Treachery in Beatdown City, by Nuchallenger, is one of the latest entries in the criminally underrated (and underutilized) beat’em-up RPG subgenre. These kind of games have successfully blended classic beat’em-up elements – pulverizing waves of enemies in screen-scrolling fashion – with RPG staples, such as gearing and leveling up, to great success. Beatdown City follows suit (to a degree), featuring some truly unique and interesting mechanics, but falls short in other ways that make it feel incomplete rather than a fully realized product.
President Orama has been kidnapped by the Ninja Dragon Terrorists, and the local mayor has suspended the local police force. Feeling that something is amiss, the police chief has asked his daughter Lisa, a fitness-obsessed brawler, to come to city hall alongside Brad, an ex-wrestler turned community leader, and Bruce, a stock trading breakdancer, so that they may just get to the bottom of things. Though the unlikely trio won’t be dealing directly with terrorists anytime soon, the path to city hall will not be an easy one. The abduction of the president has apparently caused the citizens of East Fulton to become complete sidewalk snobs, forcing you into frequent heated discussions before the inevitable brawls break out. As you travel along, you’ll slowly begin to unravel portions of the mystery surrounding the recent happenings, all while learning more about the trio of butt kickers, what makes them tick, and, more importantly, what sets them off.
Beatdown City is the type of game that doesn’t take itself seriously, and doesn’t really expect you to either. After all, we’re talking about a story that supports a president being kidnapped by ninjas, and a city filled with sidewalk warriors that are basically homicidal maniacs. It pokes fun at everything; occasionally even some potentially sensitive subjects but clearly in a manner which is not to be taken seriously.
As much as I enjoy the occasional wild and zany adventure over a more serious affair, this one surprisingly lays it on a bit too thick even for my tastes. There’s quite a bit of dialogue here that, thankfully, can be skipped at any time, as the numerous NPCs you come across often just don’t know when to shut up. In their defense, the banter does help fuel your hatred for the inevitable fight that will break out between yourself and the enemy. It isn’t that the writing is necessarily bad, nor completely in bad taste, it just wasn’t for me personally. On top of that, the story – for now – wraps up just as it is getting started, with a second episode teased as “coming soon.” Whether that new episode – if it ever comes – will be provided in a free update, or part of a paid future DLC, is unknown to me at the time of this writing.
Our triple threat team of bruisers will frequently run into situations that lead to an all-out brawl for space on the East Fulton sidewalks, and this is where Beatdown City shines the brightest. Using a blend of real-time action and turn-based commands, the trio will dish out justice(?) to one group of misfits at a time. While the actual overworld map is a literal on the rails experience with its node-based traversal system, the playing field in combat is anything but, providing the player complete freedom to move around the battlefield as they see fit. Both offense and defense commands are issued through expending a certain amount of FP and ACT, with the latter – if completely full – limiting the player to three total actions at once, whether that be individual strikes, or more powerful combinations. Both resources regenerate over time, but will fill up much quicker if you actively spend them rather than sitting on them indefinitely. On the other hand, it isn’t wise to completely drain resources as they are also key executing your defensive actions.
The player, enemies, and both of their actions have a certain range, making weaving in and out of the fray an essential tool to survival. That isn’t always as easy as it seems, however, since turning your back to an opponent ready to strike can make you extremely susceptible to dangerous critical hits, though there are ways to turn things back in your favor when faced with these situations. Although you can – and at times, should – throw some weak punches in real-time, the bulk of the action will be executed from the command menu which stops time until actions are given, giving you ample time to decide on how to distribute pain and punishment to the enemies. The end result is a combat system that emphasizes sound resource management; firing off moves as to not completely cap resources while leaving enough in the tank to adapt when things go awry.
As interesting and unique as the gameplay is here, it comes with some pretty significant faults. You can only bring one character into a fight at a time, and even though you are free to choose which one to use in most encounters, some are more scripted and force you to play as a specific character. This can potentially put you in a situation where you are forced to play as a battered up character without really knowing about it beforehand. Granted, the enemies are displayed on the world map prior to any engagement, but it is not always easy to gauge exactly which of your characters are required for the upcoming encounter, if any.
Beatdown City boasts an impressive amount of strikes, grapples, and combinations for each character, but most come off as fluff due to a lack of balance. In theory, certain enemies are supposed to be weak to strikes, others to grapple-based moves, but very few of the latter are actually dependable. Characters and enemies alike can counter certain moves, but it seems like grapples are hardly worth the effort, as a steady stream of strikes are far safer – and less likely to be countered – than the high-risk grapple moves. This resulted in two of three fighters – one well-rounded and one specializing in grapples – feeling far less useful than the sole strike-focused character despite being the “weakest” of the three from a health and raw damage perspective. The weapon system is concerning, too, since it throws all the wonderful strategy found in regular encounters completely out the window. They don’t start appearing until towards the end of the game, and then only on occasion, but they immediately turn the tide of battle in your favor with little effort.
Regardless, Beatdown City will easily entertain with its unique, but certainly flawed, combat system. It is admittedly light on RPG elements, but there’s enough here – resource and move set upgrades – to appropriately file it in that category.
Beatdown City is deeply rooted in ’80s influence; from its NES-inspired graphics and chiptune soundtrack, to its wacky “Saturday morning cartoon”-like narrative, there’s a lot to enjoy if you are a fan of such a bygone era. Aesthetically speaking, there are some clear inconsistencies when it comes to the pixel art quality – the cutscene graphics are far superior to everything else – but it faithfully maintains the 8-bit inspiration throughout.
It is unfortunate that the truly interesting and unique things about Treachery in Beatdown City only further expose the myriad of issues under the hood. The combat system is certainly fun, and shows lots of promise, but lacks the balance and polish necessary to be engaging long term. The truth is that the package feels like only half of a whole, as it barely provides five hours worth of content and lacks any meaningful reason to play multiple times over. The theoretical release of the missing episode might help to smooth things out, but only if you aren’t expected to invest even more money into it at that time.