They’ve been with us for generation upon generation, and have slowly but surely become a cornerstone to modern gaming – it’s the Beat ‘Em Up. It’s a strange genre really, because it encompasses a lot of the things that took years to develop even in other genres in games as early as Street Fighter. To name a few, optimal power strategies (the equivalent to a noob-tube in Call of Duty) has been present since Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap; button mashing is well-known in action games nowadays but was more than prevalent back in yesteryear before combo lists; and who could possibly forget the raging?
Back when consoles were but paleolithic remnants of what we identify in modern consoles, technological limitations were abundant. They sprawled across the not-so-verdant 8 bit meadows, and they scoured even the greatest of 4-bit heights, which meant developers had a choice: display a lot of really ugly content, or display a little bit of content that looked extremely good (well, maybe not by today’s standards but you get what I mean). Beat ‘em Ups took the latter avenue, choosing vibrant gameplay with more detailed sprites than most games offered.
It worked in their favour tremendously, because they could limit the number of rounds a player could have without compromising gameplay in arcade machines; people loved the Beat ‘em Up. When it came to the choice of dodgy space games, or RPGs with more meta than the Viridian Forest that would trick you out of your money (imagine paying for each life in Dark Souls and that’s an arcade machine tier RPG) or a good old Beat ‘em Up with the guy next to you – it found itself winning amongst the competition.
Of course as consoles began to become more popular, they too suffered from tech-deficiencies; the Nintendo Entertainment System and even more recent consoles such as the original Playstation weren’t excessively powerful. You had very limited sprite (or polygon) budget you had to adhere and try to produce the best looking thing you possibly could, and so the great ‘bromance’ of the 80s and 90s began. Playing a good old beat ‘em up game with a buddy around their house was a quick way to grow a disdain for their button mashing ways, ah the nostalgia.
But nowadays, at the end of the seventh generation of consoles teetering on the introduction of the eighth, we’re at a powerhouse wealth of technological progression. We have more compute power than should quite possibly have ever found its way into a rational society’s entertainment franchise, with polygon budgets in the thousands and textures galore. So where do they really fit in nowadays? Well, for a start at least the graphics are pretty…
This is a very difficult stage for the Beat ‘em Up game; it’s between the crossroads of yesteryear where they had high fidelity graphics compared with their competition, and yet still before they can use new paradigms and input methods to really bring life to their games. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy a few rounds of Tekken 6, but the gameplay style feels archaic and out-of-place in this modern setting; I’m far from one to preach typical grey and brown first person shooters as the future, but it just feels like something is missing from modern Beat ‘em Ups that might substantiate them.
By now you must have seen things such as the Oculus Rift, heck even the Kinect is getting a plethora of praise and developers are finding new ways to integrate these input methods into their games. However, I’m a little bit sceptical about the whole scenario and how they might merge a genre that is perhaps the most physically animated with a paradigm designed to get you physically involved. While some of you might be martial arts masters and while most of us not, I find it hard to believe your calling to a video game would be pretending to do those moves AND having to physically act them out.
Personally, I have enough trouble coordinating myself for the glorious ten-move-combos in Tekken, never mind trying to actually perform those actions. With this in mind, developers would either have to vastly simplify the experience or have people performing completely unfeasible – that’s not even to mention how ridiculous you’d feel if someone walked in on you doing some sort of half-hearted pseudo spin kick. Even then, the kinds of moves you see in Beat ‘em Up games are wire-fu moves, they’re greatly exaggerated versions of something people already have to train for years to perform; the likelihood any rational minded developer would conclude someone could pick it up off the shelf and act those moves out is slim to none.
To conclude, I believe Beat ‘em Up games are on a downward spiral and are clutching at straws; they can add in things like spangled customisation and fancier move sets, but this genre doesn’t have a whole lot of room to grow into. I could be utterly wrong, and developers might wow us with fantastic virtual reality integration with novel-like stories and a free money dispenser on your console. I’m doubtful, and those, are my sentiments exactly.