If you were born pre-2000, you experienced the renaissance of beat ‘em ups (we were obsessed with punching then). These games were perfect for arcades, a lethal combination of fast paced, 2D action and quarter gobbling. I was born a bit late into the cycle, but my earliest gaming memory is playing “Turtles in Time.” I sunk so many hours at the arcade and on my friend’s Super Nintendo. With the decline in arcades, beat ‘em ups fell out of fashion. They never quite worked that well on home consoles; as an adult the games lost their luster a bit when there was no anxiety around losing lives and quarter consumption. Playing the “Turtles in Time: Reshelled” back in 2009 was an especially harsh reminder of the passage of time.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been good beat ‘em ups in this decade; “Scott Pilgrim” kicked it off in good fashion. That game and many others like it are more reskins of those old games, not really refreshing the same fighting mechanics and more of putting a fresh coat of paint over them. That’s partially what makes “Treachery in Beatdown City” incorporating ideas from RPGs to make a decidedly less button mashy game. It is also the perfect game for kicking a large amount of righteous ass, especially at this moment in time.
You play as three characters, Lisa, Bruce, and Brad, as they work their way through a New York knockoff to rescue the captured (by ninjas) president “Orama.” You’ll be fighting your way through awful police, loud yuppies, misogynistic gym owners, and all kinds of various awul and selfish citizens. The game is extremely satirical and takes aim at a variety of modern personas. Before you engage in fights, you’ll be introduced to each type of character through dialogue where you’ll be treated to police social media influencers, trust fund gutter punks, and white women yelling “I don’t see color!” The jokes land really well for the most part and never are punching down. The game seems like a love letter to modern New York while simultaneously making fun of it. There’s a great amount of schadenfreude in beating up stuck up investment bankers, especially as BIPOC characters. The scenarios that the game’s characters find themselves in are couched in very real situations, whether that’s people refusing to believe Bruce is half Chinese or two men talking over and refusing to listen to Lisa. There’s a whole litany of modern sexism and racism your characters fight through and it feels damn good to street fight the perpetrators.
It also feels just damn good to engage in these fights. Rather than having long levels that you slowly mash your way through, “Treachery in Beatdown City” is segmented into discrete fights. You’ll work your way through an overworld (based on distinct areas of New York) and engage in fights at individual levels. The overworld is similar to something like old 2D Mario, while the fights happen on one screen. Rather than having you hit buttons to mash out combos, the game has an active time RPG system. You have an action bar and points that slowly accumulate. When you want to perform a move, you open up an action menu with your moves and combos. Each move costs one action bar and different amounts of points and the game rewards you for chaining these together. You’ll receive bonus action points for pulling out a combo and then be able to perform higher cost and higher damage moves. Once you get the hang of it, the game has a great flow. I found myself rhythmically fighting and moving as I anticipated action bar increases and setting commands. When you pull off a long combo and knock someone to the ground, it feels fantastic. Spacing is very important too. Both your attacks and the enemies require close proximity, so you’ll be putting yourself at risk when you move in for a combo. You’ll also be more exposed to damage if you turn your back on them so movement has to be timed after each enemy attack. The game doesn’t take it easy on you; if you aren’t careful you can be taken down pretty easily. There isn’t a “Souls” level of difficulty here, but you do need to be wary of how you approach each fight.
The moves in your action bar are set into two different menus; strikes and grapples. Strikes range from punches and kicks while grapples are wrestling type moves. Strikes are much easier to hit and are your primary way of generating combos and action points. Grapples meanwhile are high damage but have a higher chance of being countered. Counter chance decreases as enemies’ health does, so usually you’ll wear them down with strikes before moving in to take them down with a decisive grapple combo. Each of the three characters are very distinct too. Bruce specializes in strikes, Brad is a grappler, and Lisa is a mix of both types. The characters all have distinct moves that correspond to their specialty and will have limited varieties for their non-specialties. While all of the characters are fun to play as, I found Lisa to be the most rewarding. Have the variety of both unique strikes and grapples felt amazing, as I’d be able to change my strategy on the fly. Her strike moveset was great for wearing opponents down and then I moved in to suplex people to the ground. Lisa is just all around incredibly badass. You can switch in between each character in between fights, but some levels will force you to play as a specific one. These “grudge matches” are against specific enemy’s that have a particular beef with you (and something they themselves caused). You really grow to love/hate these particular enemy’s; the majority are all clowns so they are very fun to hate.
“Treachery in Beatdown City” is the perfect way to channel your political anger and a much more constructive way of beating up selfish people. It is a great outlet for modern frustrations, a series of eminently punchable people blocking your path. Enemies are all asking to get a beatdown and your characters are all too happy to oblige. The game is a fun and tight throwback to boot so it’ll scratch that nostalgia itch as well. When you’re done protesting and fighting with trolls online, beat up shitheads in Beatdown City.