Less of an ‘Undertale,’ more of an ‘over story’
Treachery in Beatdown City looks like a new take on Double Dragon for the NES, but it actually plays a lot more like Bravely Default II or another high-level strategy turn-based RPG.
That’s what’s going on under the hood. In terms of the body, it’s a story of underdogs who aspire to upturn the system. That’s just one of the ways it reminds me of Undertale, another game that looks like one thing but is something else entirely, that boldly wore its outsider status on its sleeve. Treachery ticks all the same boxes while delivering an entirely different message: sometimes, violence is good.
The opening of the game shows shinobi terrorists wearing both turbans and traditional ninja face-masks kidnapping then-president Blake Orama, an unreal version of Barack Obama. The reason? His repeated bombing of Middle East, something that was a very real part of Obama’s presidency, which has been more than carried forward by his successor.
From there, mayor Mike Moneybags, a parody of former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, uses the kidnapping as an opportunity to install his own police force into the city, and in the process, make a few “racially insensitive” statements about the Latinx community. This doesn’t surprise Lisa Santiago, the protagonist, but it does piss her off. She’s at the gym watching TV when she hears the news, trying to burn her rage off on a treadmill. About a minute later, she finds a new way to let off some steam.
As she’s leaving to go meet up with her dad, the city’s perpetually flustered police chief, she bumps into an ugly man who assumes she works for the gym. Specifically, he assumes she’s the cleaning lady, and he tells her to do a better job keeping the place sanitized, throwing in some jabs at Spanish speakers while he’s at it. She tries to talk it out at first, but before long, she’s kicking ass, and it feels 100% right.
There’s no option to avoid this conflict, or to somehow make friends with this man, because the reality is, when people don’t see you as a human being, there’s no way to make nice. This is where Treachery in Beatdown City stands in starkest contrast to Undertale and its follow-up Deltarune, two games that really want you to rethink how you relate to non-playable characters, and maybe to real people too.
Toby Fox, the creator of Undertale, is known for being something of a recluse, declining most interviews and wearing a mask in promotional photos. Many have guessed that his games, which are mostly about making friends with monsters, are a wish-fulfillment fantasy. He doesn’t want to be afraid. He wants to be able to make friends with everyone, even though navigating social situations can be like a bullet-hell shooter for him.
It’s a sweet message, but not one that rings true for those who have tried for years to kill bigots with kindness to no avail. Shawn Alexander Allen, the creator of Treachery in Beatdown City, said as much in a talk a few years ago. His criticisms of Undertale have actually been used as part of the curriculum of game design classes.