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Review — The Asskickers (PC/Mac)
July 22, 2011Posted by on
Over the past few months, I’ve been digging a little deeper into PC gaming. While I’ll probably never get away from console gaming, it’s easy for me to appreciate everything about the scene: games tend to be cheaper, look better than their console counterparts with even modest hardware, and, most interestingly, there’s an indie sector with wild, imaginative ideas that absolutely thrives where it would otherwise be buried on a service like Xbox Live Arcade.
As a longtime gamer, I’ve got a special place in my heart for side-scrolling beat ’em ups, and the genre simply didn’t take off on PCs the way it did in arcades or in living rooms with 16-bit consoles. While I was playing Super Double Dragon and Streets of Rage, PC gamers were buried in Monkey Island — that’s just the way it is.
Aside from rereleases of games such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, and the oddball (but magnificent) release of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, the brawler genre has been all but dead since its heyday almost 20 years ago. So when I saw that a small indie developer had released an HD, hand-drawn brawler for PC and Mac, titled The Asskickers, no less, I felt compelled to give it a try.
The Asskickers, unfortunately, does anything but.
The best thing that the game has to offer is a unique visual style. With bright, vivid colors and enemies ranging from sweater-wearing frat boys to bankers and fat cat businessmen, the graphics are an interesting break from not only your typical HD action game, but from brawlers in general. It’s not everyday that a game offers you a chance to beat up droves of the white-collar elite, so for that it deserves some credit.
When the game is actually in motion, however, is when it all starts to go to hell. The most jarring thing that hit me immediately is the low quality of the animations. It feels as each attack is made of just 3 frames of animation, with characters slowly stutter-punching each other as if they’re part of a flipbook with most of the pages stuck together.
Ultimately, what really matters in a brawler is engaging gameplay that makes you want to slog through several levels of beating up waves of enemies, and this is where The Asskickers fails the hardest. One of the problems is that your attacks are extremely limited and terribly flawed. You have a four-hit combo that doesn’t always connect because of the game’s poor hit detection; a forward-forward-attack special that doesn’t always activate; and a second special attack, activated by holding the attack button, that is completely useless because you can’t move while charging it. If an enemy doesn’t interrupt you before you unleash it, it’s only because he was on the other side of the screen and therefore out of the attack’s range. And heaven forbid you ever grab an enemy, because all you do is invite any other enemies to suddenly pile on you. Strangely, you can’t throw an enemy once you grab them, only hope you can complete your combo before two security guards start mollywopping you with their batons. In the end, I found myself relying on the same combo while doing everything in my power to avoid grabbing enemies if there were more than one on-screen.
In several other aspects, the game feels broken. As mentioned above, the hit detection is really, really off, and that is putting it really, really lightly. Your attacks won’t hit enemies if you’re not lined up just right next to them, which wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that enemies aren’t bound by these same restrictions. You can be jump-kicked despite the space of an entire person between you and the enemy, and the same goes with enemy weapons. Also, many fights against stronger enemies simply become awkward battles of attrition; you’ll get a short combo in, followed by the enemy fleeing and circling you for a while, and hopefully the hit detection cooperates for you to hit them again. Later boss fights can drag on for what feels like ten minutes as a result, and it quickly becomes very frustrating.
Finally, there are other lesser grievances, but they’re still numerous. If an enemy interrupts you while you’re trying to pick up an item, that item becomes inaccessible to you. Try as you might, that health pick-up will just taunt you until you finally leave the room. There are strange bugs such as being shot by one of the bosses despite being behind him and away from his gun, or enemies glitching to opposite sides of the screen when you knock them down. There is a level in the middle that acts as a maze, but there is no indication as to how you should navigate it; you just go through doors and hope that you eventually make it to the boss, so you may meet your ultimate goal of spanking him.
This is a game that I went into optimistically, but my enthusiasm was squashed almost immediately. The game is touted as being difficult, but it only achieves this through broken gameplay and shoddy design. At its very best, the game is simply boring, with story text that draws on too long and uses way too many unfunny one-liners for its own good. (“I’m gonna kick your ass so hard it’s gonna think it was in Vietnam!” Uh, what?)
I understand that this is AGO Games’ first release, and it’s a small studio based in France (which explains some of the awkwardly written and translated dialogue), but to be frank there are a ton of better options for your money. The only way to buy this game is directly from their website for $8.99; if this had been just a couple of bucks then perhaps I could forgive some of its faults, but when you can simply load up old favorites like Streets of Rage or Final Fight (which offered more diverse and polished gameplay over a decade ago), or buy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game for just a buck more, The Asskickers becomes very difficult to recommend on any level.