Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Beat 'Em Up Christmas (Part 1)

I've been saving this up for a while.

I've been spending a great amount of time over the last few years watching many arcade game videos on Youtube. Through it, I have discovered my love of the beat 'em up genre. It's a simple genre, one that most have played at one point or another. It's a genre that is woefully underrepresented in the modern game landscape, with only homages (like Castle Crashers) and descendants (the action games that are based on Devil May Cry). And while Crashers is a start, I'd love to see the good ol' straightforward mutliplayer games more often.

Considering how simplistic the genre is, I understand how hard it can be to make it right. But by looking into a variety of classic games, I have seen the elements in them that make them so good. Any beat 'em up that wants to be great, too, may need to take the following pointers to heart:

Large Movesets

This is one of the simplest, but most essential, things to have. Considering that the extent of the gameplay is "go over there, beat up those guys", it's a good idea to give the players a variety of ways to beat up those guys over there, so it doesn't get boring. Aside from the standard combos, air attacks, throws, and clearing moves, give them some fighting game-style special moves with different effects, more throws, hell even a dash attack would be cool. Games like the above example, Guardians, give their characters HUGE movesets, which added to the fact that there many characters to play as (see next suggestion), adds to the variety and options you have for gameplay.

In conclusion, while Double Dragon and even Final Fight have their place, basing your character movesets on those types of games is not the wisest of moves. Give players options, people!

Characters who are Different

The above game, Gaia Crusaders, has 7 playable characters in total (5 at the start, and 2 more who become available halfway into the game). Each of them have a unique fighting style, which adds to the variety the game gives the player (you could play the game as the kickboxer, or the robot, or the magician, and each would give you a slightly different experience). This is something that's been around since Final Fight, and could easily be expanded upon. Yes, give us the fast/slow/balanced guys, but think about other stuff, like controls and what moves they have (Haggar and the wrestler-style characters are the most obvious example), give them little other things that they could do, like having characters with certain attacks be able to interact with the environment in different ways. Wall Jumping, how they use weapons, their reach...there's a ton of stuff to work with to make sure each character is unique and fun to play as.


Crime Fighters 2 (AKA Vendetta) is famous for the amount of items you can pick up and use as weapons. Aside from the standards like knives, you can use shotguns, whips, sandbags, bricks, beer bottles...pretty much anything not nailed down. Other games, like Alien vs Predator include a large number of firearms, with ammo, that can add to the experience. Not every great beat 'em up has such weapon variety, but damn does it make the game that much more fun. And even modern games get it: the beat 'em up-inspired Dead Rising lets you use pretty much a whole mall's worth of stuff to kill zombies.
So let players pick up up things, and give them all the weapons you can make. And hey, since we were talking about character variety, have certain characters be allowed to pick up heavier objects, or be more effective at wielding certain weapons. Synergy!

Oh, and another thing also demonstrated in the above game: down attacks! They usually end up in the more simplistic games, but man is it fun to curb stomp your enemies. I think down attacks, much like weapons, are not essential to a great game, but they add to it. One of the few little things I didn't agree with in Castle Crashers was that you could only stomp enemies once.

This is it for now. Hopefully I'll get the next one up tonight or tomorrow, but right now I need a break.

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