Beatdown City Ransom

The strongest advice this game will give you.

Despite being well past the heyday of their popularity, 2-D beat-’em-ups have an impressive longevity. It could be due to nostalgic loyalty to the games of yesteryear, but honestly? Gameplay mechanics based around ‘catch these hands’ is timeless. So when much of the template of brawlers relies on repetition and re-creation, what does it look like for the genre to innovate? Game developer NuChallenger’s Treachery In Beatdown City splits the difference between the past and what might be the future of the beat-’em-up genre.

The game sets its tone out of the gate by serving up its classic premise: ninjas have kidnapped the President! Only a posse of Bad Dudes can attempt a rescue by battling across New York! TIBC isn’t content to simply reheat the past and serve it as leftovers, though. Beatdown City’s NYC is ‘East Fulton’, the Commander-In-Chief is 3rd-term President ‘Blake Orama’, and the player-controlled ‘Bad Dudes’ are led by MMA fighter Lisa Santiago. Lisa, the daughter of the local police chief, is suspicious of Mayor Mike Bloomberg Moneybags preventing the East Fulton PD from investigating Orama’s capture.

Alternate Universe Barack Obama still knows how to warm up a crowd.

Those Who Fight Further

Santiago teams up with ex-pro-wrestler Brad Steele & Capoeira artist Bruce Maxwell, the trio decide to mount their own two-fisted rescue. Along the way they’ll run into ignorant gentrifiers, outright racists, and the dreaded gig economy — making sure to give each one a well-deserved punch in the face. This is where Beatdown City’s central innovation comes into play. When encountering enemies on the top-down world map, the game shifts into a more traditional side-scrolling viewpoint. Players can maneuver about and land quick jabs, but the real meat of Beatdown City is in its RPG-style menu system.

When starting NuChallenger’s game, the first screen to greet the player is a variant of the much-parodied “Winners Don’t Use Drugs” PSA from the bygone days of America’s arcades. TIBC’s version is “Winners Don’t Mash Buttons”. This ethos sounds antithetical to the old-school brawler action Beatdown City seems keen to homage, but relying on the quick attack button will only get to the Game Over screen faster. Instead of button combos, the best actions come from a menu, classic RPG-style. Players balance Fight Points (FP) over a three-action bar. The RPG system may seem just as retro as all of Beatdown City’s aesthetic choices, but it’s shockingly clever in its function.

Don’t Provoke While I’m Side-Scrollin’

Think about the combo chains of any decent brawler — the heavy hit that comes once the player finishes tapping out those button presses. TIBC players can skip straight to that finisher — assuming they have resources to execute it. Both Fight Points and actions slowly replenish on their own, but can be helped out with items and combos. Accuracy is also a huge factor in this game, meaning having everything necessary to land a move like Bruce’s ‘Expose Them’ combo is no guarantee without careful strategy.

Yes, ‘Exposed’ is a status effect in this game. Beatdown City knows what the f***k it’s about.

The game is certainly not without flaws, however. Combat keeps players on their toes, but the amount of fights tilts dangerously close to RPG grinding. Aside from pacing, there are also issues of bugginess — the final boss fight froze several times during the review playthrough. TIBC is episodic, however, and at the time of this review is not yet fully completed. This means there are still opportunities to address these few nitpicks in future installments.

For now, the game gets by on its charm offensive of old-school RPGs and brawlers combined with a willingness to punch up in its comedy. In a genre that has always been willing to co-opt signifiers of our lives without our presence, NuChallenger has made a retro-futuristic game centering black and brown folk. Take a chance on where the future of brawlers may take gaming. Take to the streets for a President worth fighting for! Just don’t take an L by missing out on the theme song.

7.5 out of 10 Freestyle Combos

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  • Live-action cartoon character, based on the tie-in manga inspired by the video game. Previous residences include The Disney Afternoon, the Turtle Lair, and Santa Destroy. Will edit for pizza and graphic novels.

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