Final Vendetta: retro street fighting with attitude

Having already proved their love for all things arcade with the likes of Xeno Crisis and Battle Axe, Bitmap Bureau’s Mike Tucker and Matt Cope are once again looking to the coin-op era with another modernised homage to a classic genre: the beat-’em-up. Take one look at Final Vendetta and it’s easy to see the DNA of Capcom’s seminal Final Fight in every frame. From the chunkiness of the character sprites to the thumping dance-inspired soundtrack, nods to Final Fight abound and are wholly intentional. According to the duo of 2D game development veterans, working on such a project has been a passion since childhood.

“I was a big fan of Final Fight and Streets of Rage,” reveals Tucker. “And yeah, I’ve just always wanted to make a beat-’em-up and never got around to it.”

But the design director’s love for the genre also comes with a mission. “Back in the nineties there were probably about three or four beat-’em-ups on Neo Geo, or like, side-scrolling brawlers. Then Street Fighter II came along, of course, and everyone concentrated their efforts on versus fighting games.” That’s why, much like how Bitmap previously developed its twin-stick shooter Xeno Crisis using the Sega Mega Drive as its lead platform, Final Vendetta has similarly been designed from the ground up to run specifically on Neo Geo – its cartridge release will arrive shortly after launching on modern consoles in May. The game was “born out of necessity”, says Tucker. “We felt the Neo Geo needed [another] great beat-’em-up.”

Much like the 16-bit game that inspired it, Final Vendetta focuses on three hard-hitting vigilantes – each boasting unique strengths and fighting styles – brawling through city streets. The gangster arse-kicking takes place in London, however, with playable heroes Duke Sancho, Miller T. Williams, and Claire Sparks trying to rescue the latter’s sister who’s been kidnapped by the big bad. That old chestnut. The setup is deliciously simple, then, in the effort to truly capture that nineties tone. “It’s very much an homage, but we kind of poke fun at the genre as well,” Tucker says. “There’s so many tropes. But that’s kind of what players expect, I think. They don’t want any nonsense; they just want to get in there and enjoy.”

Final Vendetta features a not-so subtle homage to Street Fighter II’s car punching bonus stage.

Bitmap Bureau made the decision early on to stick with the pixelated aesthetic that celebrated brawlers like Target: Renegade, Double Dragon, and Vigilante are known for, as opposed to the more hand-drawn, vector style Streets of Rage 4 and other contemporary throwbacks often go for. That said, the team quickly discovered that this process wasn’t without its difficulties. “These kinds of games, they need a lot of art ready to get off the ground,” says Tucker. The making of Final Vendetta always dictated an art-first approach, therefore, so the two tapped up the talents of Scottish-based sprite artist Jabir Grant. “He’s someone who’s prolific and skilful enough,” Tucker says. “It took over two years to just get all the art done.”

Watch Final Vendetta in motion, though, and it’s clear that the studio’s hard work and commitment is paying off. But then again, we wouldn’t expect anything less given the attention to detail Bitmap Bureau displayed in Xeno Crisis. In fact, the studio’s commitment was such that one of its earliest decisions was to rebuild Final Fight from scratch to see if a modern beat-’em-up made in the same style would still work. Tucker says: “We took a lot of that knowledge like the hitboxes, the speed, and the way the characters move. The speed at which the punch animations come out. That’s all carried over into Final Vendetta.” It was important for Bitmap that every kick and punch came with a familiar feeling of snappiness.

One of the chief benefits in creating a beat-’em-up for consoles (as opposed to arcades, where they originally lived) is encouraging players to press on without the fear of being sapped of coins. Bitmap Bureau acknowledges the inherent difficulty that came from this back in the day, but the studio’s going out of its way to make reaching credits less arduous. “We’ve got difficulty settings,” Cope chimes in. “Easy, Hard, and Ultra allow players to sort of flex that difficulty curve.”

Unlike some other modern beat-’em-ups, Final Vendetta sticks to traditional, vibrant pixel art.

In true retro fashion, Final Vendetta’s ‘Ultra’ difficulty is only unlockable for anyone brave enough to tackle ‘Hard’ – and the duo emphasise that playing in two-player co-op should also help take some pressure off.

Final Vendetta might chiefly be taking inspiration (and its name) from Final Fight, but this isn’t preventing Cope and Tucker from implementing a handful of newer sensibilities, either. This is likely most evident when playing Claire. “She’s more agile than the other two,” Tucker says. “She’s particularly good at juggling combos, so you can actually hit enemies while you’re in the air, which seems to be a popular thing in modern beat-’em-ups.”

It’s this approach that perhaps best sums up what players can expect from Bitmap Bureau’s latest nostalgic venture – a tribute to crunchy belt-scrolling brawlers seemingly plucked straight out of the Neo Geo era, but one coming from a place of love, and with a sense of attitude and brutish charm all of its own.

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