Let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.
Almost without fail, current events influence conversation. Surely by now, we’ve all seen the buzz surrounding EmuParadise and the loss of its ROMs collection, and the admittedly indirect involvement of Nintendo and legal action, and with that discussion comes talk on the preservation of games. Are all video games worth preserving? Is it our duty to preserve games? Does the virtue of preservation outweigh the letter of the law? Or is it all inevitable in a world where moth and rust must destroy?
The answers to these questions may not be so easy to parse, and your own interest in them may vary dramatically from someone else’s, but it seems to my mind that at least one thing is. No matter what side of the debate you fall on, it ought to be clear that video game preservation, whether it’s worth caring about or not, can be supported through collections, remakes/remasters, compilations, and bundles such as the one under consideration in this review.
The discussion about games preservation is not merely about hoarding physical copies that will waste away or digital ROMs that are maybe possibly actually illegal, or unethical.
I think we’re seeing a resurgence, a Renaissance of interest and investment in retro gaming of late. Remasters and remakes are everywhere (except for the FFVII Remake), old experiences are being directly revisited (except for the FFVII Remake), collections of all kinds are readily available, new hardware renews old hardware for modern audiences in miniature, and indies are capitalizing on nostalgic sounds and sights.
Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is a part of this great movement to honor and repackage gaming history in a sleek and palatable way, to prevent past experiences from fading into obscurity, and to allow new players to enjoy the games of yesteryear.
This bundle includes a selection of classic side-scrolling beat ’em up games by Capcom: Captain Commando, Final Fight, Knights of Round, The King of Dragons, four I’ve heard of and enjoyed in the past, as well as three others which I’ve never played before: Warriors of Fate, Armored Warriors, and Battle Circuit. That’s seven handpicked titles to represent the golden age of arcade beat ’em ups, plus those last two games make an appearance here on consoles for the first time in history!
Captain Commando from 1991, to my mind, is the leading game in this bundle. It features Capcom’s would-be mascot in a futuristic space-cop kind of figure, a ninja, a mummy, and a baby in a robot as playable characters tearing face across the streets. I remember playing this one on the SNES but this arcade version is where it really shines with vibrant, fluid visuals. This is the beat ’em up I would recommend that anyone try first in this bundle. It encapsulates everything about Capcom’s stylishness, aesthetics, and over-the-top nature from the time.
1989’s Final Fight likely needs no introduction. It’s a staple in the beat ’em up genre and one which spawned multiple sequels and copycats. Featuring Guy, Cody (the one nobody picks), and the iconic and sweaty Mike Haggar, FF is probably the most grounded of the wacky games on display here what with its thugs and plot revolving around rescuing Haggar’s daughter, Cody’s girlfriend. As the oldest game in this collection, it can feel somewhat basic but its historical significance for gaming is indisputable.
1991’s Knights of the Round was a game which actually originally disappointed me way back in the 90’s when I rented it from Blockbuster for the weekend. I didn’t know what the game was about and I actually wanted it to be an RPG, so I felt a tinge of regret when I popped it into my SNES and came across an all-too short side-scrolling slug-fest. However, I’ve warmed up to Arthur, Lancelot, and Perceval’s adventure since then, and its experience points/leveling up gameplay where your character gets increasingly beefy armor is one of the coolest things I’ve ever come across in a beat ’em up.
1991’s The King of Dragons is a beat ’em up which I have always enjoyed. It’s a typical high fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons kind of a game where you can play as a Fighter, an Elf, a Dwarf, a Cleric, or a Wizard. Similar to the aforementioned tale of King Arthur, King of Dragons features powers and weapons which gain levels over time. Plus, some of its boss fights are incredible. Who could forget that fight against the three-headed Hydra? I loved this game since I first ran across it and Magic Sword in some linty laundromat somewhere as a kid.
1992’s Warriors of Fate is a quasi-sequel to Dynasty Wars and the second game to be based on the manga Tenchi wo Kurau. Warriors of Fate has a different name in Japanese and its non-English version contains references to Romance of the Three Kingdoms, though its Chinese heroes may have a significance lost on English audiences. Beyond that literary interest, this game is one of the younger entries on the bundle and indeed it would later be ported to the Saturn and PlayStation, but it feels sluggish and occasionally cumbersome, though it is littered with weapons and steeds for the player’s aid.
When I sat down to play this bundle for the first time, my kid brother beside me as player 2, we went right for 1994’s Armored Warriors (Powered Gear – Strategic Variant Armor Equipment in Japan). Neither of us had heard of it, not even I who am 15 years his senior and who practically grew up in places like Tilt, Fun Factory, Showbiz/Chuck E. Cheese, gas stations and laundromats. We were delighted to find an incredibly awesome beat ’em up that we were convinced many more people ought to play. Armored Warriors places you in any one of four giant mechs that can mow down enemy war machines, stomp over enemy infantry, and battle gigantic boss mechs at the end of several stages. One of the absolutely most jaw-dropping things ever is this feature where you can pick up armaments from enemies you’ve destroyed, swapping in huge lightsabers, drill-arms, treads, and frickin’ spider legs. The coolness factor is off the charts.
Finally, there’s Battle Circuit from 1997, the youngest of the bunch. It shows in the quality of animation and comic bookish stylishness. The game follows a group of bounty hunters ranging from the bizarre to the surreal: the cybernetic Cyber Blue, the amorphous and icy Captain Silver, the cattish fashion model Yellow Iris, the intelligent, eye-patched Pink Ostrich, and the venus flytrap on legs called Alien Green. You’d be hard pressed to find a wackier bunch. Chasing down the evil Dr. Saturn across multiple stages is punctuated by an extremely unique system that lets players purchase upgrades and new combat abilities with in-game currency between levels. Battle Circuit isn’t just made playable here at home for the first time ever, as I’ve mentioned, but it’s also important as it was the last arcade beat ’em up that Capcom ever developed.
These seven games are all presented in their arcade versions, which is great. The arcade versions are the ones that are toughest to come across. In the case of Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit, you would’ve needed a ROM or an original cabinet to play them at all. They also have greater multiplayer functionality including up to 4 players at once in some titles, as in Captain Commando.
Capcom was a busy developer and publisher in the late 80’s through the 90’s, so there’s no way that seven games could represent their truly prolific body of work, even in the beat ’em up genre. If you’re a fan of beat ’em ups, I’m sure you can think of some titles which sadly didn’t make the cut.
Notably missing are games like The Punisher and Alien vs Predator. What about the sequels to Final Fight? Would that have broken the bank? How about the perennial Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, which has apparently never seen a home release? What of the D&D duo, Chronicles of Mystara and Shadow Over Mystara?
I always have to wonder why collections aren’t more complete than they turn out to be, though I’m confident that’s because of licensing issues in many cases (a topic which people tend to turn a blind eye to when it comes to the trickier areas of the games preservation conversation). Hashing it out with a juggernaut like Marvel Comics or the last boss of licensing issues, Disney themselves, is a nightmare that I’m sure Capcom didn’t want to mess with for a simple bundle of re-released games.
So… are these seven games worth preserving? Ultimately, that’s a predominantly personal question. Are they worth preserving to you? It’s not something I’m convinced is a feasible question to ask of every game, and there’s a running gag in our Discord community about whether Home Improvement is worth preserving or not, though I’m sure you can think of landmark titles like I can which should definitely and are definitely being preserved through multiple iterations.
If preservation comes down to a matter of historical significance, then clearly that’s a little more objective than the other consideration, but it rules out a great many forgettable titles. If preservation comes down to a matter of the games being fun or not, then that’s something else entirely, and it’s subjective. Not everyone is going to find every game fun or agree on which games are fun, and since there are no authorities in gaming (thank goodness) then there’s no one to put out the edict on which games make the cut and which ones don’t.
Yet on the basis of fun, I’d say that most (not all) of the games included in this bundle are worth preserving, and I say that in the simplest terms.
These games have never looked better. Since they represent a span of years from ’89 to ’97, there are big differences in the stiffness of the character animations and the details of the backgrounds, for instance, between the early and the latter titles. Captain Commando and Armored Warriors both look incredibly fluid and exciting, but not so much with Final Fight. That is to be expected, though.
What is surprising is how the Bundle leaves off the usual graphical filters. You will not find any scanlines or pixel perfect or blurring effects, but really, these bells and whistles are just that, extras and in some cases cheap tricks. Besides, they were they never a personal draw for me. They’re nice to play around with, but I’d rather experience the original game with the original graphics, anyhow.
I can always do without the wallpaper borders, too. I don’t know why developers put those in there. Who do they appeal to? Wallpapers are something I always turn off in these collections, to be able to focus on the games themselves. Maybe they’re there to emulate the feel of playing on an arcade cabinet with all of its exterior art.
This Beat ‘Em Up Bundle also features a Gallery, and this was actually a draw for me to get ahold of the game. Well, that and the fact that I could play seven arcade games at home. The Gallery is something that I think is a must have for any retro collection as it gives the player some extra context for each game, which is increasingly important the further removed the game is backward in time. In the case of these arcade games, you and I may never again see their cabinets. Heck, I’ve never seen a cabinet for Warriors of Fate! The Gallery allows you to revisit some of the official artwork that once emblazoned those cabinets, as well as concept and promotional art and completely new art created just for this collection.
The one thing with beat ’em ups is that for all the action, for all the brutality and the energy, the music in that genre is generally pretty mediocre. The Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle does the right thing in preserving the original music from the original games, without embellishment, for better or worse. Of course, updated or remixed or even re-recorded soundtracks would have been cool, but not to the exclusion of the original music. If games are to be preserved, then they can’t be retconned.
All that said, the soundtracks for these seven games are largely as you’d expect them: gritty, grungy, synthetic, relentlessly metallic sounds that represent the average of the arcade scene from their time. I have never once seen any of these soundtracks being touted as exceptional and hearing them once again, their percussive, upbeat nature undergirds the beat ’em ups and nothing more. They serve their purpose. They possess utility, and at least they maintain that distinct classic Capcom sound.
The Bundle does however include some new music for its navigating menus and title screen, complete with sound design centered around effects like punches and kicks connecting with unseen villains. This is Capcom, alright!
The seven games themselves are very straightforward and if you’ve played even just one beat ’em up, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Walking down a street or a hallway and pummeling every bad guy that appears with your fists or any nearby weapon until you reach a boss is pretty much all that beat ’em ups have to offer, though some of the games included in this compilation feature mounts, in-game maps, or rail shooting segments to mix up the action a bit. Since the beat ’em ups themselves are fairly limited experiences, as games in that genre are, I’ll talk instead about the other gameplay features present in this particular Bundle.
The collection allows you to save at any point, view controls (which is handy for some of the complex fighters), and even play the games in either English or Japanese, so that’s two versions of each of the seven games. When arcade games meet direct ports to home console, there’s usually access to infinite lives; whereas in the arcade you’d have to drop real coins or tokens into the machine to play more when your character dies, at home you typically get infinite continues. This is nice since it lets you finish the game but it also deflates the tension from playing the game as well. To combat that, the Bundle includes a welcome set of difficulty modes where you can adjust when and how you gain extra lives, how many continues you get, and how hard the game will be. These parameters can be adjusted in unique ways depending on the game in question, but they allow the canny player to preserve some of that tension from days gone by. In my book, that puts the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle lightyears ahead of some other direct port collections which expect you to get the same enjoyment out of games now rendered boring by infinite continues.
But difficulty modes aren’t even the best thing about the gameplay in this collection. That honor goes to…
Nothing makes you wish you had friends more than playing through a beat ’em up on your own. The Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle hosts both local and online multiplayer with expanded options allowing you to connect with others and enjoy up to four-player simultaneous play. One of my favorite things ever in gaming in couch co-op and playing through Knights of the Round with my two brothers recently was so much fun, even if I did get stuck with Perceval!
As mentioned, beat ’em ups are typically very accessible to players. Their rules don’t frequently change too much between titles. Use of weapons and items in the games are fairly intuitive (a roast turkey obvious heals health, a pipe on the ground can obviously be used as a club). Only a few grappling moves or upgradable characters could potentially mystify but the Bundle includes in-game help and tutorial menus, if needed.
This is the graded element I reserve especially for compilations of games. As for this collection, the gallery and the difficulty modes are both robust. The former contains a lot of material to sift through if you’re so inclined, providing an excellent backdrop for each game historically (although without commentary), and the latter allows players to tweak the games to their satisfaction. I could only wish that the Bundle included more of something I wish I saw more often in collections: unlockables. Unlockable interviews, video or sound clips, artwork, or even games themselves aren’t common features for collections, but man, are they impressive wherever present, besides granting extra replay value.
Despite the absence of unlockables, the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is still a great collection. Spanning 8 years of Capcom’s arcade presence and featuring two games which had never before been released on home consoles, there is a lot to love. Never before have these seven games been brought together in such a way and playing an arcade game from the 90’s for the first time ever in Armored Warriors was a very unique experience.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
Beat ’em ups are great Saturday afternoon delights but they can quickly become tiring, considering they’re essentially repetitive button mashers. Getting the right group together to enjoy these relics is what’s most important but I don’t imagine that the average person will have enough patience to sit and play through all of these seven games in a row. In that regard, the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is best in short bursts. It’s an excursion down memory lane to take once in a while when the mood strikes. Without unlockables, the games themselves don’t have all that much replay value, anyway. But, are you interested in the preservation of games? Well, then. This is a collection of arcade games whose cabinets you might never see again.
As Captain Commando himself outlines in the trailer below, it’s really amazing to play the arcade versions (the most advanced versions) of these games all in the comfort of your own home on your own TV, or with the Switch in your own hands. Somewhere inside me, there’s still a little late-80’s, early 90’s kid that is floored by this collection.
Aggregated Score: 7.6
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