The side-scrolling beat ’em genre is going through somewhat of a revival the moment.
This year alone, a remaster of Dragon’s Crown has been released for PS4, MakinGames’ Raging Justice launched on multiple formats, and against all odds, Streets of Rage 4 has been announced. And there have been others too, such as Mega Cat Games’ Coffee Crisis. All signs point to the side-scrolling beat ’em genre being very much alive once again, and that’s great.
Old aged pugilists
One company that isn’t alien to the genre is Capcom, and they’re striking while the iron is hot with the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle. It contains seven of their very best side-scrolling beat ’em ups released between 1989 to 1997, two of which – Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit – have never appeared on home consoles before. Needless to say, for side-scrolling beat ’em up fans, it’s an enticing package.
Unfortunately, some of the older titles haven’t aged that well. I have fond memories of Final Fight, for instance, but upon launching it I reeled in horror at how the game now looks, and even more so at its audio. Thankfully, as you make your way through the titles in chronological order, they do indeed get better. Make no mistake though, Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit are the real highlights here.
The magnificent seven?
While Final Fight and Captain Commando are very much cut from the same cloth in terms of gameplay, the latter title is simply made more interesting due to its unusual characters. I mean, a baby piloting a robot? How can you not love it? You then have The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round, both adding swords and sorcery to the action with varying degrees of success. Out of the five games included in the collection that have been ported before, however, I find Warriors of Fate to be the most intriguing. Based on Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it feels like a precursor to the Dynasty Warriors series.
It’s Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit that really stand out though, and not only because they’re the most impressive in terms of audio and visuals. Both try to add new things to the side-scrolling genre and push it forward. In Armored Warriors, for instance, you’re controlling large mechs that move quickly around the screen. You can pick up and equip various ranged weapons such as Vulcan Canons and Guided Missiles, and you can also change their arms, giving you access to alternate move sets. As a result, the gameplay feels deeper and more tactical.
Battle Circuit, on the other hand, is just all-out crazy. It has a range of larger-than-life characters, and they all have a special moves and upgrades that can be purchased with coins you earn while you play. The action is fluid and fast-paced, and with the aforementioned special moves and other unique game mechanics, it’s one of the deepest side-scrolling beat ’em ups available to this day. I’d honestly never even heard of Battle Circuit until I saw it in this collection, and now I’m kicking myself for it. It’s just so good.
Not every game in the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is likely to hold your attention, though. Some of the older ones are likely only going to appeal to those who have fond memories of their time spent with them. For £15.99/$19.99, however, it’s a bargain simply for Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit. In my eyes, the other games are just bonuses. And of course, there’s the usual range of extras to make the collection more enticing to fans too.
You can change between the Japanese and English versions of every game in the collection, and many of them also allow you to change how many players they support. It’s always better to play with friends and family by your side, but the inclusion of online multiplayer lets you play with anyone from around the world. And of course, you’ve got your usual difficulty options, including how many lives you start with and how many continues are available. Each and every game can be tweaked to your liking, except there’s a couple of strange omissions: you can’t apply a visual filter, and you can’t change the screen size.
A beat ’em up museum
Many players won’t be bothered by the absence of such options, but they’ve become the norm in retro collections and not having them in Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle feels like a considerable oversight. You’re stuck with borders on either side of the screen and pixelated visuals whether you like them or not. Also, while the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle features extensive galleries for each game, giving you access to special artwork and design sketches, there are no sound test options. You’ll have to go elsewhere to listen to the soundtracks of each game.
Despite all of its issues, the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle still impresses. Whether you’ve played any of the games it contains before or not, you’re likely to find at least a couple that grab you and make the collection worthwhile. For me, those titles were undoubtedly Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit, but others may find themselves taken with other inclusions. Every single one of the games here has history, and many players will have history with them. All that’s left to be said is that for any self-respecting side-scrolling beat ’em up fan, Capcom Beat ‘Em Bundle is a must-have.