Posted: 02.28.03 8:22pm  
The Curse of the Polygon
(AKA: How 3D Fucked Up Gaming)

-The Classic 2D Beat ‘Em Up-

Folks, I’m going to tell it to you straight. You’ve been fucked. We’ve ALL been fucked. And the perpetrator is none other than that spawn of Satan we know all too well. No, it’s not Sony again. I’m talking about the third dimension. That’s right, the very inclusion of the Z-axis in videogames has, throughout history, shit on the collective faces of gamers everywhere. And not the nice, clean cornlog type, mind you. We’re talking about the concoction that unfolds when you intake refried beans, alcohol, and meat that’s been left in the sun far too long. You know, where it comes out green even though nothing you ate even resembled green… or blue and yellow for that matter.

Now I could go on about specifics like Castlevania, Contra (pre-Shattered Soldier, which had issues not necessarily due to 3D), and Final Fantasy… but that could take weeks. Rather, I’d like to focus on one specific genre of game: the classic 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up. This particular category holds a special place in my heart. Yes sir, it’s all about thumping the AI-impaired skulls of street punks and hippies with little more than your hands, feet, and whatever foreign objects you can get your hands on. Honestly, does life get any better than that?

For me, it all started in the arcade with the classic known as Double Dragon. It was a beautiful love story about a man coping with the beating and kidnapping of his beloved girlfriend, who was as loose as couch change. I can feel a tear welling up in my eye as I type. The screenshot below brings you into the opening scene:

user posted image Williams prepares to sucker punch Marian in the gut. He would later regret his actions, claiming that substance abuse and peer pressure impaired his judgment. Our hero, Billy, would not be terribly sympathetic.

But it wasn’t just about love and regret. It was about brotherhood, as seen in the screenshot below:

user posted image Williams didn’t count on Jimmy lending a hand. Apparently, he was banging Marian too.

Nonetheless, Williams will soon be the recipient of a little aluminum justice!

Double Dragon also brought together some of the greatest personalities of all time. Most notably, Abobo, seen below:

user posted image One Abobo alone leaves you stranded in shit city with no bus pass. But two Abobos with boulders involved? Welcome to a world of pain, population: you. Note that if you look at the higher Abobo *just* right, it appears as if he’s puffing up a huge afro.

Also, it looks to me like Jimmy was just on the receiving end of Abobo’s patented “hand clap” from hell. As a general rule, you should really avoid fucking with Abobo at all costs.

And finally, what would a beat ‘em up game be without a great set of moves to kick ass with? Well, it’d be shit, as can be seen in some games I’ll mention later. But Double Dragon had the awesome hair-pull knee-butt, which could only be pulled off once you beat down your opponent to the point where he was hunched over from puking up his own bowels (and that’s pretty painful, I hear). It was like poetry in motion:

user posted image Get your mind out of the gutter you sick freak! He’s kneeing him in the face, nothing more!

Not that there’s…uh…anything wrong with that (assuming it was consensual).

The success of the game brought upon sequels and spin-offs. Some were good; some were bad. Here’s an example of good:

user posted image Yes, it’s Double Dragon 2: The Revenge! Personally, this is my favorite of the series; I have the arcade machine at home. The NES versions and the SNES version are good too. Avoid Double Dragon 3 (arcade) though; the stink of failure on that one is enough to start a biological war.

Also avoid the Genesis versions. They claim “just like the arcade,” but it’s kind of like taking a straw and advertising it as “just like a tennis racket.” Especially if it’s one of those bendy straws with some sort of clown on top.

Here’s an example of bad:

user posted image And when I say bad, I mean you would be better off tying your nuts around a cactus infested with killer bees and scorpions than experiencing this.

But let’s face it; movies based on videogames just aren’t suitable for anything but torture in third-world countries. The only halfway decent one was Mortal Combat. And we only tolerated that because everything else before it was so God forsakenly horrible.

If you happened to watch it, you can rest assured that some parts of your brain have been permanently shutdown from the trauma. I’m living proof. And if you have some desire to kill off what’s left, keep an eye out for the House of the Dead movie coming soon.
Anyway, along with the sequels and spin-offs, we had the knockoffs. In the arcade, we had such greats as Aliens vs. Predator:

user posted image Can you tell me what’s wrong with this picture?

That’s right, not enough burning Alien corpses! Worry not though; he’s just warming up.

On a side note, if I were a television news reporter, I would have made some brilliant comment like “he’s warming up…the Aliens!” Followed by some forced laughter by my co-anchors. Doesn’t anyone have any dignity anymore?

Also noteworthy is one of the very few videogames based on a popular franchise that is good. No one would have thought that this was possible, but then we were given the Simpsons arcade game by Konami:

user posted image For the most part, “good videogame based on a license” was only viewed as a paradox. But the Simpsons arcade game managed to counter that statement by actually being quite a bit of fun.

Never fear though, there were plenty of other Simpsons incarnations that more than made up for this transgression.

Of course, the greatness of the beat ‘em up genre wasn’t limited only to arcade lovers. Many favorites were ported to consoles over the years, including the Double Dragon games mentioned earlier. More importantly, some companies took it upon themselves to bring out whole new games based on this engine, often exclusive to any other platform. The most famous of these would have to be, without a doubt, the Streets of Rage series, which helped bring the Genesis great leverage in its battle against the Super Nintendo:

user posted image Streets of Rage had it all. Great graphics, great music, and most importantly: great gameplay.

Can you name which of those three is generally lacking in today’s 3D beat ‘em up games (if not all)?

user posted image The “neck hump” proved to be one of Skate’s most effective maneuvers.

“Get him off me! GET HIM OFF ME!!!

user posted image Shoryu… (cough). Err, bare knuckle!

So what? Pfft, like Capcom has never ripped off another franchise.

user posted image Streets of Rage 3 featured Shinobi, one of Sega’s most popular characters.

Also, I just lied and this screenshot is a fake. It would be interesting, but it wouldn’t fit with the overall theme… although neither does Professor Zan. I know Sega was trying to hit up every demographic with their character designs, but Zan seems to have been pulled directly from the stars. Specifically, the puckered-up brown star.

user posted image There’s something about Blaze I’ve always liked. Scratch that, there are a couple things about Blaze I’ve always liked..
Those were the good old days. You’d think that over time, games could only get better. Then 3D arrived, bringing in 360-degree motion to where it was never intended. Gone was the vertical rule, whereby if someone was significantly above or below you, you were not in the line of attack. Gone was a consistent point of view, whereby you could see all the action around you and plan accordingly. Gone was single-screen cooperative play, whereby you could setup awesome double-team moves and combos (although, this could possibly be alleviated with online play). What kind of effect did this have on the “next generation” of beat ‘em ups? Here’s a harsh dose of reality for you (be warned, the following is not for the weak stomached):

user posted image This game is actually somewhat enjoyable, albeit still a complete travesty to Sega’s beat ‘em up legacy. They did stay true to form on other legendary Sega fronts though, such as having some of the worst voice acting ever heard.

It also features the ugliest damsel in distress character ever seen in any videogame. I’d post a picture, but then you’d go blind and miss out on the rest of the unholiness I have planned.

user posted image This game is simply repulsive. The only saving grace was that they had enough sense to put the 2 player cooperative mode in so that it would be easier to spread the word on just how much of an abomination it is.

Other games wouldn’t even manage to do that right…

user posted image …and here’s our first example. But the disaster doesn’t stop there. You’ve got a terrible story, a terrible fight engine, and terrible camera issues. Of course, there’s always the simp who says, “But da graphics are da bomb!” Well that’s all well and good, but it’s kind of like a girl with a beautiful face that you then find out smells like a dead rat and has a dick in her shorts that’s not yours. Kind of kills the romance, ya know?

On the plus side, like many other Square games, the characters are sporting some very cool outfits. That’s assuming you’re homosexual, of course.

user posted image Ah yes, here we have what I’d like to declare one of the worst games of all time. This game also features the critically acclaimed “one-player simultaneous” technology.

There really aren’t any words I can use to sufficiently describe the onslaught of agony this game is. Let’s just say if I were to invent a device that could power the world on pain, it could run forever on this game alone.

I feel filthy having just touched this steaming pile of refuse. And keep in mind this is coming from someone who uses an avatar of Uncle Sam fondling Porky Pig.

There you have it folks, from our pristine past to our sordid present. It’s enough to make you want to deliver an invincible elbow punch to these meat-pipe-smoking developers who shovel this 3D-tainted filth out to unwary consumers across the globe. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all maggot vomit. There are the occasional satisfactory titles that make it out, such as Dynasty Warriors 3, shown here:

user posted image Confucius say: Even most seasoned gourmet appreciate unripened apple, if fed shit long enough.

But alas, it’s no substitute for the games that pioneered the genre in the great 2D age. I can only dream that some day developers will come to their senses and bring back 2D roots to this inexorably corrupted genre. I get the feeling that we’ll see State of Emergency 2 before that happens though. In the meantime, I had better continue my work on that “pain to energy” device…

--Eltis out

Links of interest:

Double Dragon Dojo
Streets of Rage Online
Killer List of Videogames
Videogame Museum