Beat ‘em ups were and are my thing. I just think that the concept of going left to right beating people up is enjoyable and less brutal than first person shooting which is a good thing, probably? It’s relaxing, exhilarating, doesn’t demand a strong commitment in time or skills. That’s good entertainment.
I think that type of game would be great in lots of ways these days: a beat ‘em up where you go after cat-callers and rapists a beat ‘em up where you play the new Ghostbuster cast, a beat ‘em up where you punch politicians in the face before escaping the white house I mean, the list is endless.
I was there when they were popular in the arcades. A few notes on what they need to have in order to become a classic.
Look at Battle Circuit, the last Capcom beat ‘em up in 1997: you can play a woman in leotard, a Fantastic Four looking skinny dude, a carnivorous plant, a little girl riding an ostrich and a cyberdude. Maybe that’s a little extreme but you get the point, representation and diversity are important because it makes your potential audience happy. Don’t just have a dude and dudette, with the dudette being “fast” and the dude “strong”. We’re way passed that. Mix it up and go nuts on character design.
The beat ‘em up golden age is the 90s. 16bit graphics, 4096 colors. So I’m always kind of annoyed when I see that most beat ‘em all avoid that style for another “8bitHD” style, monochromatic and sad. The 16bit, Paul Robertson style is where it’s at. Bring me some colors, bring me some dynamic.
Audio is insanely important. Punches and kicks need to make you smile and feel like you’re actively beating the fuck out of those punks. Streets of Rage does beat ‘em up sound effects admirably. You need that high pitched, slap sound. That’s the feel good, hilarious, crucial part (Castle Crashers lets you abuse the slap sound as much as possible). SMACK THAT BITCH UP. Mid 90s is when we started getting sampled voices everywhere, so you would end up in a satisfying flow of punch and whoosh sounds, short screams and other digitalized cues with a punchy soundtrack that all together made the experience what it was. You need those whoosh sounds when you’re not hitting anybody, it helps solidifying the experience. Mother Russia Bleeds fails quite hard on the sound side when it could elevate that game soooo much.
It has to be perfectly possible to beat the game on easy almost first try. It’s about having fun, not about spending hours you guys. Once again Streets of Rage and Castle Crashers do that perfectly –and that’s really hard to do- you can beat the game on easy or ruin your fingers on hardest. Health bars on all enemies is an awesome convention because it discreetly teaches you how to optimize your moves to get rid of them: two punches and a head butt or one uppercut and a kick in the face? And of course on bosses, it makes you realize how long it’s going to take, as well as putting pressure on you once you know you’re about to win. Not giving that precious feedback to players to force them to be as perfect as possible regardless is bad design. I don’t play beat ‘em up for a damn score or “be the perfect beast”, I play them to have a good time.
IT’S NOT THAT DEEP
I think beat ‘em ups can be serious in the theming –if you want to- but must use some kind of comedy in the delivery. I mean, it’s like any entertainment: violence is fine but you have to justify, wrap it into something that makes it less about just violence. I’d love to play a beat ‘em up where the plot is just you and your friends going to the beach and you end up in a riot beating up cops, rioters, scientologists and priests, destroying SUVs and fixies, sucker punching idiots on their phones, trying to go through to get there before sunset. The end would be like Inside’s end and that game would be the shit.
Beat ‘em ups could be so many things.