Publisher: Atlus Co.
Release Date: March 31, 2009
Tokyo Beat Down is the newest title from Atlus on the DS, and this time, it's not an RPG. Tokyo Beat Down is an old-school brawler, something along the lines of the old Final Fight series or Streets of Rage, depending on your preference at the time. We haven't seen many brawlers in recent years aside from Castle Crashers and the excellent Warriors movie-based game on the last-gen systems, so it's definitely a nice change of pace to see a genre that's been on its last legs for quite a while.
Tokyo Beat Down isn't exactly perfect. It uses a pseudo 3-D system to show the characters and locations, so it's not really sprite-based like classic titles, and while that worked out well for Warriors, it's not exactly a good look for a DS title. The environments are pretty bland, and while they're supposed to represent actual Tokyo-based locations, it doesn't come off as well as it did in something like The World Ends With You, where we had little landmarks and other visual aids to show off that these places indeed exist in the real world. Instead, you'll see a lot of repeating backgrounds in Tokyo Beat Down ... and not much else.
There's still some visceral fun to be had with the game, provided you can get past the less-than-stellar visuals. The story centers on Lewis Cannon, who is a cop with a penchant for unnecessary violence; unlike most action movies, the rest of the police force considers Lewis' violent streak to be a valuable asset rather than a cause for reprimand. After a series of threats emerge, Lewis and company patrol the city to locate the source of these ominous threats. You either play as Lewis or one of the other characters; interspersed in the gameplay are some backstory segments that add detail to the supporting cast. The story is really tongue-in-cheek stuff, though, and there's some comical dialogue that comes through very well, thanks to the effort that Atlus put into the translation.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, it's mostly functional but feels a little off to me. If you've played your fair share of brawlers, then you'll probably have a better understanding of what I'm trying to explain, but I'll try to break it down. It's kind of difficult in Tokyo Beat Down to really gauge that "sweet spot" for hitting an enemy, and since one of the big tactics in a brawler is to walk on a straight path and meet an enemy as he approaches, I had difficulty realizing when a punch would or wouldn't land. I'd often miss and get caught in a combo by the enemy, which would sometimes get picked up on by multiple enemies.
This led to another problem I had with the game, which is how cheap the AI can sometimes be. Thankfully, you can block, but if you get caught up in a group of enemies, they will juggle you relentlessly until you can finally land a hit or dash out of the way. It can take a bit of time to break the juggle, and by that point, you're really hurting for health, which is pretty aggravating. I like some challenge in my games, especially in a brawler like this, but I can't stand being cheesed to death either, and that's where most of the difficulty in Tokyo Beat Down lies.
Luckily, the difficulty doesn't completely drain the fun out of the game. Tokyo Beat Down definitely has a pretty varied set of moves that you can pull off. It relies heavily on making combos of kicks and punches, and some pretty solid animation work manages to offset the game's ugly art design. Another big factor in Tokyo Beat Down, and one you don't see too often in brawlers, is the use of guns. Most of these games incorporate the use of melee weapons — knives, pipes, swords, etc. — but guns play a pretty big role in Tokyo Beat Down. Obviously, their effectiveness is dialed down a bit, and in the game they're explained away by using rubber bullets instead of real ones, so they're not an instant kill attack by any means. They are useful for crowd control, though, and there are a few different ones available along the way, like a shotgun or submachine gun. Your police issue revolver even comes into play with combos, where certain strings of attacks will end with you firing a bullet; it's a pretty cool thing to see in the game.
One final issue I have with Tokyo Beat Down is that I thought it was a little too dialogue-heavy for my taste, especially for the beat-'em-up genre. It's not that I don't want a little story for the setting, but certain sections of the game, especially early on, drone on and on, and although the dialogue and translation are pretty solid, it still wears thin. There's an early section that I found to be really odd; you're chasing a suspect down the road, and the whole time you feel like it's a setup to get to a cool action stage or a car chase sequence that you can control. It ends up being a level without any enemies, and it's only populated by a bunch of pedestrians with whom you can chat until you reach the end. It was a pretty lame way of breaking up the action in the game, and it turned me off of the title pretty early. There are other bits in the game that mimic this same strategy, and they don't work for an action-based game like Tokyo Beat Down.
There are definitely aspects of Tokyo Beat Down that I enjoyed, but I thought that I'd like the game much more than I did. It's a decent enough throwback to a genre that doesn't get much love nowadays, but it doesn't manage to improve upon the genre's fundamentals. I love that the developers tried to change up some things, and I appreciate that they broke up the level design into something better than just a series of numbered stages. However, there are so many things that the developers tried to do with the title that just don't work for a brawler, and the final result didn't keep me interested. Don't expect an old Konami beat-'em-up to magically emerge from this title, and perhaps you'll get more enjoyment out of Tokyo Beat Down than I did.
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