Review: Tokyo Beat Down (Nintendo DS)

Tokyo Beat Down
Genre: Brawler
Developer: Success
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 3/31/2009

Through the first half of the “Ëœ90s, if you were in an arcade, you were always at least an arm’s-length away from a brawler. While games such as Kung Fu Master paved the way for the genre, it wasn’t until games such as Double Dragon and Final Fight that brawlers boomed. The results of this genre’s popularity brought us licensed goods such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men: The Arcade Game and Alien vs. Predator that provided fond memories and empty pockets for anyone growing up during the era. While the genre shifted to the more lucrative one-on-one fighters after the maddening success of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, the fact games such as Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Golden Axe keep finding their way back to new consoles is proof the brawler era left an everlasting impression.

As we fast forward to 2008, Success tried its hand at the genre as it was in the 1990’s, developing Yajuu Keiji for the Japanese Nintendo DS. Not a publisher to let a fresh, quirky game left unreleased to U.S. gamers, Atlus has stepped in to serve stateside gamers a helping of mass ass kicking, domesticating the title under the name of Tokyo Beat Down – indeed fitting as players are able to rock the face of nearly everyone they encounter in the game. While Tokyo Beat Down doesn’t aim to advance the genre in any means, it provides DS gamers with elements that mirror brawlers as they were in the golden era. While the simplistic game play gives older gamers a slice of “Ëœ90s goodness, those who didn’t experience the genre the first time around might be left wondering where they can find a complete game experience.

Tokyo Beat Down details the story of a group of rambunctious police force members, known as the Beast Cops (which is the translation of Yajuu Keiji), whose methods are questionable, but get the job done. Through the course of the game, players alternate between the gullible loose cannon Lewis Cannon (Ha, ha, get it?), grizzled veteran Captain Takeshi Bando and the beautiful but deadly Rika Hyodo over the course of six days as they unravel a terrorist plot that endangers the city of Tokyo. While the cart does strive for simplicity, unfortunately, the story mode which houses this plot is the only game mode available on the cart. This facet wholly nerfs any variety in modes offered by the game, but thankfully, the story and decent scripting behind Tokyo Beat Down make the journey through the title’s lone mode a moderately bearable one.

In fact, in a genre where stories are a complete afterthought (Unless you’re diving into a brawler like the legendary Guardian Heroes.), the reverse holds true as the player will be wrapped up in story elements for almost just as long as they are fighting. Atlus’s localization team did a very nice job retelling the game’s story, fleshing out each of the game’s characters with dialog suitable to the nature of each main character. The presentation gives Tokyo Beat Down a 1970’s cop-sitcom vibe, which results in some entertainingly cheesy one-liners and dry humor.

In the end, while the story takes a few predictable swerves, the title’s plot goes beyond beating up street gangs to get your girlfriend back and stands as one of the products finest aspects. However, once the story has been seen to its conclusion, there is literally nothing left to do with Tokyo Beat Down unless players truly want to fight through the six-day scenario once again. An arcade mode, versus mode, or some classic multiplayer is sorely needed in the title and at least one or two extra mode inclusions could have taken Tokyo Beat Down the extra mile it needs.

Visually, Tokyo Beat Down is a mixed bag. While cutscenes are told through nicely-drawn, comic-style static portraits, the gameplay graphics look as if they were pulled from a polygonal-based Playstation One title. The models aren’t as blocky as is common on the aforementioned system. However, the in-game characters are full of jaggies and blurriness that give the visuals a lack of true shine. Even though the character models do animate fairly well and some of the environments (which resemble actual districts in Tokyo), are quite interesting, while in the action, Tokyo Beat Down’s lack of graphical detail will do little to wow players, especially since they will see the exact same handful of enemies and locations over and over again through the duration of the game.

On the same token, nothing in Tokyo Beat Down’s audio department stands out as the music also gets recycled a little bit and all of the smacks and thuds you’d expect to hear in a fighting game are present. The story is told entirely through storyboards so the only voice work players will hear through the entire game is in the common Japanese quips the characters exclaim when they pick up items or groans or screams when characters take a fall. Tokyo Beat Down features all of the sound elements it should, however, none of them stand out as incredibly well done.

In the realm of control and game play, Tokyo Beat Down could draw some comparisons to the Dynamite Deka series as it attempts to meld hand-to-hand fighting with optional fire power when the going gets really tough. The face buttons are used for standard punches, kicks, jumps and situational actions, which all get the job done just as the player intends. All other actions including throws, shooting firearms and desperation attacks have simultaneous button presses that are quite less responsive at times. This is most prominent with actions mapped to the shoulder buttons such as the crucial block, which is mapped to the R button. While there are a few qualms with some of the more advanced moves and the only means of defense, controlling the characters isn’t too much of a burden as the standard measure of hammering on kicks and punches will take players anywhere they want to go in the game.

Realistically, I could sum up Tokyo Beat Down’s game play in one word – repetitive. Believe me when I say this game is repetitive as hell. However, that’s not to say the title is a bad game and as a throwback to games of the “Ëœ90s, if you’re showing interest in Tokyo Beat Down, there is a huge possibility you’ll expect this coming in. As expected, the game consists of moving your character to the right a little, pressing the attack button until all enemies are dead and repeating until there is nothing left to curb stomp.

The title tries to break up the monotony a little by throwing in segments that has the player “investigating” scenes and talking to the public to get information that advances the story. However, all of this is done in a linear fashion and isn’t all that exciting. The only way the game deviates from the linear progression is in allowing players to go to locations other than the target of the next brawl or investigation. There are a small number of elderly men hidden among the “crowds” of people, which when spoken to, challenge the player to a specific task such as defeating a group of enemies within a time limit or beating down enemies without taking damage. If successful, the player is awarded a scroll, which allows the characters to chain together an extra attack in a combo, or a bulletproof vest, which extends the maximum life total for the player.

Tokyo Beat Down also misses a chance at variety in its character lineup. While each of the three characters differs drastically in appearance, each one sports the same move set and there is no noticeable difference in their abilities. Given the brawler stereotypes, one would expect Rika to be faster than the other Beast Cops, while the towering Captain Bando would be the strongest. However, this is not the case. Even a little deviation between the characters would have chopped down on the title’s repetitiveness and hidden characters such as the remainder of the Beast Cops, (Which include the sergeant, the rookie, and the chief.), would have been a nice addition.

Wily players will also find that all of the classic ’90s brawler exploits can be used in Tokyo Beat Down. Unfortunately, this zapped a lot of the challenge out of the title and left the game play balance sliding toward the negative side of the scale. Once a player has a grasp on “one-punch ticking” and animation frames of invincibility, there is virtually little challenge through most of the game. I tried to be vague in those descriptions to not potentially ruin the game for someone, but Tokyo Beat Down makes these windows of opportunity so big, they are quite hard to miss for anyone who has picked up a brawler in their day.

These techniques will be all players need. Of course, there are a number of other actions available to players, but there are balance issues here as well. The most puzzling decision made in the game has to be in the fact that your characters cannot attack while jumping, meaning if you go for a throw and the game registers a jump instead, there is no way to defend yourself. Jumping only serves as a means to escape from crowds (and rarely, there are times you’ll clip against the environment and jump over non-threatening obstacles) and again presents another lost opportunity to expand the game. Also, while the game gives players pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and rocket launchers to toy with, bullets only do as much damage as a couple of punches. Nearly all of the weapons are quite worthless aside from the couple of boss encounters where you have no choice but to take arms. It seems their only advantage is in stunning enemies slightly longer than normal knockdowns. I know the bullets used by the Beast Cops are only rubber and not lethal, but, come on.

Regardless, the game handles challenge progression quite well, serving up chumps in the beginning of the game and satisfactorily amping up the difficulty through the course of the story. Toward the end of the game, where even civilians start packing heat, the shots delivered to players from off-screen and aggressive groups of enemies might make the game seem unfair at first. Once players get the knack of the techniques available to them, the difficulty is quite suitable and makes finishing the game an accomplishment.

With the marketing approach given to Tokyo Beat Down, it was no doubt a lot of gamers from the ’90s kept a close eye on the game’s release and the title’s presentation undoubtedly carries a great amount of charm. Unfortunately, once you bash your way through the game’s story, which will only hold up for a couple of hours, there is just absolutely no reason to play Tokyo Beat Down ever again. If the game’s repetitiveness doesn’t turn you away immediately, I could only imagine the title holding someone’s attention for five hours at a maximum as once you get into the story, you will want to see it through to the end. While there is a dojo to practice skills and a few hidden items to boost your performance, there are absolutely no other modes, features, unlockables or items to be seen – I’ve beaten the game three times back-to-back and the only difference is my save file has a star next to it. Even the most simplest of features that could have been added to Tokyo Beat Down would have given players more incentive to drop cash on the title.

The Scores
Story/Modes: ENJOYABLE
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: WORTHLESS
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: BAD
Appeal Factor: DECENT
Miscellaneous: DREADFUL

Short Attention Span Summary
While Tokyo Beat Down has some of the most classic game play I’ve experienced in a current title recently, as it goes with the brawler genre, it is also one of the most repetitive experiences I’ve had in a while. If you’ve been following the title and remember the golden age of the genre, you’ll expect this going in and experience a surprisingly decent story along the way. Unfortunately, the game’s biggest strike comes with its gross lack of content. Tokyo Beat Down offers absolutely nothing outside of its main story mode and some classic multiplayer beat down action is completely omitted. Furthermore, once you tack on a mix of hits and misses in the game’s presentation and balance, it might seem like the title is a total flop. Tokyo Beat Down definitely isn’t for everyone, however, anyone who has a heart for classic brawler action will uncover a small trove of fun in the title, even though that fun will only last a handful of hours.



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