Saturday, 12 September 2015
The DNA of side-scrolling beat 'em ups
Side-scrolling beat 'em ups all tend to have a) standard thugs/foot soldiers/minions b) sub-bosses to provide a bit more challenge mid-way through a stage c) a main boss at the end of each level. If you're playing a fighter based on the real world then of course, the standard thugs at the bottom of the payscale must all dress the same and go by names such as 'Grit', 'Bonanza' or 'William' (don't ask why, just accept it). They will also be weak and the player character will have no trouble despatching about 40 guys in the same street. Try doing that in real life! Male goons must of course be punks, bodybuilder types, huge fat men (wearing braces) or ninjas. The girls are happy to walk the streets in leotards, tiny crop tops or high heels - perfect combat gear...apparently. The sub-bosses will be karate experts or just bigger blokes capable of actually blocking your attacks whereas the big bad end-of-level nasties will have ways of breaking out of your combos, moving around at unlikely speeds or being cheap with projectiles (which the regular goons didn't think to do).
The Player Characters:
There are typical archtypes of playable warriors in side-scrolling beat 'em ups. Power characters, agile characters and all-rounders. You can expect the 'Power' character to be handy with suplexes and devastating throws but sluggish and therefore ideal for both experts and newcomers. The experts will know how to play the Power charecter without falling prey to their weaknesses while newbies will appreciate being able to bash through enemies easier but probably won't be able to complete the game with them in the long run. The 'Agile' character will be the bane of feminists by usually being a female sculpted from the 'fast but weak' mould. Their combos will be good and their speed useful but expect to take longer to wear down foes and definitely expect a harder time against the bosses. Oh and they will be just as unsuitably dressed for fighting as the women in the enemy's ranks. One for the experts. Finally, the 'All-Rounder' is the ultimate universally friendly character that has no specific strengths but covers all bases just enough so that anybody can use them regardless of experience. All will be striving to defeat the game's ultimate end boss for a range of epic reasons including (but not limited to) the kidknapping/murder of a loved one, in the hope that the city's crime will be completely destroyed with the elimination of a single villain or because said villain has a ballistic missile ready to launch.
Where to begin? Your typical beat 'em up will feature city streets, city parks, a dockland or industrial zone, a factory/warehouse, some sort of Japanese-themed area, a fight atop a moving train, a beach, the top floor of a skyscraper, a subway system, another streets stage, a seedy bar, and a bridge. The fantasy equivalent will not be complete without volcanoes, villages, a stage set aboard a ship, a mountain, a cave and a castle or two. It's also incredible just how easy it is to be trading blows with thugs in a neon-lit street before being blasted up into space to take the battle into orbit onboard the villain's secret space station. Such things are to be expected after all.
For all these stereotypes and worn-out cliches however, gamers can't get enough of what they should already be expecting and that certainly goes for me as well. There was a time when arcades and home consoles were flooded with games like these and I do miss this era. Modern day digital services such as PSN and XBLA have brought us the likes of Double Dragon Neon and the Scott Pilgrim game however so who knows? Maybe there are still many more streets and warehouses to battle through and many more knife-toting guys (and indentikit clones) called 'Slider' to introduce to the power of justice...