Streets of Rage and Double Dragon were two beat ‘em up games that I grew up with in the arcades and on console (SoR was on the Genesis). They took a simple concept of walking to the right and fighting everything that appeared in front of you while only using a simple three-button combination (kick, jump, punch) to lead the way. After all the waves of simple bad guys on the journey to the end of a level, a nasty and unique boss lay in waiting to try and stop your progression. This was the usual structural blueprint for most beat ‘em ups, something that has been slightly lost in this day and age of first-person shooters and role-playing games.
Now, fast forward many different versions of Call of Duty later and the beat ‘em up genre has been brought back to life from indie developer QUByte Interactive with their latest title, though Steam folks know it well, 99Vidas.
The general feel to 99Vidas is that of old school action titles. You play as one of four characters (King, Izzie, Fries and Oak). Each character comes packed with their own personality, as well as their own special moves. My time with 99Vidas was spent with King, a feline/human mix that brought about terrible waves of destruction, as well as some freaky water statue that would destroy anything on screen. His personality and unique way to fight shined through the game from level to level. He was well represented and QUByte made sure to make his every bit a unique experience for gamers. Much like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, allowing for different characters with different personalities to exist was enough for players to get hooked into the game, as well as establish their favorite characters to play with during gameplay. Favorites are important to connect to gamers, as that will connect them with the game itself.
My journey with King involved going down multiple streets and taking care of baddie after baddie. By the way, the 99Vidas (lives) isn’t about your lives, rather its about how many lives you take in the game. As you progress down the violent streets against an unknown enemy of power, the number of lives decreases as you take out bad guys. At some point in the number decreasing, you’re going to run into a boss that is unique and tough to battle. The first such boss is a game store owner that is tough as nails to take down…if you don’t read his patterns right. Every boss, like it was back in the 80s/90s games, has a pattern of attack. Your job is to figure the pattern out and take the boss out. Simple? Of course, but you will certainly see some frustration during the ‘figure it out’ stage of the boss, especially when you realize there are no continues. It’s like a Dark Souls version of a beat ‘em up. Enjoy that very much.
With that said, the bosses are damn creative and funny. The first boss is a hoot, especially with some clever dialogue attached. QUByte did a good job of separating the boss from the minions, which makes for a perfect beat ‘em up experience.
Now, speaking of minions, you should know that as you take out bad guys that you get a lot of repetitive baddies, so don’t be surprised if there isn’t too much variety from level to level. We’re talking about 7-8 initial henchmen coming at you over and over again per level, so again, you’re going to see some repeats. I know that’s going to burden some intellectual gamers out there that require unique and always fresh fighting stimulations, but QUByte Interactive captured exactly what was beat ‘em ups back in the genre’s heyday. I think there were only 5-7 different minions in Streets of Rage, though their clothing color changed to keep it fresh. In short, QUByte Interactive represented the genre perfectly, but I’m sure this will not translate well to those who didn’t initially experience it when it was popular. I think it should be noted that QUByte did a superb job of making those small variety of baddies different and visually engaging. For example, there’s nothing quite as cute/humorous/terrifying than a man dressed as a frog literally hopping to you to kick your ass. You’ll get quite the chuckle, if nothing else.
Shifting gears to actual level design, it’s pretty much on par, at least in movement, with each other, though the scenery in each level is going to change to keep it visually intriguing. Going back to the start, because I don’t want to spoil too much, you’ll go from neighborhood to a bridge to neon lit streets of a downtown area. Visually it is different from place to place, but the actual movement areas and structure carry the same feel from each environment to the next. The visuals do help to distinguish progression and keep the game graphically interesting, which is fine by me. Again, much like the repetitive baddies, I know people are going to raise ridiculous flags in what is perceived as not thinking outside the box from the developers, but again I must credit QUByte for sticking true to the genre and its past. This is exactly how beat ‘em ups would have been made back in the day. There’s something to be said about being respectful to where everything in your game originally comes from in the genre it was born.
Old school style aside, the game does attempt to break out from the norm. The first way is by offering upgrades to moves. Having the ability to look outside just ‘punch, kick, jump’ is going above and beyond with this genre. 99Vidas also takes the simple concept of the genre and adds some mixture to simple controls of jump, kick and punch. There are multi-combination actions, where you can push multiple buttons to perform special moves, sometimes enormously powerful ones.
In addition to the above ways, the game also allows for unlockable characters, a concept that didn’t rear its head until the Street Fighters of the world emerged onto the scene with unlockable add-ons as reward for defeating the game. As you progress and succeed in 99Vidas, then you will have the chance to uncover more players. Not too bad for a worn out genre, right?
The last thing that makes this different, but somewhat the same if you look at it hard enough, is the ability to play co-op locally or online. While I didn’t get to try these out, as we didn’t have another code or know anyone to play online, the mere concept of it is interesting and it adds some depth to the game, as well as bringing back some old concepts with new online twists. Anytime you can improve an old concept well, then you’re doing it right.
Anyway, there is enough separation here with the usual blueprint for this genre to make 99Vidas worth a go. As gameplay goes, it’s easy to pick up and play, as well as stupid fun from beginning to end. 99Vidas makes me want to break open my old Streets of Rage game and have another go with it. It shows that games like that still have legs and can be exciting to play.