Review: Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle (PS4)

Don’t hang up! We have a little business proposition for you. Push Square propose that any retro gamer with a love of side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups make it their business to play the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle, particularly as a historical jaunt through an impressive display of seven cherry-picked iterations of the publisher’s Capcom Play System (CPS) arcade board games.

Since you can play it on almost every PlayStation console, including Final Fight: Double Impact on PS3 – although it was never ported to the PSone — there was no actual finality to Final Fight, thankfully. In a similar regard to how Mega Man 2 is passionately remembered on Capcom’s Mega Man Legacy Collection, and many gamers are already familiar with it, Final Fight is a bona fide beat-‘em-up genre classic alongside Streets of Rage 2 that you’ve likely already played. CPS-1 technology ensured that Final Fight was a benchmark of graphical excellence in 1989, filling the screen with sprites, and the gameplay set a design template that influenced all of the titles in this Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle.

This pattern included charismatic boss battles, and the option of controlling a strong but slow character, alongside more averagely skilled or faster protagonists. Strategies for progressing in Final Fight translate across all seven games, like timing using a health-draining Megacrush attack, and carefully positioning your character to control enemy crowds, using moves like throws. This latest compilation is built upon these gameplay guidelines, plus it even offers the useful option to assign a button for rapid-fire turbo attacks. The setting of a journey through city streets, to a towering boss lair continues in the wacky 1991 CPS-1 game, Captain Commando. However, this game has quirkier presentation, with expressive animation, which is more akin to a colourful 1990s Konami brawler.

Capcom was distinguishable for its plethora of quality Japanese game soundtracks in the late 1980s and 1990s, so it’s notable in the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle how consistently talented the sound team was throughout the seven games. It’s also pleasing to the ear to appreciate that some composers worked on more than one game, including Yoko Shimomura (Final Fight, The King of Dragons), Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (Final Fight, Warriors of Fate), Masaki Izutani (Captain Commando, Warriors of Fate), and Syun Nishigaki (Captain Commando, Battle Circuit).

The lasting impression of each soundtrack is the incredibly catchy and infectious nature of Capcom’s arcade chiptunes – the Rolento Battle track from Final Fight is an underappreciated gem — plus how unwaveringly successful the tunes are at perfectly suiting each game’s setting. More so than the gameplay, it’s the music and visual backdrops that provide variety in this collection.

Following the success of SEGA’s Golden Axe, three of this compilation’s brawlers are set against a fantasy or quasi-historical backdrop. This includes two fondly remembered CPS-1 games from 1991 — the Dungeons & Dragons-esque game The King of Dragons and the King Arthur folklore inspired Knights of the Round. Note that a licensed Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom coin-op was released by Capcom two years later, but it’s not included with this collection. Perhaps more interesting is the less well known 1992 CP System Dash title, Warriors of Fate, which is a sequel to Capcom’s Dynasty Wars arcade game, with an ancient Chinese setting based on a manga called Tenchi wo Kurau.

Considering Warriors of Fate only received a conversion on the Japanese PSone and SEGA Saturn it’s probable that many gamers have never played it outside of an arcade. In that regard, the two CPS-2 titles – Armored Warriors released in 1994 and Battle Circuit from 1997 – have never been available on consoles before, so extending the coin-op lifespan of these three games makes the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle attractive as a fresh experience.

Through technical prowess and Capcom’s years of honed craftsmanship in the genre, Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit are impressive as mid-to-late 1990s CPS-2 games, which still graphically surpass many modern pixel art beat-‘em-ups today. The previously unconverted and rare titles provide so much unforeseen joy to be discovered, that it’s advisable for a retro gamer to spoil themselves by approaching the CP System Dash and CPS-2 games with little prior knowledge, as if you’re playing brand new brawlers.

All seven games can be individually completed within approximately an hour, and previously hard arcade games are accessible with unlimited continues, as well as the ability to start with more lives, and choose the rate at which the difficulty increases from a variety of levels. While you can save your progress in each game, it’s a shame that the stage select feature that is prominent in recent PS4 beat-‘em-ups like 99Vidas and Wulverblade is not included here.

There are choices of wallpaper images for framing the screen, but no screen filter options, and only a basic artwork gallery. Alongside easily achieving 100 per cent of all the trophies by finishing each game and playing online — note that there is no Platinum Trophy — the bare-bones presentation is a missed opportunity. Perhaps a more thorough and informative gallery could have celebrated each title’s history better, or even a menu to listen to tunes from the soundtrack, and more interesting trophies might have encouraged new approaches to playing each game.

As is customary with retro beat-‘em-ups, the arcade gameplay shines in multiplayer, especially during local co-op. However, even though it’s possible to adjust the frame delay settings in the network options, our experience while playing the online mode was consistently choppy with jittery music. Final Fight is two-player only, while both Captain Commando and Battle Circuit double that to four-players simultaneously, and all other titles are three-player games.

The inclusion of English and Japanese versions of each title was appreciated for playing spot-the-difference in The Simpsons Arcade Game on PS3, so curious gamers will be pleased that they can compare regional alterations between all seven games in this collection. To put it mildly, in conclusion, if you’re a fan of retro side-scrolling brawlers then the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is an essential purchase, based solely on the excellence of the games included.

Conclusion

It’s tempting to gorge on this collection of seven distinctive arcade games as an all-you-can-eat brawler buffet, but the genre’s innate repetitiveness means it’s most enjoyable to feast on one quality Capcom coin-op at a time. The Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is a delightful history lesson in the technical pixel-artistry of CPS brawler design, starting in 1989 with Final Fight as a genuine classic, and then continuing through the 1990s with fondly remembered street fisticuff games and hack-and-slash fantasy titles. Over twenty years later, Capcom’s style and craftsmanship showcased in the coin-ops previously unavailable on console — Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit — justifies a purchase of the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle in its own right.

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