I recently watched Charlie Brooker (of The Guardian’s Screenburn column and BBC’s Screenwipe) in his new show Gameswipe, in which basically his career came more-or-less full circle, he having started off as a games journalist, made it into TV, and then come back to reviewing videogames again. Mr Brooker managing to make the leap from games journo to TV ‘star’, despite having many of the traits of your average videogame journo – lack of film-star looks (when watching him on TV, you can’t help feeling that somewhere back in his family tree a Cabbage Patch doll had an affair with a trout), a wit best described as ‘acidic’ and a tendency towards borderline obsession – is an encouragement to other games journalists that one day we too might escape the world of late-into-the-night lonely reviewing sessions and perhaps scale the dizzy career heights to achieve that dream of our own late-night BBC3 show, or occasional celebrity panel show guest spot. Gameswipe, for me though, also highlighted an interesting fact about games genres: there are LOADS of them.
Where once you could pretty-much categorise any videogame under one of a handful of different types (such as the eight or so featured on Gameswipe), these days as the power of the machines, and the imagination of the game developer grows exponentially, we see game genres mix and meld, and whole new genres seemingly emerge on an almost weekly basis. One genre which has been around since almost the inception of the games console though, and which doesn’t seem to have changed a whole heck of a lot since it began, is the beat-’em-up.
The first beat-’em-up I can remember playing on a console (or ‘home computer’, as they used to be called) was ‘WOTEF’, or ‘Way Of The Exploding Fist’, which featured two small chaps in simplistic martial arts gear who could use but a handful of martial arts moves on one another. It was basic, and not much to look at, but still I was hooked. Of course, if you really wanted to play a PROPER beat-’em-up, then the place to be was the arcades, where a few big names were just starting out and the power of the dedicated graphics boards made for better graphics, sound and animation.
Now though, you’ve got to wonder why anyone ever goes to arcades (if indeed anyone still does) because we can have arcade-quality games in our own home, and that’s exactly what King Of Fighters XII is: an arcade-quality 2D beat-’em-up on your home console. Yes, if your every waking moment is taken up with thoughts of which button combination you need to master in order to perform that flying roundhouse kick, or overhead fireball attack, then this is the game for you. In terms of visuals, it proffers graphics exactly like you might expect a late-90s arcade cabinet to offer, with all the action taking place in one two-dimensional playing area, while the tried and tested ‘parallax scrolling’ technique is used on the backgrounds to give an illusion of depth.
There are 22 colourful characters on offer, each with their own range of different attacks, throws, special moves and ‘super special’ moves to master, and they get to duke it out across six different backdrops.
Control is simplicity itself to pick up – use the d-pad or analogue stick for directional control and the triangle, square, circle and X buttons for Heavy Punch, Light Punch, Heavy Kick and Light Kick – but a struggle to master, as each character has different moves and attacks specific to them, some of which require various lengthy sequences of pad and button combinations to pull them off. Combat consists of three-on-three ‘winner stays on’-style matches, where if you beat the first opponent, then your character gets a small energy boost and then stays in the arena to tackle the next guy. You can either compete against the CPU-controlled opponents, or go to head-to-head with a friend. And that, pretty-much, is all you really need to know.
For, unlike something like Resident Evil or Grand Theft Auto, there is not a huge amount to explain about this game – it’s about one thing: arcade-style, gratuitous one-on-one beat-’em-up action. Whereas some games try to draw you in with complex storylines and multiple twists and turns, with King Of Fighters XII, what you see is what you get.
So if you like colourful, detailed, zany characters, each with their own different skills set, bashing the hell out of one another, then you’ll like this. If not, then you won’t, simple as that. Where the longevity comes into it is with the special moves – with this game it’s not just about finishing the single-player (that can be done in about 20 minutes), no, you’ll find that hardcore gamers will spend hours trying to master the special moves. Why? Because they’re there. So like DS owners might find enjoyment in solving every clue in the latest Professor Layton adventure, hardcore KOF fans will get the same satisfaction in pulling off all the special moves for every character in this. Sound a little strange? Well if I tell you that back when I used to work on videogame magazines, I remember one memorable press lunch where the PR guy who’d taken us out, himself a confirmed Street Fighter addict, spent literally two whole hours discussing with two writers from GamesTM magazine the merits of just one particular Street Fighter special move, then maybe then you’ll understand just how seriously some beat-’em-up fans take their games.
For those ‘dedicated’ individuals (I resist the urge to say ‘sad’, because when you really think about it, it’s no more obsessive than your average football fan spending hours in the pub dissecting a particular tackle or goal attempt) this kind of game represents hour upon hour of top entertainment. For more normal… okay, let me rephrase that: for ‘less fanatical’ gamers, what you’ve basically got is a game which will be great fun to pick up and play with a mate for a few hours every so often, but which doesn’t really have the depth to keep you playing it for long periods – it’s more a ‘post pub’ activity that you’ll dust off every so often when you’ve got company. As a result, while it’s well recommended to the legions of King Of Fighters and Street Fighter 2D beat-’em-up fans out there, for your more casual gamer, I’d have to give it a fairly solid ‘good’ 6 out of 10.
Related: Street Fighter