and less-than-perfect star ratings don’t matter here because twenty dollars for this bundle is an absolute steal.
The bundle is a must-have for fans of ’90s arcade games unless beat ’em ups really weren’t your bag. It has classics and obscure gems that really should have been considered classics. Even the worst games are still worth wasting a half hour on. There’s no challenge thanks to the constant free play, but I suppose there is power in the freedom of being able to take down every single opponent that gets in your face no matter how many virtual tokens you have to spend.