If there is one genre from my childhood that I sore miss it is the beat;em up genre. Classic titles such as Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, and countless Konami arcade classics of the genre consumed many countless hours of my youth. There is a special charm in the genre’s simplicity and “replayability” that kept me, and I am sure many other gamers, coming back for more again and again. You don’t see a lot of beat’em up games in today’s market, if any at all. The last one that I recall playing was Ubisoft Montreal’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: the Game last year. Aside from that game the genre has been pretty much dead, or at least dormant, for many, many years.
Because of my love for the genre, and the lack of any recent games in it, its not surprising that I got a little bit excited when I first learned of the Asskickers. The game, a new product of AGO Games, is a tribute to the classic titles of the genre and available now for a mere $4.99. Have I found a quick and cheap “fix” for my desire to play a good beat’em up again? Not exactly.
The beat’em up formula is actually pretty simple; you just need a couple of protagonists, a bunch of enemies, and a simple yet fun combat system that keeps players coming back again and again for endless fun. The Asskickers manage to hit two out of the three of those necessities. The game gives players the choice of three different characters: Alex, Diane, and Marcus.
Each one has traits that cater to a different style of playing. Diane is fast but pretty weak when it comes to her offensive power, whereas Marcus is a slow but hulking brute. Alex is pretty much the middle of the road, well rounded brawler of the bunch. You can play as any of the characters along with up to one other friend via local coop. You have your choice between three different game modes, though only two can be played cooperatively. While you can enjoy the story and survival modes with a friend, you will be on your own for the time attack stages.
Unfortunately, for everything that “works” in the Asskickers’ formula, there is something that doesn’t and often more. While the visuals are pretty entertaining to look at in still-form, once you set them into motion everything seems to fall apart.. The game uses a nice, hand-drawn style that looks a lot like a comic book in motion. The problem is that when the images are set in motion, they look broken and “jumpy”. Nearly every animation sequence in the game could stand to use arguably double the frames of animation that they have. They look “jumpy” and disjointed as they are and really do a disservice to the quality art design.
What is there of the sound design is decent but there isn’t a lot there. The sound effects and soundtrack become insanely monotonous after the first two or so levels. Considering that there are six levels in the game, the audio wears itself out pretty early.
Perhaps the strongest trait of the game is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. It is filled with the typical genre stereotypes such as enemies that look similar, like the frat boys who attack you early one. While the generic frat boys with the pink sweaters tied around their neck become general fodder for you, when you start seeing them with sweaters of another color, you know that they are getting stronger. Everything else that you would expect in a beat’em up is here: destructible objects in the environment that reveal ridiculous powerups such as trophies and hamburgers, “droppable” weapons, and the occasional enemy on a vehicle who must be knocked off before you can attack them. There are even occasional references to the hit titles of the genre’s past such as Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. It is nice to see that the developers’ know and acknowledge the lineage that was laid before them.
While the sense of humor and lack of seriousness of the game can be appreciated, something that I do take issue with is the lack of attention paid to fine details such as the text. The various text entries within the game such as the story boards and character conversations are riddled with grammatical errors and general. I passed it off as a simple mistake when I noticed a spelling error in the game’s launch trailer which was released on the Internet, but it turns out that it is a rampant issue that even exists in the game. There are spaces missing between words and phrases often just sound jumbled and incoherent. How does something like this happen to a game released to the mass market?
Despite the abundant flaws and issues with the game, I had some fun during my time with it. It is one of those situations where I can’t say that I hated it, but I cannot say that I really, liked it either. The Asskickers is filled with all of the right cliches of the genre and enough tongue and cheek humor to keep you satisfied for a single play-through but there isn’t anything that will bring you back afterwards. The visuals are pretty nice when they aren’t moving but the gameplay often feels broken and too repetitive, even for the genre. It is an enjoyable romp but not one that you will take again and again, which is a necessity for a successive entry in the beat’em up genre.