Why the beat ’em up genre is dying

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Does anyone remember the side-scrolling beat ’em up game, where you walk around the streets beating up bad guys with your fists? Remember when they were sucking the quarters out of you at the arcades during the ’80s? Remember the frustration those games brought? It may interest you to know that these games where made deliberately hard so they can scam kids out of their whole allowances. What do we call it now? We call that extortion.

The beat ’em up genre has since moved on to home consoles, where it also enjoyed success (even though you had to pay $40 to buy the cartridge). The most prominent beat ’em up game in the ’80s was Double Dragon. Why am I talking about it? Because this post is about two things:

  1. Double Dragon Neon (and why it’s so bad)
  2. The future of the arcade-style beat ’em up

On Monday, I went to town to take some money from my bank account, and then proceeded to go shopping. I bought a PSN top-up card so I could buy some games from the PlayStation Network. One of them was Double Dragon Neon, I game that I had been anticipating since it was announced in the spring of 2012. I was actually quite disappointed with the end result. It may sound crazy, but IGN actually has a point (though calling it awful is a bit of an exaggeration).

The voice acting was terrible, and combined with the exaggerated enemy design, it amounted to a pretty campy experience. But that’s the least of our worries. The gameplay was pretty sluggish, and just tried to add unnecessary RPG elements to compensate for what is effectively a short game. Speaking of that, the game happens to be harder than humanly tolerable. If you lose all your lives in a level, and you choose to continue, then you have to start all the way at the beginning of the level. It’s as though the developers didn’t even realize why the arcade beat ’em up is dying.

Also, Double Dragon Neon seems to be trying to detach itself from the Double Dragon franchise. The cringe-worthy villain they introduced, Skullmageddon (I know, horrible), has nothing to do with Double Dragon at all, and only serves to introduce a stereotypical villain that’s campy even by 80’s standards. It’s things like this that make people think: “Thank God games like these are dead.”

If you want to revive a genre straight from the 80’s and 90’s, you have to avoid making the same mistakes that make people tune out nowadays. Namely, no more of that frustrating “start the level all over again if you fail” gimmick. This and other game-breaking gimmicks come from a time when the arcades actually could make money. It was implemented to scam kids out of their cash, and so only rich kids can afford to beat the game (unless you were really awesome at arcade games).

Also, I think people would like for beat ’em up games to be faster in pace. I swear, movement in Double Dragon Neon is sluggish, and if you want to duck, holding down L2 doesn’t work. There was a game like this that was based on the movie Scott Pilgrim versus the World, and it actually did well, probably because it isn’t as stuck in the past as Double Dragon Neon.

If we want to save the side-scrolling beat ’em up genre, then there are going to have to be some changes made so that we can keep the genre alive in a way that it will be acceptable again, while still keeping true to classic principles. That’s basically the genre’s only hope.

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