Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Beat 'Em Up Christmas Part Two

And we're back. It's almost like this thing is live!

Multiplayer! And make it simple!

Of course, multiplayer is a must. A old, arcade-style beat 'em up becomes all the better if you can share it with a friend...or three, preferably. I'm probably not paying attention, but there doesn't seem to be many 4-player co-op games anymore.
Of course, for multiplayer, you need to set it up so that it's simple for another player to join the game. I know it's difficult, and developers usually set up different modes for solo play and multiplay (especially if it involves online). But it's so much more relaxing if your buddies can join in whenever they want, and you don't need to set anything up. It's an impossible dream, I know, but if Smash Bros. Brawl could do it with its Adventure mode...
Another thing: for multiplayer to really work, you need to make the game geared towards having multiple people. Otherwise, it's just more than one guy beating up a pack of enemies, not much different from solo. Make things more interesting in multiplayer games: throw in extra stuff you can't do alone, or give characters things that help a party. The above example, the woefully underrated Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder, has both: not only can two or more players perform a powerful throw move together, but one character even has a special move that produces enough healing items for 4 players. Another example is in the Simpsons arcade game, where if you have 4 players, you can pick up a police car and throw it at enemies. It's the little stuff like that which make the game way more interesting.

Make Battles Epic

At heart, beat 'em ups are just defeating wave after wave of enemies. Some games like to keep those waves small, and some, like Warriors of Fate (above) and Alien vs Predator, prefer to surround you with tons of enemies. This may seem unfair, but giving your characters a lot of good attacks, and giving you abilities like being able to throw enemies at other enemies, and things become managable. The epic battle concept is essential to one of the successors to the arcade beat 'em up throne - Dynasty Warriors, which is not coincidentally based on the same material as the example (Chinese war just needs to be huge, you know?) This concepy may not work in every game, but especially in a game with 3 or 4 players, surrounding you with plentiful adversaries makes things feel much grander.
One of the big problems with beat 'em ups is the lack of enemy variety. Since you're just throwing waves of them out, developers don't feel the need to make more than a dozen or so enemy types, and players notice. With the above idea, that makes it unlikley this kind of problem will be solved...but it is possible to give the illusion of variety. Just look at the old TMNT games, which gave the FOOT Soldiers different weapons all the time. Also, if you decide to have a variety of settings (and we'll talk more about that later), having a new set of enemies appear in every level might be a good idea to give the illusion of variety.

Speaking of epic and enemies, one of the most crucial elements of a beat 'em up is its boss fights. To keep giving off that grand atmosphere, bosses really need to be larger than life. One needs to put all their creativity into those battles, creating bosses that throw curveballs at the player whenever possible. Variety among bosses is absolutely essential, although reusing bosses for things like gauntlets (those dreaded things, although sometimes they just feel right). They need to be insane. And if the boss can't do it...surround it with minions, which Warriors of Fate does. Just make sure the boss rights are awesome, alright?

Go all out

One of things that make me love the beat 'em up genre is that the developers, especially in the arcade heyday, felt the need to make things insane. Look at the characters and settings in Battle Circuit: there's a billion things going on there, and you know what? It's great. In stage 2 you fight an Elvis impersonator in a disco ballroom, later you fight a baboon with a jet pack and a knight on a chariot pulled by slugs...and then you get to play as a pink ostrich with an eyepatch. That kind of anything-goes mentality just makes these games feel more fun.
Because you want to give players a greater variety, considering that the basic game is pretty simple, conceits that let your characters go from a forest to a sewer to the moon seems a far better fit. Even though the majority of the games, early on especially, were Double Dragon and Final Fight knockoffs, the genre has been free enough to go all over the map. And I myself prefer that - I'd rather fight martian robots in a jungle than some mohawked guys in an alleyway.
I think the gist of this is that you might need some hallucinogenics when making a beat 'em up to make it good. Don't feel the need to stick to anything...dammit, don't even feel the need to make any sense. Just go where the action is, even if it is the moon.

A little personality goes a long way...

To go along with the previously established fun atmosphere, it is imperiative the game have characters that are distinct and are just enjoyable to have around. This goes for both playable characters and bosses. This can be done through a variety of means: visual style, character designs, animations, and voice. One of the most fun things about Konami's beat 'em up efforts, like the above Violent Storm, is that they gave the bosses opening lines before the battle, and that was awesome. It made the bosses that much more enjoyable, because they felt like real characters.
In the end, all these elements combine to give a game a fun atmosphere. I guess there can be games that don't go for the goody kitchen sink approach...but when there are so many other dreary games out there, I'd rather just have something with a sense of humor.

Well, that's all I can think of right now. If any other ideas/inspirations comes up, I'll make a new part, probably under a new title, because calling something Christmas in May seems a tad dumb

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