Any game bold enough to be titled The Asskickers -- which would have been an awesomely apt and uncomfortably juvenile name for Stallone’s ensemble action flick The Expendables -- better be able to back up its brash attitude with gameplay.
The Asskickers is an old-fashioned, side-scrolling beat 'em up, so you would think the name is fitting. Well, it's not. Unfortunately, the game, which presents itself as an homage to the forgotten genre, ends up being an incredibly frustrating experience that's inferior to the games it apes.
The Asskickers (PC [Reviewed], Mac)
The Asskickers purports to be tongue-in-cheek social commentary on today's economic climate, but the dialogue isn't clever and the writing isn't sharp -- perhaps something was lost in translation from the original French version. Accordingly, the negligible narrative comes off as a painfully amateur satire, though the art in the game does a little better job of attempting to get the game's message across.
The game is your typical beat 'em up. There are three characters to choose from, each tailored towards a different play type (speed, strength, balanced), environmental objects to break, weapons and health to pick up, and different enemies to fight. It is also repetitive and frustratingly difficult. I had to play through the game on easy because it's the only difficulty setting that lets you start from the beginning of each level, and I couldn't stomach playing through the game in one sitting. Besides, I probably wouldn't have been able to anyway.
The six stages are adequately varied, with respect to the background art, but that's about all the variety you're going to get. There are a number of expected enemy types, like "frat boys" who drive across the screen on a moped, but they aren't stage-specific. You will be fighting the same polo-wearing, golf club-wielding frat boys from the start of the game to construction sites and all sorts of odd places much later.
Much like the old-school games The Asskickers is modeled after, the enemies can be unbelievably cheap, sometimes pinning you down and draining huge chunks of your health with their moves. The AI also doesn't mind mirroring your abilities so that you can't get near them or running entirely off screen for a breather, leaving you to wait until they come back before you can progress. In the case of one particularly annoying enemy type, you're left waiting for them to revive their fallen comrades by making a call on a cell phone.
Most infuriating, however, is that the game is flat-out broken. Occasionally, your character will inexplicably be unable to grab items. For example, I managed to fight my way to a full health item with only a sliver of health left, only to find my character unable to pick it up. It's demoralizing. Further still, there was one instance when I was on a roll and had completed several stages (had a respectable score going, accordingly), then an enemy got himself stuck outside the level geometry where I couldn't hit him. I had to restart and lose all of my progress. Later in that same spot, I got knocked out of the level geometry and couldn't get back in! Again, I was forced to restart.
Even when the game works properly, the combat isn't very satisfying, due to limited animations and unsatisfying sound effects. If not for the enemies' health bars, it almost wouldn't feel like you were actually doing any sort of damage at all. In fact, little attention was paid to the game's audio as a whole, with there being but a handful of repetitive in-game tracks.
If I haven't dissuaded you yet because you're a glutton for buggy punishment or you wish to atone for some terrible misdeed, the game also has a Time Attack mode, where you try to "kick ass" as fast as you can, and a Survival mode, where swarms and swarms of enemies keep coming after you. To their credit, these modes actually bugged me less than the main story, perhaps because dying in them didn't mean I had to replay large sections of the game. There is also two-player co-op, assuming you have a number pad on your keyboard or a compatible gamepad of some kind, which does help with the difficulty curve somewhat.
The Asskickers does little to elevate itself over the antiquated genre it spawned from. The hand-drawn 2D art is nice, and the real-world caricatures that act as bosses after each stage might elicit a smirk, but the game is short, shallow, and unable to properly execute the simple, tried-and-true beat 'em up gameplay style, let alone advance it.
THE VERDICT - The Asskickers
Reviewed by Steven Hansen