Retro inspired compilations have been all the rage recently. Everything from new minis to emulators and franchise favourites to anthologies. Capcom, fresh from releasing a barrage of Mega Man collections, have thrown their hat into the ring once again. Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle was released September 2018 for all platforms. Available first for download, before a physical release appearing shortly after, the seven strong line up shows Capcom at its best. We take a look at the Switch version to see if the beat ’em up genre still holds the same appeal it did in the 90’s.
All the games in the bundle were originally released in arcades between 1989 and 1997 on Capcom’s CP System. This powerful arcade board is the basis for Street Fighter II and early Marvel fighting games. So it certainly has the pedigree of tech behind it but does this compilation of arcade action stack up? The first notable feature is the added online multiplayer. All the games featured lean heavily toward the 2-4 player arcade experience and allowing players to connect is important. There is nothing quite like taking down a boss with a friend, even if the geeky fist bump is virtual. There is also the ability for local multiplayer and due to the simplicity of the games the Joy-Cons can be used.
You will not be surprised to discover the emulation is spot on. Capcom have a history of bringing their Street Fighter series to modern consoles and the results are usually decent. They have clearly put the effort into recreating the smooth scrolling experience many will remember from the arcade. Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle brings home the action and every punch, kick and scream of a fallen foe feels satisfying.
Most titles control fine using the standard Joy-Cons but Retro Faith always recommends playing retro games on Switch with a controller. For this bundle though, using an analogue stick does add a little to the arcade experience. We did muse how excellent these games played in the arcade and if the Switch had an arcade stick accessory it would be perfect for this bundle. The controls for each game are fairly standard for the genre. Jump, attack and maybe one other button used for a special move.
Capcom have afforded you infinite lives in all the games and this is the first chink in the armour. The games in the package were originally designed as coin munchers. Slotting 10p after 10p into the cabinet after your three lives are spent. However, on a home console you just click to respawn over and over. This does make for a lazy gaming experience, there is no need to improve as losing a life means nothing. We could not help but wonder if there should have been a capped continue limit. Final Fight, the flagship title in the bundle, had a continue limit when ported to consoles in the 90’s. This forced the player to improve with each gameplay, something sorely lacking in this new compilation.
The games themselves are a great mix from across the beat ’em up genre. Final Fight is your traditional street cleaning, vigilante quest to save the princess. Or in this case the mayor’s daughter. The enemies are varied and Final Fight feels like it uses every 80’s action movie convention. Full of fun and tough in places, this is the title most will be familiar with. The combat is basic but that is kind of the point of these games. Easy to play with a difficulty curve that never stops.
This bundle also includes three fantasy style beat ’em ups. The first is The King of Dragons that brings together a band of heroes to defeat a red dragon. The usual suspects of fighter, wizard, dwarf, elf and cleric make up the playable characters. Each has their own moves and you can select a different character between the 16 levels. A basic level up system allows for greater weaponry but the reality is only strength increases. There is lack of variety in the stages and enemies but a few dramatic set pieces go some way to keep proceedings interesting.
The spiritual successor to The King of Dragons is Knights of the Round. The setting is less fantastical with the three playable characters being knights from the round table from King Arthur legend. The combat is more dynamic adding a parry maneuver that adds a touch of strategy to battles. Again, a lack of variety in stages and enemies keeps this from being a mighty spectacle but the slightly more advanced combat certainly gives a deeper play experience. The level up system returns but again it is more aesthetic than anything else. This is one of the better games in the compilation and the ability to mount horses on occasion adds to the gameplay.
Warriors of Fate, based on the Tenchi wo Kurau manga, is similar to Knights of the round in play style. The Chinese setting does give this a different feel and stages are more interesting than the other two fantasy games. The ability to mount horses is implemented better in this title as well adding a back attack. This game only has nine stages though which makes it one of the shortest in the bundle.
The final three games have futuristic or sci-fi themes. Captain Commando is forgettable and feels broken in places. The combat is very basic but the game is saved by the cyberpunk pixel artwork. The fighting is itself is solid enough although the attacks do not feel robust, as if you are hitting your enemies with a feather. The best feature is riding the big mechs and picking up guns that helps break up the uninspiring gameplay. We felt this was the weakest of the games on offer but that does not make it bad entry by any stretch.
The most bizarre title in Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is Battle Circuit. This Saturday morning cartoon-esque romp is filled with crazy characters and memorable bosses. The artwork is wonderful and your senses are bombarded with colour and lights. You will find this one very easy, we did not die until the third level and the AI is poor. The enemies do not seem to attack at times and the player feels overpowered. The character design alone makes this a good game though, the best being a pink ostrich riding girl. For something different from the usual beat ’em up you will be hard pressed to find something more dynamic in design.
The last game on the list is also the most developed in the gameplay department. Armoured Warriors gives you the chance to board a giant mech and take on the evil genius who is threatening the world. The sprites are huge and the stages have depth that bring to life the dystopian future the game is set in. Like any other beat ’em up, Armoured Warriors routinely gives weapon drops to the player. This time, however, they are broken off from the evil mechs and you replace parts of your own machine with upgrades. They range from simple arms to drills and can add a little strategy depending on the level. The stages also offer different missions which helps to add variety to the usual walk and punch mechanic.
Another key factor is the secondary fire power move. If you find yourself in a tight spot you can unleash a deadly missile or machine gun, depending on what you have picked up. This adds depth to the gameplay that other games in this genre lack. Had this title not been released in 1997 it would certainly have been released on consoles. At the time everyone was after 3D graphics and beautiful pixel art had fallen by the wayside. It is a shame that this was an arcade only release and is a true gem today.
To round out Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle a selection of artwork is featured in a gallery. This is a nice touch and grants access to arcade flyers and development drawings from the time the games were released. While the collection is well rounded, there are two titles that are missing that we would love to have seen. Alien vs. Predator and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, were among the best beat ’em ups from the 90’s. It is probably down to licensing issues but if these had been included this package would be perfect. It must be noted that Capcom are including Alien vs. Predator in their upcoming arcade stick mini.
Overall, you will marvel over the gorgeous pixel art in Armoured Core and Knights of the Round, be satisfied with the thumping action in Final Fight and Battle Circuit. For anyone who has fond memories of scrolling through stages beating bad guys to a pulp, you will certainly get some nostalgia-fuelled satisfaction from this tidy collection.