Brawlers. Beat-'em-ups. Belt scrollers. Call them what you want, but they ruled the arcades in the late '80s and early '90s. Technos' Double Dragon ignited the craze back in 1987, and Capcom's Final Fight set the template for things to come. The genre saw its peak with top-notch releases like The Punisher and Alien vs. Predator, and Konami-produced efforts like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, and X-Men are fondly remembered today.
Somewhere along the line, though, the beat-'em-up genre's popularity faded. Later console-born efforts like Final Fight Streetwise and Beat Down met with mixed results, and despite multiple cancelled reboot attempts, Sega has yet to relaunch its once-popular Streets of Rage series.
Recently, Wayforward's Double Dragon Neon turned heads thanks to its intentionally cheesy '80s aesthetic, but despite the game's success on multiple fronts, it failed to impress some critics. To them, the brawler is outdated -- a genre that has no place in today's gaming landscape. We intend to prove them wrong.
For our latest Game Design Challenge, we challenged our readers to design a brawler that suits modern tastes. Here are our top picks.
Andrew Alfonso, Localization Director at Capcom Japan, Pub Crawl (see page 2)
Bernard John (B.J.) Badger, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy Alumnus, Captain N: The Game-Master (see page 3)
Chris Mendle, Independent Game Developer, Rasputin Junior (see page 4)
Bo Banducci, Game Designer at Philosophy Major Studios, They're All Mine (see page 5)
Richard Doyle, Ethan Tonelli and Phillip Lien, QANTM Sydney Game Design Graduates, Outcasts (see page 6)
Andrew Alfonso, Localization Director at Capcom Japan, Pub Crawl
Story: Four university students retrace their night after waking up hung-over to find their dorm wrecked.
Gameplay: Pub Crawl is a co-op 2D side-scrolling brawler that features procedurally generated levels. These levels are generated based on four criteria: current number of players, amount of total depleted health, the lowest character level, and the character that dealt the most damage in the previous stage. The controls feature a simple layout with two attack buttons and two ways for movement.
The theme of the first level is dictated by the host player's character. The dynamic that comes into play after the first level is that the character that dealt the most damage in the current stage takes over the narrative and theme for the next stage. If you've ever been out on a pub crawl, you'll know that it's natural for friends to argue about the previous night when no one can recall what happened. One character swears they were fighting android cops outside the bar, while another character claims they were being attacked by alien cowboys while riding on machine-gun equipped dinosaurs. The dynamic changes with every level!
Players battle through swarms of enemies as they recount their night. Every enemy defeated gives you experience points. As the characters level up, they acquire new fighting techniques, ranging from simple punch strings to the classic lariat found in Street Fighter to a screen clearing dance-off a la Moonwalker. Each character has a number of slots to equip techniques out of their acquired pool. Some techniques take up more slots than others; the above-mentioned Moonwalker move may take up 3 slots while the lariat only takes up one.
When enemies are defeated, there's a chance that they'll also drop items that can be used to craft equipment to make them stronger. Hey, you need good equipment to fight alien cowboys! As a player progresses and the enemies get stronger, better equipment can be crafted. Equipment can contain innate skills on top of simple attack/defense stats, so a weapon that does 100 points of damage may be worse than another weapon with 75 points of damage but with a defensive buff.
To make the equipment aspect of the game more interesting, crafted equipment can be merged together, and this equipment can inherit some of its "parent's" skills. Inherited skills depend on the character being used; using one character may increase the chances of getting a skill want inherited.
Adding a bit of social media flavor to the game is the ability to register your Twitter account. Once registered, the game will not only send out tweets describing your progress ("Whoa... dynamite throwing monkeys! #PubCrawl"), but give you access to new fighting techniques and skills based on your number of tweets or followers.
No in-app purchases though, I promise! You'll need that money to buy a round for your friends at the pub!
Bernard John (B.J.) Badger, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy Alumnus, Captain N: The Game-Master
From the cheesy comics and cartoon show comes an idea for an actual game! The player's Mii must become the savior of Videoland, leading the heroes of the various worlds against the dark invasion. Controlled by either a full house of friends or computer helpers, the growing army of heroes will take the fight through dozens of worlds and defeat the evil menace with the help of Captain N's game-altering powers!
What separates Captain N from most brawlers is its style of control and movement. Players direct their avatars using pointers controlled by the Wii Remote's pointing system. Where the pointer goes, the avatar follows, with some consideration for current momentum and turning capability. Short/repeated presses of the A button result in melee attacks in the current direction of movement. Holding the A button causes the avatar to stop and charge up a special attack, which can then be released in the direction of the pointer. Each playable fighter has two different charge attacks, depending on how long the A button is held. Holding the B button causes the avatar to stop in a guard position, and pressing the A button while in this position causes a short-range evasive movement in the direction of the pointer. It is important that this game be as accessible as possible for multiplayer play, which is why only the Wii Remote with no attachments is used. This decreases the likelihood of equipment shortage and the effort necessary for setup.
Optionally, one player may use the Wii U Gamepad. The controls using the Gamepad are similar to those with the Wii Remote, but use the touchpad and stylus for determining pointer position, and replace the A and B buttons with shoulder buttons. In addition to participating as a fighter, the Gamepad player has command and support capabilities. Using a menu on the side of the touchpad, they can tag an enemy or group of enemies as a target for particular other players. Computer-controlled players will always do their best to engage the target set for them, and human-controlled players are encouraged to follow the Gamepad player's direction by an attack bonus against their designated target. The Gamepad player can also assist the team by creating temporary zones on the play field which confer some advantage (health regeneration, attack power increase, etc.), pausing all enemies for a short period, and so on, but these powers consume energy from a limited source. Advanced players can map orders and powers to joysticks/crosspad/letter buttons for quicker execution. The Gamepad player should typically be the most skilled and experienced player, truly the Captain of the team.
Chris Mendle, Independent Game Developer, Rasputin Junior
A massive melee 2-d beard brawler inspired by Strider, Castlevania, Gunstar Heroes, Tetris, Russian history, the supernatural and Don Bluth's Anastasia.
The year is 1920. In a small shack in Siberia, a baby boy learns his destiny. A talking picture of his father, Grigori Rasputin, tells the baby to avenge the father's murder. The boy takes a lock cut from his father's beard and sticks it to his face. Rasputin Jr. begins.
Levels feature platform elements made of Tetris-like pieces, often building up multistory structures. Certain player attacks/combos or enemy actions can rearrange these structures (and cause enemies or the player to fall to their doom.) There is also a Tetris-like level editor.
Rasputin Jr.'s beard is his primary weapon and his source of power. The more enemies he hits with his beard, the longer it gets and the more powerful attacks and combos are possible. Like tiny Mario or Sonic with no rings, a hit to a beardless Rasputin Jr. kills him. On multistory platform levels, the beard can be used as a grappling hook. Combos release magic attacks that take out multiple enemies. A certain attack turns selected enemy grunts to Rasputin Jr.'s side. Another attack powers up his beard to take out platform pieces.
Control is via WASD plus mouse. WASD moves Rasputin Jr. and enables him to jump up and down, the mouse controls his beard. On consoles, the beard would be controlled by analog stick. On touschscreen devices, touch controls beard, gyro/accelerometer moves Rasputin Jr..
Rasputin Jr. must face many enemies on screen at once. Each level features enemies drawn from Russian and Soviet history. In one level he'd face Trotsky and the Red Army. In another, the ghosts of Napoleon's army. In others, Stalin, Lenin, etc. These enemies can also use their facial hair as weapons. Or Napoleon, his hat.
Co-op and versus modes introduce a twin brother, not an "evil twin" but just as bearded as the protagonist.
Stylistically, the game would use pixel art inspired by Russian posters and Russian BGM.
Bo Banducci, Game Designer at Philosophy Major Studios, They're All Mine
When you're revitalizing an old genre, its helpful to market the game to an audience that isn't familiar with the genre. That way the mechanics and tropes are new and interesting to your players."They're All Mine" (TAM) is a side-scrolling beat-em-up that does just that. TAM is designed to be enjoyed by girls age 13 - 18.
Theme: TAM puts the player in the shoes of Sarah, the female bodyguard and caretaker of the mega-popular boy band One Direction. The game takes place at the start of a nation-wide tour. Levels are the time in-between performances, when the band members want to explore the streets and relax.
Objective: As Sarah, the objective in every level is to prevent female fans from pulling band members off-screen.
Gameplay: Every fan has a "desirability" rating that is clearly visible to the player. Blondes are the most desirable, and therefore most dangerous. If a fan is allowed to flirt with a band member, she will start to pull him off-screen. Sarah uses punches, kicks, and grapples to separate fans from her boys.
Each band member also has individual tastes that make certain fans more desirable than others. Although there's a blonde making a move for Nials, the quiet brunette talking to Harry might actually be the biggest threat. Sarah must remember her boys preferences so that she can recognize and prioritize threats before its too late.
Sarah can also choose to make one band member her "pet", which makes that specific band member more resistant to the flirtations of fans and lets Sarah focus on the others. However, achieving pet status is not easy and is difficult to maintain.
Between levels, Sarah can spend a portion of the band's revenue on upgrades. Most of these are cosmetic upgrades which alter Sarah's "style", making her appearance more appealing to band members depending on their tastes. For instance, by level 3 a player could purchase enough "scene" accessories to make Harry, who prefers the scene style, her pet. This makes Harry more resilient to the charms of fans. By level 5 however, Harry's preferences have changed and Sarah needs to accessorize.
Forcing the player to replay a level upon failure is a somewhat outdated mechanic present in most brawlers. In TAM, if a fan is able to drag a member off-screen the tour will continue, but the band's revenue will be reduced until the band member returns. This allows for the player to make some mistakes without restarting, which means levels can be slightly more challenging.
Intrinsic motivation: The most important aspect of TAM is that the protagonist is someone that One Direction fans will be delighted to play as. Undeniably, part of the appeal of any boy band is the fantasy that the fan and the band member might some day be together. The bodyguard fending off female fans allows the player to express that desire. TAM uses its players actual interests to make gameplay goals a real desire. Welcome to the modern brawler.
Richard Doyle, Ethan Tonelli and Phillip Lien, QANTM Sydney Game Design Graduates, Outcasts
Synopsis: Outcasts is a modern expansion on the beat-em-up genre. In Outcasts you build yourself a super hero team from the ground up, selecting your origins, base location and motivations before filling your six-superhero team with custom created crusaders built in the game's robust character creator.
The game is split into two parts: an overworld section, in which strategic use of resources, PR, hero recruitment and training will allow you to create a superhero team capable of tackling any threat, and the combat missions that provide the games action, presented in a classic arcade style with more than a few variations to keep each mission fresh and challenging.
The Overworld: Outcasts allows the player to build their base and superhero team from the ground up. A Bastion style node-based system encourages the player to prioritise their resource usage in order to empower their team in accordance with their play style. Each building, recruitment, unit training, unit healing or side mission requires a number of days to complete and effectively using your base is about managing time, resources and perks while ensuring the right heroes are ready for action when a combat mission arises. And, by protecting the citizens in the major regions of the world (Asia, North America, South America, Russia, Europe, Antarctica, Africa and the Middle East) you can send your heroes to train in these nations to receive buffs and items. Though, the real meat of the game comes from creating, training and fielding your own custom team of superheroes.
Each hero in your team, either recruited or created, will draw from a list of classic comic book powers. Each hero can be a combination of combat types like ranged, melee, fast, flying, jumping, teleporting, heavy, psychic, fire, ice, lightning, clawed, invisible, laser-eyes, frost-breath, light, shadow, guns, gadgets, soundwave or wind; and an origin perk which further effects their growth, abilities and usefulness against particular enemy or mission types, such as super soldier, alien, mutant, scientific experiment gone wrong, scientific experiment gone right, magic amulet, heavily armed, chemical spill, childhood tragedy, superb human, average Joe, or eldritch horror.
Combat Missions: Each combat mission will have an enemy type drawn from fifty years of comic book bad guys; face off against zombies, vampires, aliens, robots, androids, werewolves, ninjas, street punks, dinosaurs, octopodes, cavemen, triffids and morlocks in a selection of mission types that will keep the combat both challenging and fresh. Mission types include raid (standard level full of enemies then boss fight), safe house (defend a building from waves of enemies), survivor (last through waves of enemies), rescue (catch up with a boss enemy who is kidnapping a damsel or head of state) or blitz (destroy an enemy installation as waves of enemies attempt to stop you).
Success in these missions can be achieved by nimble fingers and arcade skills but by using the right hero, exploiting type advantages (fire burns triffids, lightning disables robots, et al) and ensuring that your heroes are buffed, equipped and levelled up in the overworld the player can bring a tactical advantage into each combat mission. Send multiple heroes on a mission and the AI will take over for one, or have a friend pick up the second controller and drop in to assist!
Outcasts is currently in pre-production by SP Hardworks.
SP Hardworks is comprised of recent QANTM Sydney game design graduates Richard Doyle, Ethan Tonelli and Phillip Lien.