Musing: Crafting the Perfect Beat Em’ Up

Igor. Today we create a monster. Laugh with me Igor! Laugh!

A while ago I teased what I thought made the Beat em’ up great.   Now I shall let you know what my vision of the perfect beat em up is in extreme detail.

  • Tons of Moves.

The Table of Contents.

Ok.  When I say tons of moves, let me elaborate.   I mean moves that seamlessly mesh with one another and allow you to build your character the way you want to.  In the first beat em up post I mentioned River City Ransom EX.  This game took this too far, but got away with it because it was a single player game.

You could make Frankenstein monsters with two characters and mix their moves, average their stats and made move combinations that could make a grown fighting game cry for mercy.   This coupled with the ability to change the input command of every move made this ridiculous.  Changing a move so it’s command was in the air allowed air combos unheard of in the original game.

Headbomb: A charging move that makes your character jump straight up, then dive at the nearest opponent with deadly accuracy.  After connecting you hop, putting you in JUMP status.

Glide Chop: A diving move that homes in on the nearest living target.  After connecting you hop, putting you in JUMP status.

Deadly Kick: An epic divekick that demolishes everything in front of you.  When applied to an in air command you will drift downward at an angle.

The balance for these  moves is that your ‘reputation’ would suffer if you spammed one powerful move, but if you developed combos like the above three in a row, your reputation would skyrocket.   Naturally they were crazy OP, so in the perfect beatem’ up powerful moves would have draw-backs like losing some health when you activated them.  Though if you pull of crazy combos for the first time in a level you should get that health refilled.

It would be the games way of saying:  Hey.  “That was pretty friggen’ sweet.”

Like RCR EX, the draw will be what command is entered to execute the moves.   This allows you to establish if you want your character to be strongest on the ground or the air.   Air moves should be more versatile and mobile, while ground moves should hit harder.   This isn’t based on logic.   It’s based on balance.

  • Multiplayer 4-6 players.

Scott Pilgrim, thou art a fine game. Online Multiplayer should have been standard though. You also suffer from RCR’s major flaw. You start out VERY weak and slow.

This goes without saying, but I need to make something clear.   The game needs to have  couch multiplayer.   So many games are exclusively online multiplayer these days.   It may be a relic of the past, but so is the beat em’ up!

I also think the PBEU should have dynamic multiplayer aspects.   Lemme splain’.

Branching paths is something I’ve always enjoyed in games.   Starfox (particularly Starfox 64) did this well.   It gave you a choice on how you wanted to cater the fight to your tastes.   In the PBUE after a stage is completed a vote should be cast on which way you want to go with your online Multi-Player counterparts.    After the vote you should get the choice to go with the masses if you were the minority, or break off on your own.

We ‘accidently’ left Slippy back on Corneria.

In the case you break off, the PBEU would match you with other players on that branch of the game and pick up from there.   This would give a dynamic MMO like feel to it and keep your companions fresh.

  • Food items to fight over.

Go for it Percival, salmonella hasn’t been invented yet.

Let me explain why this is so important.  Food items can tell you a lot about the people you’re fighting with.   Do they hang back and let you have it if their health is full?   Or do they grab it willy nilly just to spite you?

The existence of food items is the epitome of teamwork in a Beat em’ up.   The PBEU would have items that appear from broken containers and vanish after a set amount of time.   This balance allows for urgency and planning for a good team, and a means to identify a bad egg in a struggling one.

To punish jerks, eating food at full health should make you sluggish.   Overeating (healing in excess) should cause a lesser effect, this way people will be inclined to let the lower health guy grab the food.

Powerups should be available as well.   The power pizza in Ninja Turtles was a nice mechanic.   It shouldn’t fade away like food and be there so a smart teammate can lay waste to a screen full of baddies and save the day.

  • Point items to fight over.

Grab ALL the things!

Points seem well… pointless at a glance, but the PBEU will make them relevant.   This should be the thing that players fight tooth and nail over picking them up.  The balance of a punish system for food items and the promotion of hoarding point items should keep the player on their toes.   Point items should be clearly labeled with a different color glow.   They should also drop from guys you kill in fancy ways.

Items dropped in this way should have a hidden cool-down for other players, that way no one can steal the items you earned from a sweet combo without you completely ignoring them.  Also, as long as you maintain a combo the ‘timer’ won’t start on the item cool-down.  This will prevent the combo-crafter from feeling the need to stop their bad-ass chain to get their spoils.  The cool-down would allow charity to friends as well, since you can ignore your point items and let your less combo inclined pals cash in.

High level players will likely prioritize getting points this way and it will be the true way to get ‘rich’.

  • A scoring system akin to Super Smash Brothers.

This rounds winner is Shiek. Style points assigned for the inhuman ability to properly sip tea with a shroud on.

Why is it that this feature doesn’t appear in beat em ups.   Let me mention a unique  game called Sunset Riders.  It was a cross between a beat em’ up and a bullet hell game.   But the feature I bring to your attention is the MVP system in it.  Once a boss dropped, it let everyone know who was the baddest-ass hombre on the block.   It posted the boss damaging percentage and had that player cheer.

Pretty sure Marty Mcfly’s Cowboy digs in BTTF 3 was a jab at this game…

That’s a nice start, but the PBEU should grade EVERYTHING.   Did you spend most of your time ignoring fights to pick up scoring items?   Did you go out of your way to jump kick an enemy that grabbed another player?  Did you abstain from getting healing items?  The game should notice this stuff, and reward you.

When the boss blinks his last red blink and crumples to the floor / explodes.   The players should line up and awards get handed out.   The ‘winner’ of the stage should be balanced between kicking ass, teamwork, and style.   Hard hitting bruiser types should get bonuses for assists, keeping big groups from swarming single target minded speedsters.

Bosses should be grapple-able by heavy hitters so they can hold bosses to be pummeled by other players.   Like any self-respecting beat em’ up they will have ‘break free’ moves that prevent infinite beat downs.   They will be likely triggered by health percentages so people re forced to back down in intervals.

Accurate strikes should be rewarded too.   To prevent people from falling to button mashing, the game should grant points per accuracy.   Whiffed punches in abundance should grant a “What are you swinging at?” penalty.  Also whiffed swings should reduce a combo ‘timer’.  Think of how Devil May Cry handles combos, rather than fighting games.  This will make huge combos possible on bosses.

  • Customization.  RPG elements for stats/Movesets

D & D Tower of Doom and Shadows over Mystaria (SOD Shown) probably had the most character variance in any standard beat em’ up.

In the PBEU points are currency.  You can spend them to get new moves, stat boosts and fun cosmetic stuff.   Yeah that’s right.   What good is beating stuff up with style if you don’t look stylish?  (Read ridiculous looking).

It goes without saying the game should have create-a-character functions.  Sex, build, skin color, hair color,battle arche-type (Which simple determines your general approach to fighting and stat limitations).   Re-Speccing should just cost points, but should have some limitations so people are inclined to make multiple contenders.

If it looks strained, can you blame her? He eats all the flatware.

There should be a clear cap for stats.  This cap should be lifted for single player / couch multiplayer with the toggle of an option.   This way if you want to be a power hungry god-person offline, that’s your prerogative.  This will also allow the option to grind points offline if they so desire.

  • Punishing bosses that award teamwork, but are possible to solo if you’re zen.

The SNES version of Shredder in Turtles in Time, hate all you want but he was probably one of the best balanced bosses in a beat em’ up ever.

This is so important.   Easy bosses kill beat em ups.   Impossible ones make you roll your eyes.   The patterns should be clear, but challenging.   Bosses should have instant kill mechanics that are avoidable.   When you have a lot of players they should be able to one shot a team-mate, but it can be thwarted with a quick response from a team mate.   The savior would get a health / point bonus for their trouble.

Less deadly ‘unavoidable’ moves should be team coded.   Have a boss move stoppable only by a speedy combo, another only interruptible by a meaty punch by the bruiser.  Points would be awarded for this one too.

  • Pause music.

The Battletoad’s pause music sounded particularly sinister when you accidently paused during the speeder bike level…

Nuff said.

  • Ridiculous looking enemies.

I love how the mohawk dudes in Streets of Rage were named after traffic lights. Oooh. Scary.

I can’t believe I left this off the original list, but the PBEU needs ridiculousness.   Part of the appeal of games like Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage was the memorable cronies in the game.  Punks with mohawks and rainbow colored attire practically define the genre.

You have your staple ‘boring enemy’ that does little more than one move.   Some of them have… interesting approaches to this:

They try to hug you to death. Affectionately and tenderly.

The PBEU will naturally offer a nod to this.  My personal take is beating up humanoid robots that explode after their deaths.  My reasoning is this:  Everyone loves explosions and robot foes means rating friendly dismemberment.   Besides the idea of a robot specifically built to look like a street punk with a Mohawk and robots that feels the need to yell “Barf!” on death?  Priceless.

  • Bonus Stages

Ever wonder how Cody ended up getting arrested after his Final Fight hayday? Turns out punching out cars is addicting.

Break the car.   Break everything.  The idea of a mob of people drop kicking a hummer sort of intrigues me.  To mix it up the PBEU should have bonus stages where your objective is to destroy as many fleeing robo-gnomes carrying bags of loot as time allows.

  • Music

Not only should the game be equipped with ear-worm inducing music, the option of implanting your own soundtrack should be present.   The PBEU should also give you the option to select a victory jingle to be played when you are the top performer for the stage.  Hell, with the advent of the digital age as long as your custom track matches the age limitations of the online agreements, a snippet of custom tracks could be used.   That would be epic.

Online the game could show each player’s current level track.  Sound compression as it is, it would not be that much of a stretch to have their music streamed to you for the session if you appreciate their sense of style.   Or, later you could just grab the track yourself:  “Hey!   That WOULD make a great stage 3 track.”

  • Setting

If I were the one to bring the world the PBEU I would set it in the same atmosphere as my Krauner short story.   An amusement park devoted to fighting gone amok.   As much as it would be a licensing headache I would love to see an all-star mash up of nods to well-known franchises on a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” level .   The existence of Wreck-it Ralf makes me hopeful that such ventures can still exist though.

Hopefully the fact that the characters the player control are all custom would diffuse this a bit.   This wouldn’t be a Capcom vs. the Basket Weavers Union or whatever.   Existing characters would exist as park visitors and employees in the background wearing bad cos-play costumes running in terror from faulty Park robots.


Naturally I would love Krauner to be a tutorial boss for the game if I made it, but I would certainly get over it if it was made without him included.   Just the idea of one of my favorite genre making a comeback like this is more than enough.

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