If you happened to be a gamer in the late 80s to mid-90s, there’s a good chance that you fought tooth and nail to defend your post in the great playground console war between SEGA and Nintendo. Either way, it really didn’t matter which company you supported or what system you had hidden in the cabinet below that heavy wooden television. The only real way to experience state of the art visuals and incredible sound would be down at your local chippy, cinema or nearest seaside pier to get a true grasp of what the premium gaming experience was all about.
While the arcade scene trampled the console market on a technical level, arguments caused by fanboy rivalry would only persist further. Instead, it would just spark further debate about which port on whose system was the closest to being “arcade perfect.” The reality was that even simple games such as Pac-Man or Donkey Kong wouldn’t see a true cabinet-quality conversion for a long while yet at that point, never mind something as powerful and as colourful as the CP-System board found in some of Capcom’s finest classic coin-op machines.
Alas, times do change and our immediate access to better technology has vastly improved. While the vertical cabinets of the arcade scene died out as a result of this technological leap, the spirit of what made those particular times so special remain as current now than ever before. The good news is that the Nintendo Switch is very much like a little arcade machine that can be propped up anytime and anywhere. It goes without saying then, that the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle fits perfectly on the hybrid device. This classic-enclosed package also adds more wood to the raging fire of arcade ports that are currently ablaze on the system.
The Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle opens up with a gorgeous all-star collage piece by longtime Capcom artist Bengus. Behind the slow-panning artwork and fist-pumping music lies seven Capcom classics spanning over eight years of button spamming, thug smashing and barrel bashing greatness. The bundle kicks off with Final Fight (1989), a game that was originally pitched as a sequel to the original Street Fighter with the working title of Street Fighter ’89. It’s probably the most iconic and influential out of the pack thanks to its attractive graphics and sound quality that still look good even by today’s standards. It was a game that eventually became canon in the Street Fighter universe and gained an even bigger following thanks to its inferior but still popular SNES port.
Captain Commando (1991), who started off as a sort of mascot for Capcom in the mid to late 80s, soon followed afterwards. This particular game allows you to gather three extra buddies, each with a single Joy-Con to control crazy characters such as a baby in a mech suit, a badass ninja and a hip hop alien mummy from outer space. Unlike Final Fight, you now have the ability to run across the screen for a charging attack and ride giant robots to dish out some extra damage. However, Captain Commando wasn’t the only game to allow you an aid to ride upon. Warriors Fate (1992) would start you off on your journey on horseback with a wider array of attack options to stamp out your enemies. The Camelot-inspired Knights of the Round (1991) would be the game to introduce a trusty steed during King Arthur’s valiant adventure, along with the ability to finally block an attack then land a sweet counter while obtaining cool armour the further you progress.
Soaring in at a slightly different angle would see King of Dragons (1991) accompanied with a large overworld map, over twice as many levels than the other offerings and digested in a more bite-size stage length. It’s the closest game of the collection to provide the scratch stick for the Golden Axe itch and included an added levelling up system that improved your stats and abilities as your character progresses. All five of these games up until Warriors of Fate would utilise the famous CP-System arcade board. It was the very same chipset that brought the iconic Street Fighter 2 bursting to life. However, the last two games in the collection – Armored Warriors (1994) and Battle Circuit (1997) – would instead utilise the beautifully improved CPS-2 board. These final two games are also the only titles in the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle to have never seen an official port outside the arcades.
Armored Warriors is the equivalent to a side-scrolling Robot Wars where you can attach weapon upgrades to your bot to provide that customisable edge. Battle Circuit, on the other hand, was Capcom’s final arcade side-scrolling beat ’em up and the 23rd title to make use of CPS-2 hardware. In the game, you play as one of five bounty hunters with the option to purchase new movesets between levels that require a fighting game-style command input system. It’s probably the lesser known beat ’em up out of the package due to the genre’s decline in popularity and the final stretch of the arcade scene. Regardless, this addition still stands tall as one of the strong points in considering whether to buy the bundle. When compiled together, all seven games follow a similar gameplay formula with enough diversity between each title to ultimately feel different from one another.
Due to the coin-op nature to Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle, each title will only take roughly 20-30 minutes to blast through. There’s the necessary amount of gameplay customisation in place to enable the player to set credit allowance, difficulty and extra life goal score requirement. You can, of course, max each out for a casual, no risk playthrough in an effort to see who gets the high score between buddies. If you have nobody close by to go on a nostalgic journey with you, then online is always a possible option – providing that you now own a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. I did manage to dive seamlessly into other players playthroughs and while the gameplay did suffer from some slight lag every now and again, the overall experience worked well enough to get the job done. There’s also a local ad-hoc option available but it’s not really a game that necessarily needs the feature for obvious reasons. The good news is that single Joy-Con use is thankfully supported, which does make the Nintendo Switch a perfect and convenient fit for this collection.
As much as I love the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle and the memories that come with it, there were still a few things that I would have liked to have seen included in it. First off, the lack of licensed games like Alien vs. Predator, Cadillac and Dinosaurs and the Punisher is an unfortunate absence but legally understandable. However, not having the option to at least change the screen filter to truly enhance that arcade feel is very disappointing. For me, this is a big deal as I do prefer a CRT look to my classic games, especially those ripped straight from the arcade era. What makes things worse is in how the interchangeable 4:3 screen borders would mock me by lining the artwork around the edges with said scanlines. Why these common filters aren’t included does seem shortsighted and slightly unfulfilling to me personally – especially considering that the trailer to promote the game also opens up with scanlines in place.
Another gripe that I had was not being able to take a couch co-op buddy with me into online multiplayer. The Online mode is presented as a completely separate option and not being able to fill up the spare slots with local friends is a huge shame. There are online leaderboards tied within each game but not having the ability to view your overall rank within a separate interface menu does seem particularly odd. One final little addition that would have been nice to have seen is some sort of in-game achievement or challenge system in place. One that would extend the overall longevity to maybe unlock some extra professional fanart or provide some sort of pat on the back. Small touches like these would show that more effort has gone into the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle other than a simple copy-and-paste selection of emulated games.
What is included in the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle is a cool art gallery to browse through. Each title has their own segment complete with cabinet document scans, production sketches and promotional artwork. It’s a great little feature as I do adore a good art gallery. In any case, it would have been great to see some historical facts dropped into the mix that similar to what the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection provided. What is a nice touch, is how Capcom beat ’em up Brawler takes a leaf out of the Mega Man Collections in giving you the ability to swap to the Japanese versions of each title. It’s a feature that will probably go largely ignored by many, but eagle-eyed enthusiasts will certainly clock a few differences between conversions – most notably a few slight cases of regional censorship.
The games in the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle may be short, shallow and repetitive by nature, but these arcade classics are an important slice of gaming history and still make for a perfect high score wager between friends. In any case, for £17.99, it is an affordable catch up for those that are either interested in the history of the beat ’em up genre or fancy an interactive trip down memory lane. Of course, the collection won’t persuade those who snub the genre as a soulless and skilless ordeal. However, providing that you have a little self-discipline, you could always set yourself up a limited stock credit challenge. Or, you could go one step futher and venture on a no damage route like this fella. But yeah, all the best on that one.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Capcom