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Destructoid review: Tokyo Beat Down

10:00 PM on 04.02.2009 // Dale North

Back in the day, side-scrolling beat-em-ups were all the rage. You always played as some kind of cop or hero out to save a corrupt city by taking out the bad guys one at a time, armed only with your fists and sense of justice. Games like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, Final Fight, and River City Ransom had us holding right on the d-pad, mashing kick and punch until our thumbs were raw.

Developer Success did its best to bring us back to those days with their latest contribution to the long line of beat-em-ups, Tokyo Beat Down. Again, you'll play as a group of cops up against a corrupt city and crime underworld. When nothing else works, the fists come out, punching thugs across the city to finally get to that crime boss.  

We give this game a beat down after the jump.

Tokyo Beat Down (Nintendo DS)
Developed by Success
Published by Atlus

Released on March 31st, 2009

In Tokyo Beat Down you'll play as members of the most feared squad in Tokyo, the Beast Cops. The name makes these cops sound like terrible monsters, but they're just really crazy characters that happen to pack a punch. You've got the white suit-wearing, big hair-sporting Lewis Cannon, the zany tough guy who is lacking a bit in the brains department. You don't want to mess with Takeshi Bando, the slick-haired bad-assed captain. Rika Hyodo is a bit of a bitch, but she can hold her own with the boys. These and other characters set the stage for a story that's more interesting than the find the bad guy stories of beat-em-ups past. And the fantastic dialogue really helps, too.

I don't know what the Japanese original was like, but the boys at Atlus have done a exemplary job of giving the cast of Tokyo Beat Down an entertaining voice. Any effort put into the story and dialogue of a beat-em-up is appreciated, but the writing here is good for any genre of game. The localization team knocked it out of the park with witty quips, silly puns, and talk that actually seems to go somewhere, even though the story overall doesn't go very far. This is one of the rare instances where writing actually improved the game. Great job, guys.

The game play itself is exactly as you'd imagine: kick, punch, shoot. Kick, punch, shoot. We can't knock the game for the repetitive nature, as we knew what to expect going in -- it's a beat-em-up! Beat Down tries to mix it up with segments where you'll chase clues into a Tokyo city ward, talking instead of fighting. The problem here is that the people you'll talk with are just stationary enemies, and the background is the same stage you just fought through moments ago. They're fooling no one with this, and most of the discussion seems unnecessary anyway. At least it's some kind of break from the button mashing. 

In emulating the classics, Tokyo Beat Down almost succeeds. Early in the game, you'll need only to kick and punch, and this works well. As the game progresses and the challenge ramps up, you'll also want to begin firing your weapons and blocking attacks. Unfortunately, the response time for these functions -- both armed to the DS's shoulder buttons -- is atrocious. More often than not, you're at a serious disadvantage trying to use a gun, as the unresponsive nature and ridiculous delay of these functions leaves you open to enemy attacks. Blocking is just as bad. You're better off running around, hoping that you don't get caught in a corner trap.

But you will get caught. And shot. And kicked and punched. Tokyo Beat Down's difficulty ramps up nicely for awhile, but there comes a point where things start to feel unfair. The problem is that the enemy AI, combined with the bad shooting and blocking controls, puts you in a bad place. Eventually you'll have multiple enemies, all armed with guns, all shooting you from every direction, even off-screen. When you're shot, you fly backwards into a ridiculous tumbling animation that lasts just long enough to frustrate you. And when you rise again, you'll be shot again, starting the process over again. That's not to mention what happens when you get stuck against a wall -- the enemies rush you and shoot you, and sometimes it feels like the only escape would be to smash your DS into the ground a be done with it. I feel like if the blocking and shooting were more responsive, then players would be on a more even playing field with these cheap enemies.

Despite frustrations, I was able to complete the game, although at times I thought I never would. With one particular boss battle about halfway through the game, I lost count after dying about 30 times. I made it a point to have anyone else I knew, including several others in the Destructoid offices, try playing and beating this boss. No one did. I finally succeeded about a week later in what I'm chalking up to pure luck. Sure, someone could say that the game is just that difficult, but I think the AI could have used a few tweaks.

It's not all that bad, though. The setting and story are a lot of fun, and the art is nice. The game takes place in Tokyo, naturally, where you'll find yourself kicking and punching your way through geek heaven Akihabara, style HQ Shibuya, business base Shinjuku and more, all set in 3D, despite being a side-scrolling game. This 3D is kind of old-looking, like something you'd see in a newer PS1 game. But it's not unpleasant at all. Story sequences are better, and in 2D. They unfold with comic-book like art presentations that look great. Even though these sequences tend to get a little long, the dialogue is always good enough to keep you entertained. You'll be ready to get back to the action, though. Should you die in that action, you'll be glad to see a skip button that lets you bypass the story sequences the second time around.

I wanted to love Tokyo Beat Down, but in the end there wasn't enough there to win me over. The game is certainly packed with charm and style, but holes in the control and some balance issues hold it back. It's still worth picking up, though. Even with its control problems, there's fun to be had here, and the dialogue alone is strong enough to make this worth a play through. And thinking back, those old beat-em-ups weren't without their problems. It's just that they were so fun that you didn't mind them. Same story here.

7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

Dale North, Former Dtoid EIC
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