Review / Tokyo Beat Down (DS)

If there’s anything to be learned from Tokyo Beat Down, Success’ videogame love letter to the coin-gobbling, side-scrolling brawlers that once monopolized our youth, it’s that “fists can solve any problem.” Sure, games have evolved since the time of stand-alone arcades, but there’s still no greater pleasure than kicking and punching your way to a better and brighter tomorrow, the way only a badass cop who doesn’t play by the rules can. Such are the cops of Tokyo Beat Down, whose stealth-free tactics consist of walking up to a suspect and swiftly delivering a justice-packed blow to their genitals.

Success has set out to make a true arcade-style brawler that fits in the palm of your hand, transporting players back to a time when cops were reckless, thugs were generic and barrels were filled with health-boosting sandwiches. But beyond nostalgia, is this really a game worth playing, or does it suffer from the same flaws that relegated the genre to memory?

In Tokyo Beat Down, you’ll take control of the city’s most feared if not finest squad of police officers, the Beast Cops, who get their name for their equally harsh treatment of murders and jaywalkers alike. These officers will stop at absolutely nothing to arrest a criminal, no matter how minor the crime, dealing out justice to wrongdoers without any regard for personal safety or Miranda rights. After several stations get a mysterious phone call requesting fireworks, they’re the only ones who don’t write it off as a prank. And after a series of bombings rock the city, they’re the only ones who can take down the former Beast Cop turned terrorist and his mysterious employers. Yeah, it’s a super cheesy story, but that’s part of the charm.

On the surface it’s your classic coin-op plot, providing just enough motive to excuse your bare-knuckle excess, but the hilarious dialogue and outrageous characters elevate it to a level of surreal genius. Whether the credit goes to developer Success’ writing staff or publisher Atlus’ localization team, this game is funny, filled with more genuine laughs than any of Hollywood’s recent forays into parody. When not beating the ever loving crap out of evildoers, you’ll be chuckling over the dialogue of “Plot Advancing Officer,” “Spartan Living Conditions Gal” and “Man Who Summarizes Yesterday,” who are but a few of the many strange and silly characters you’ll encounter in a story that always manages to be entertaining if not economical.

It’s a good thing the great writing makes the skipable cutscenes unskippable, as more than half the game is comprised of dialogue displayed over frozen comic book-style panels. If your interest is solely the beat ’em up gameplay, you might be disappointed as this is where the skip option could have best been employed. Most of your time will be spent in the shoes of Yaesu Station’s resident hothead, the pun-ily named “Lewis Canon.” You’ll also get to play as Rika Hyodo, whose hot pants are definitely not department issue, and Takeshi Bando, the Beast Cops’ equally excessive captain, but apart from looks they don’t play any differently than Lewis. The action unfolds in classic coin-op style — you move from left to right, beating down baddies, firing rubber bullets or collecting skill and health boosting items hidden in telephone booths, crates and barrels. Some levels try to switch things up by having you use words rather than your fists to gather clues as you interview random strangers scattered throughout the city, but for the most part the gameplay is pure punch, punch, kick, repeat.

The repetitive gameplay isn’t the problem, it’s the controls. The punch and kick buttons work fine, and will get you through the early stages, but as the difficulty ramps up so does the frustration. This is because the functions assigned to the shoulder buttons — drawing your gun and blocking — are unforgivably unresponsive. When they do register, the response time is so slow that you’ll be eating enemy knuckle sammies long before you draw your gun or raise your fists. You’re better off running around, pounding on the punch and kick buttons, praying you don’t get cornered. But you will get cornered, and killed, because the enemies fight dirty. They never have problems drawing their weapon and never run out of bullets. Hell, they don’t even have to be on the screen — many times a stray bullet seemingly fired from blocks away will be all it takes to trigger the game’s annoying but acrobatic cycle of death. When you get shot you fly backwards in a ridiculously long tumbling animation, putting enough distance between you and your enemies to guarantee they’ll shoot you again the moment you rise, repeating a process that only the sweet release of death can free you from. If you press the punch and kick buttons simultaneously, you can activate a thrash n’ throw that not only knocks down nearby enemies, but makes you invulnerable for the length of the animation, but using the same move again and again is just about as much fun as it sounds.

Tokyo Beat Down‘s unresponsive controls, unambitious graphics and repetitive animations keep it from being a knock-out, but it’s loaded with enough style and charm to remind gamers why we loved these bare-knuckle brawlers in the first place. Even with its problems, and they are numerous, I kept coming back for more punishment just to experience its brilliantly cheesy, cheeky writing. This is by no means the best beat ’em up game out there, but for hardcore veterans of this dying genre the hilarious dialogue, colorful characters and ridiculous story will just be icing on the pain cake.

+ Hilarious dialogue
+ Colorful characters
+ Detailed settings and backgrounds

– Unresponsive shooting and blocking controls
– Not enough variety in character moves and models
– Enemies fight dirty