It feels like the beat-em-up resurgence is in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier. Titles such as Streets of Rage 4, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and the recently released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge are flying the flag for a genre that many argued had reached its heyday back when the Spice Girls were on the airwaves, and Jurassic Park was in the cinemas.
If it isn’t obvious, I love a beat-em-up, and so along comes Final Vendetta from Numskull Games and developer Bitmap Bureau to modernise the genre and bring it kicking and screaming onto the Nintendo Switch. With a striking pixelated art style and an uncompromising commitment to difficulty, this is definitely the most old-school beat-em-up to get my attention for some time, but does that make for a good game? Let’s flying kick in and find out.
Featuring two-player co-operative gameplay, and the choice of three hardened warriors to pummel the bad guys into the pavement, Final Vendetta makes you feel right at home straight away. To get underway, you must choose between the tough and brilliant Claire Sparks, the street-smart kid Duke Sancho, or the gigantic ex-Canadian wrestler Miller T.Williams, and then head to the streets to take down the evil Syndic8 gang. When it comes to the narrative, that’s about all the story you get, but it’s all you need.
Controlling characters in Final Vendetta feels great, and evidently, the developer has paid a lot of attention to titles like Final Fight, Vendetta (I’m going to go out on a limb and say they inspired the name), and the legendary Streets of Rage series to boot. You have a single attack button, but you can combine this with a jump. Furthermore, you can dash in a different direction to dodge, and there’s also a block button. However, you can only block for so long before an enemy breaks through your defence.
Combining the Y and B buttons allows you to perform a special, a different attack for each character but one that’s designed to clear space around them. The special metre builds up steadily as you attack baddies, though you can sacrifice your health to use it at any point if you find yourself in a tough spot. Importantly each of the three characters feels different to control, while their weight and speed can make a big difference too. I ended up sticking with Duke most of the game as I prefer his nimble pace, and his handy special attack can clear a few enemies simultaneously.
There are a couple of extra wrinkles, such as the ability to hit enemies when they are stunned on the ground, but that’s largely all you have. Combining your flying kick, block, and the regular and special attacks is your whole arsenal, but it’s how you manage them that counts. This game is tough and takes no prisoners, so you’ll need to get to grips with things quickly. You start with a certain amount of lives, and while you can find one (very well) hidden life on every level, once you’ve exhausted these, there are no more continues. It took me a few frustrating attempts to get the hang of things, but it’s worth persevering and getting the gist of the combat.
In fairly standard beat-em-up practice, you also find food throughout the level, often by destroying oil barrels or the occasional phone box, and depending on the size of the meal, you regain a nice little chunk of your health. Jewellery is also hidden around, adding to your high score, which you can proudly display at the end of your run. And occasionally, you find the odd weapon on the floor to turn the tables on the Syndic8 forces – a knife, cricket bat, katana, and a few more options. These are always fun to experiment with, but you lose them if you take a single lick of damage. Given how quickly foes can surround you, this means that most weapons don’t last long enough for you to enjoy them.
There aren’t a lot of ways to experiment with the combat beyond new enemies, but there’s a steady stream of these over Final Vendetta’s handful of different levels. While the stages are short, the bosses take a little bit longer to figure out and finish (often utilising a block or some way to stall you), and it’s clear the point of this game is all in the replay value. Saying that, I did enjoy the steady increase in enemy’s health and the number you face, as eventually, I felt like a badass taking on hordes of horrible gangs at once.
Similarly, the bosses in Final Vendetta are all a joy. With a nice variety of different sizes and tactics, the bosses kept me on my toes and felt like a fitting challenge. Even if a teleporting scientist nearly had me throwing my controller at the wall. Final Vendetta feels great to play, and there are a few fun ways that it lets you make the most of this through its runtime.
Beating the arcade mode on either easy or hard unlocks survival mode, an endless stream of enemies where you have only a single life to keep them at bay. Food can drop occasionally, but this is a real test of your skills. Then it’s the same sort of situation with the boss rush mode, where one life is all you have to beat every main baddie from the game. There’s also a fun training mode to hone your iron fists, but it feels silly that you unlock it after you complete the game.
It’s clear the second you look at Final Vendetta that Bitmap Bereau has put great effort into making this feel like it’s ripped straight from the 90s. It’s clear to see that the dev team did all they could to fill the character models with detail, which, as a result, means everyone looks great and is pixel perfect. Even each character’s clothing moves in a realistic way, and I can only imagine the man-hours it must have taken to properly place every single pixel. My only gripe is that the faces could look a little better, as other than Duke, the two main characters feel a little silly-looking. I don’t know if their heads are too small for their body or if something is just off, but I really couldn’t get on with the way their faces look in the game.
The levels look great though, and the bosses especially show off some great character art alongside some creative animation. I wish there was a little bit more variety and imagination, as, especially in the early levels, things feel a little too beholden to the style of the 90s. While many said Streets of Rage 4 went too far away from what made the genre great, Final Vendetta is sticking to the original formula almost to a fault. But it’s the main gameplay that counts, and the visuals do it all justice.
Now one area that I absolutely adore is the music. I’m not joking when I say I’ve had the soundtrack to the first level (The Streets) stuck in my head for a week. Taking cues from the thumping house of the 90s and the classic games of the time, Final Vendetta’s soundtrack, for want of a better term – absolutely slaps – and has original tracks from Utah Saints that blew me away. It’s perfect for this high-energy title and lifts up the game with a barrage of techno beats that give every moment the energy it deserves.
Where the title falls down for me is mostly in its strict adherence to the gameplay of the 90s. I totally get that it wants to be a tough game, but even the option to include continues would be nice. This is also a fairly short game, so I think the longevity just comes from playing it repeatedly, which isn’t something I always appreciate. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay is just fun enough to keep me playing, but I’d rather complete the game and then play survival mode, instead of battling through a game that feels harsh even on easy mode.
Final Vendetta is a successful love letter to the beat-em-ups of the 90s that nails everything that made those titles great. It doesn’t do much new with the genre though, and I found myself occasionally frustrated with the old-school design where some modern bells and whistles could streamline the gameplay experience. Overall, this is a competent and sometimes brilliant beat-em-up that shows just how much the developers love the genre, but I just wish it could show a bit more of their creativity. Fans looking for a new local beat-em-up will have a blast though, and that’s the most important thing.
A game all about recapturing the energy of the 90s beat-em-up, Final Vendetta works hard to take you back in time and delivers a great game in the process. Combat feels right, plowing through enemies is fun, then, to top it off, the visuals and music sell it all wonderfully. I wish there was a little more modern flourish and a touch more imagination, but what we have is still a great game at its core.