Those of you who read my coverage on Senran Kagura: Estival Versus will know how much I enjoy the beat ’em up genre… and how much I appreciate its history.
With that in mind, Capcom’s announcement that it would be releasing a new product simply called Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle made me kiss £15.99 goodbye even before the package was released. Doubly so because it was also coming to Switch… and who doesn’t want to bust some heads on the go?
Today we’ll take a high-level look at the package as a whole, then over the course of a series of Capcom Essentials articles in the coming weeks, we’ll explore the individual games in the collection in more detail. Suffice to say for now that £15.99 is a very fair price for this bundle, and I highly recommend it to all fans of the genre.
The beat ’em up genre is one of the more well-established in gaming, but it’s also one that has undergone quite a bit of evolution over the years. In fact, the genre as it existed in the late ’80s and early ’90s barely exists any more outside of a few titles that pay homage to it, such as the 3DS Senran Kagura games and Ubisoft’s incredible (but sadly no longer available) Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Instead, what we have today tends to incorporate beat ’em up style combat into some sort of broader context, perhaps combining it with RPG and strategy elements as in the Warriors series, or simply shifting it into 3D arenas as in the Versus subseries of Senran Kagura.
As with many other aspects of gaming, the benefit of hindsight and a knowledge of broader historical context allows us to describe things in more detail than we could in years gone by. As such the games that constitute what many think of the “golden era” of the beat ’em up genre now tend to be described as “belt scrollers” — a reference to these games’ “2.5D” forced perspective that allows players to move “in” and “out” of the screen as well as left and right, and the fact the games are usually forcing you constantly onwards like a conveyor belt. We’ll stick with “beat ’em up” for now, however, since Capcom’s kind of given the term its official blessing with this bundle… although just to confuse matters, the Japanese release is known as Capcom Belt Action Bundle.
An interesting thing about the genre in general — both the earlier belt scrollers and more modern takes such as Warriors games and the like — is that it’s always been regarded somewhat disparagingly as one that rewards mindless button-mashing. Those who have spent any time with a Warriors or Senran Kagura game will know that this is, of course, nonsense, but the perception remains — and it’s always been a thing. One of the coolest things about the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is that it demonstrates that this has, in fact, been nonsense right from the earliest days of the genre.
The package as a whole takes us on a tour of 2D belt-scrolling beat ’em up heaven, right from 1989’s Final Fight up until 1997’s Battle Circuit, the last beat ’em up Capcom ever developed for the arcade. And throughout the seven games in the collection — two of which have never had a Western home release — we see a variety of different takes on what is sometimes assumed to be a rather simple, straightforward genre.
Some games, like Final Fight, are simple and pure, with straightforward controls and a gradually escalating level of challenge. Others are more ambitious, meanwhile; titles like The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round feature light RPG elements such as equipment and experience levels. The aforementioned Battle Circuit, meanwhile, allows players to make use of money earned over the course of each level to purchase upgrades and new moves for their selected character. And each game has its own take on what moves you can perform, whether you can defend, whether you can dash and all manner of other things — there’s a lot more variety than you might expect at first glance if you have only a passing familiarity with the genre’s history.
We’ll get more into the specifics of each game in their individual articles, so let’s contemplate the package as a whole. How is it? Well, given what I’ve already said so far it will probably not surprise you to hear that this is an excellent compilation. The Switch version (which is the one I’m basing this commentary on) runs at a super-slick, constant 60fps even in handheld mode, and looks wonderful. The graphics have pin-sharp pixel art at the proper aspect ratio, complemented by optional high-definition backdrops at the extremities of the screen. There are absolutely no graphic filter options, which is absolutely fine by me; some may miss an option for scanlines, but you’ll probably live. The vibrant, colourful graphics of these games really shine on modern displays, and where’s the fun if the pixels aren’t sharp enough to cut glass?
The sound reproduction is very good, too, with authentic background music — getting noticeably better composed as well as technologically advanced as the years go by — and crunchy samples complementing the action. There’s an excellently catchy piece of theme music in the bundle’s main menu, too, which is just the thing to get you in the mood for punching things and kicking over rubbish bins. There are no noticeable sound glitches or hiccups during gameplay; this really is a seemingly flawless collection.
Perhaps the best nod to modernity is the fact that you can play all these games online. You can create and join games or lobbies for any of the seven games, with the latter providing the facility for spectators — though the lack of any real communication features, emotes or suchlike is a bit of a shame, as it might have been fun to have spectators “cheer” you on in some way. Online performance with players in the same region is pretty much flawless — I experienced no lag whatsoever while playing through the entirety of Final Fight with a stranger. At the time of writing, I can’t speak for cross-region play, however — but the game does provide a dedicated network option allowing you to compensate for lag by delaying animation frames. This is the sort of thing I’d expect from a big-name competitive fighting game, not a £15.99 bundle of retro arcade titles — but it’s just another example of how much polish Capcom has put into this collection.
In fact, the only thing arguably missing is some sort of online leaderboard facility; each game keeps track of your local high scores, but there’s no means of comparing your performance against your friends or other players around the world. Ultimately this is a relatively small loss, however, since regrettably leaderboards tend to get hacked and become meaningless rather quickly these days. If you really want to compare your performance against a friend, hit them up for a co-op session and see who scores the most points live!
I can’t say enough good things about this bundle. But I’ll spare you any further for today; watch out for the write-ups on the individual games that make up the complete collection over the course of the next few weeks.
More about Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle
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