The old-fashioned beat-‘em-up is back – and better than ever

June 2022 was yet another banner month for fans of the old-fashioned beat-’em-up, with two excellent releases hitting just a day apart from each other. Both the hotly anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge and Bitmap Bureau’s new title, Final Vendetta, are worthy of the positive reviews they’ve been getting – but they’re also highly different from each other in ways that demonstrate the often overlooked variety of this well-worn genre. Both are certainly a lot more than just a nostalgia trip, that’s for sure.

Shredder’s Revenge follows on from Dotemu’s earlier successes with Streets of Rage 4 – it takes one of the most famous beat-’em-ups of all time and evolves it while keeping a lot of the core points. Konami’s arcade games, like the original TMNT, relied a lot on their sheer two-button simplicity while employing plenty of character to do justice to the licence – Shredder’s Revenge certainly follows on from that to create a casual and raucous experience, especially in multiplayer.

There’s also so much more variation in the game’s characters than there was before, however – everyone has a role and a different set of strengths to beef up and learn, and the satisfaction in clearing out the Foot Clan is immense. Developer Tribute Games (Mercenary Kings, Wizorb) delivers plenty of moments that serve as manna from heaven for those who remember the Turtlemania of 1990, but the game itself feels as sprightly, bright, and new as anything from 2022.

Final Vendetta takes place on the streets of swinging London. Naturally there are hundreds of goons waiting to be chinned.

But while TMNT has been getting a whole lotta love, Final Vendetta isn’t a game that should be overlooked, either. It comes with a classic pixel-art style, a pumping techno soundtrack, and six stages of enthralling battery – what you’d expect from a game with a portmanteau name citing two genre classics, Final Fight and Vendetta. But it’s also a complex beat-’em-up, a challenging one that you have to learn, one where blocking and dodging are as important as special moves and crowd control – if you don’t get these down, you’ll be pavement pizza in no time.

That’s certainly in line with the other titles from the Southampton-based Bitmap Bureau (Xeno Crisis) and publishers Numskull Games (Battle Axe, Gearshifters). It’s a tough retro experience that would certainly fit into an old arcade, but has just as much of a place on today’s platforms; it’s a game with a whole lot of depth bubbling under the nostalgic drum breaks and CRT shaders.

It’s hard to say which one of these games is better than the other: TMNT is certainly going to attract more attention, but in many ways, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. In any case, they demonstrate the rude health of one of gaming’s elder genres – the desire to crack a tooth or two on a grime-filled subway platform, harbour dock, or plain old city slum doesn’t seem like it’s going to go away anytime soon, especially when studios like Dotemu, Tribute, Numskull, and Bitmap Bureau are delivering games that are this good.

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