Beat-em-up games are the bread and butter of the console games industry and there’s a good number of well-known franchises out there ranging which have either well-earned or are on their way to earning status as household names. Mortal Kombat, Dead or Alive, Street Fighter.
With a history which traces all the way back to the arcade scene of yesteryear, one of the main complaints we hear voiced against the genre though is that it hasn’t really evolved or changed as time has gone on. Other genres have grown, adapted and died over the decades – but the beat-em-up has always been just about hitting people with sticks, swords and fists. Not even the Wii has managed to change that much.
So, imagine our surprise then when EA debuted Facebreaker for the Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3 with the claim that the game would take the genre back to its arcade roots. Punch-Out was cited as a major inspiration.
You’ve got to wonder then; is it even possible to give the beat-em-up an old-school makeover? The genre hasn’t ever been anything but old-school! Could this just be marketing spin and buzzwords, we wondered. Approach with caution, we decided.
Well, now we’re back from the field and we’ve got all our reconnaissance laid out. Here’s what we reckon to the old-school boxing beat-em-up of new…
In The Ring
The first thing that any modern button masher is going to notice about Facebreaker is that it’s limited itself quite clearly and definitely to a boxing theme. All the fighters have gloves on, all the prizes are belts and all the action is set in the ring, not on the rooftops of destructible castles.
Secondly, you’ll notice a distinct lack of high-polygon breasts which oscillate with each impact. That’s more of a side issue though. This isn’t Soul Calibur IV, so it doesn’t always have to be about boobs and bo-staffs.
You’d think that the boxing theme would limit some areas of Facebreaker in that, since it obviously doesn’t try to be a simulation, there’s only going to be a limited number of characters and fighting styles on offer. And you’d be right.
There’s a crucial but here though and that’s that the way the game is limited to only a handful characters actually helps make it more personable and stylish. Instead of having four hundred identical characters like Mortal Kombat, or two dozen only slightly different sword swingers, Facebreaker has eleven characters which have all been designed to showcase a specific style or design.
What’s more, it actually really works as a way to make players get attached to characters. Unlike Tekken or Soul Calibur where there’s complicated backstory to learn for each character and they all look roughly the same depending on gender, Facebreaker has a selection of distinct and unusual avatars for you to puppet to destruction.
These characters all run the usual gamut – the strong, slow Russian, the raving J-pop animistress and so on, but there are a few noticeable individuals. There’s the tall and silent Ice, who looks like a cross between Nick Fury and Samuel L. Jackson. There’s Sparrow, the bodiced-up death machine who feels like Sarah Connor on a bad day. There’s Socks, the mentally unstable clown who comes across as a blend of The Joker and Charlie Chalk. Each and every character is different and likeable.
Next, lets take a look at the basic gameplay to see if that too can hold up to scrutiny...