For decades, gamers have been punching, kicking, and tossing around the downtrodden. This perception didn’t occur to me until I spoke with Stanislaus Berton, the developer behind the recent PC and Mac release, The Asskickers. Referring to beloved brawlers like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, the designer noted how players have recurrently clashed with transvestites, punk rockers, prostitutes, and the homeless. With this new insight, Metro City Mayor Mike Haggar’s impassioned crime sweep suddenly became tainted with a malicious undertone.
Shrewdly, enemies in The Asskickers aren’t the typical cross-section of bullied metropolitans. Instead Berton has invigorated the brawler with foes appropriate for our current economic downturn. Filled with a broad array of upper crest types- ranging from preppies, bankers, and corporate thieves, players might just expect the final boss to be a Bernie Madoff lookalike. For the majority of us affect by the recession, the title offers a comforting catharsis across its six stages.
It’s regrettable that these same revitalization efforts weren’t applied to the title’s gameplay mechanics. As it stands, Asskickers will feel a bit redundant for veterans of the 16-bit era. Recalling Final Fight‘s triad of troublemakers, up to two players can select from the game’s three protagonists, each offering varying degrees of speed, power and resilience. After a brief tutorial in the local dojo, players are attacked by a trio of khaki-clad Ivy leaguers, who are faultless fodder for a player’s special moves, single combo, as well as a jump attack.
Appropriately, The Asskickers’ hit detection lives up to its gluteus-pounding namesake. Leaping strikes only connect on the very end of their downswing while weapons and power-ups must be adjacent to gamers before they can be grabbed. Although genre archetype requires gamers to be on a nearby plane to foes, The Asskickers’ proxemic requirement is much stricter than its old-school peers. The inclusion of a charged attack seems like a worthwhile addition, but regretfully it takes too long to engage when surrounded by a group of white-collared goons. Generally, the title will kick players’ own posteriors with the same level of tenacity as it’s on-screen heroes- giving a dual meaning to the game’s moniker.
The Asskickers can be played with two participants sharing a single keyboard, but the ideal input method is a control pad for each player. Using this type of controller, I was able to regularly execute the game’s special moves, which requires participants to tap twice in the same direction before pressing the attack button. With an Mad Catz Retrocon (along with a USB adaptor) the title truly recreates the experience of playing a long-lost console title, with players trading high-fives at the commencement of each level.
Visually, the title perfectly evokes the vibe of its Genesis-predecessors, albeit with a high-resolution edge. Although protagonist and enemy animations have a limited number of frames, the game is drawn with a simple, pleasing art style. Each of the game’s urban landscapes are littered with a handful of destructible objects, although it would have been pleasing to see a bit more environmental interactivity. Beyond The Asskickers’ Story mode, the title also flouts a Survival and Time Attack mode, as well as an in-game achievement system to bolster its potential playtime.
While The Asskickers may lack the polish of Streets of Rage, Double Dragon or even Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the title does offer a inspired reminder of the capacity of the co-op brawler. When playing with an acquaintance, eliminating the endless succession of bourgeoisie baddies made for an enjoyable afternoon, justifying the game’s $4.99 price for retro enthusiasts. Others might want to download the demo before committing to The Asskickers corporate coup.