Release Date: 31/03/09
Anyone who remembers "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's directorial debut, Violent Cop, might have pinned hopes on Success's similarly themed Tokyo Beat Down as being some sort of modern day interpretation of the cult 1990 Japanese movie. Several of the characters in this game seem to mimic characters from that film, in fact, with one of the central playable characters the namesake of Kitano-san himself. Unlike that visceral depiction of ultra-violence, Tokyo Beat Down is instead a curious mix of Phoenix Wright-style storytelling and, most obviously, a traditional 2D scrolling beat 'em up.
Playing as a handful of characters from the Tokyo district police station, it's your job to quash the underground crimes spilling out into the Tokyo streets, shops and warehouses using a cunning combination of clenched fists, pistols and metal pipes. Although characters and some tantalising cut-scenes are modeled in 3D, movement is strictly limited to the second dimension. Fans of the seminal Final Fight and Bare Knuckle series might also have looked at this and hoped for at least more of the same, what with the staples of those famous scrolling scrappers (trash cans, boxes, fast food) all present, not to mention some nice presentational additions.
The problem here, despite all these delectable ingredients just waiting to be served up, is that Tokyo Beat Down inescapably reveals itself to be an increasingly tedious mess of a game.
The entire game can be separated into just two distinct types of gameplay. Investigative missions involve talking to citizens in order to piece together information, or smashing crates until you find an item you're after. It's here the game's likeable humour shines through, with some particularly amusing dialogue taking place. Each character you encounter is named according to their mood or appearance, so it's not uncommon to be talking to "Irate Shopper" or "Old Man in Need of Pills" when patrolling the Shinjuku shopping malls. "Beat down" missions are self-explanatory, too: battling hoards of subordinates until it's time to edge further along the screen, repeating over and over. The troublemaker's range from traditional gang-land crooks in punk clothing, armoured soldiers with machine guns, and even the odd student revolutionary, but all are dispatched in the same way – with several punches in the gob. Sometimes missions veer off into mid-stage boss fights, whereby knocking down the main bad guy until his energy levels are depleted ends the stage, but again, this is a repetitive process with little skill or variation involved.
Each controllable cop has a good variety of attacks, including the aforementioned pistol, as well as combination kicks and punches, and even special moves. But it's not too long into any number of stages that Tokyo Beat Down suffers crushing, game-stopping breakdowns, and it's brought about almost exclusively by the awfully judged control system, and each annoyance only becomes more apparent as times goes on.
The basic foundations and rules laid out by the genre are almost totally ignored, and it ends up crippling the game. For example, there is a jump, but no ability to jump and kick or punch at the same time for mid-air antics. Handgun pick-ups are so ineffective at disposing of enemies, and so slow to activate, as to prove not only pointless but a downright hindrance. Two special moves at your disposal are curiously ineffective, lacking any kind of range, power and length of time to be seen as useful. Get knocked over after a few punches, and the time it takes to get back up again is excruciating – but counter this also with the fact that on some stages enemies swarm around you as you're down; firing a hail of invisible bullets in your direction, with zero recovery grace, no less – it's sheer idiocy.
Get past the annoyances and there is some, albeit limited, enjoyment to be had, but there's no hiding the glaring fact that Tokyo Beat Down just doesn't have what it takes to stand against even the most mediocre beat 'em ups from yesteryear. Half of the game actually revolves around dialogue-driven cut-sequences, which are more enjoyable than they sound, but that is probably saying more about the interactive sections than anything else. The twists and turns and some amusing banter from the central characters do hold your attention, but just as the story seems to finally unfold, suddenly, inexplicably, it ends. It seems almost fitting for a game so lacking in depth.
So, all we're left with is a barely engaging plot-line to follow, and ultimately that's just not good enough. With such a distinct lack of understanding of the genre and an almost hateful disregard for the player's enjoyment, the biggest crime going down in Tokyo it seems, is a simple lack of respect.