I genuinely didn’t know Treachery In Beatdown City’s unique gimmick when I started playing. I’d been intrigued by the 16-bit graphics, and quite fancied playing a modern take on the Double Dragon-style side-scrolling beat-em-up. Which is to say, I hadn’t realised it was a turned-based combat game!
As surprises go, that’s a pleasant one. Despite all appearances of being a classic brawler, it turns out that when it comes to swinging a punch, you’re going to be selecting it from a list of options, stringing together combos, in a style far more reminiscent of a JRPG. Sort of. It’s sort of real-time too. Look, it’s complicated.
And oh my, it really looks as if it’s going to be too complicated at the start. A huuuuuge stretch of the game is introductory tutorial, as it painstakingly explains to you the intricacies of its various enemy types, the three characters you’re going to be playing as, and how each best competes against each. Perhaps a touch too much explained, that should have been left to the player to discover for themselves? I’m not sure. I feel as though I’d be grumbling that I’d had to keep losing in order to learn how to win if it hadn’t, so perhaps I’m impossible to please and should be soundly ignored.
But this is accompanied by an immediate pleasure on realising this game is superbly political in all the best ways. The three characters are Lisa, an MMA fighter who’s very much tired of your BS, former pro-wrestler Brad, and Bruce, who is I’m told a “Jeet Kune Do/Capoeira specialist”. He hits good. The multi-racial cast isn’t box-ticking, but rather has an impact on everything, including the sorts of dreary racism they receive from a completely ghastly rota of reoccurring enemies. Each player character is just worn out by the tedium of these thugs, offering scathing put-downs in the super-good pre-amble yelling, before beating them down in the streets.
Each character has a different fighting style. Brad is all about the grapples and slams, while Bruce keeps things punchy and fast. Lisa is midway between the two, offering I think the most interesting balance, as you build up “FP” with fast fighting, and then spend it in big grapply finishing moves. In all encounters, you have to think about getting those FP levels up with early combos, while keeping enough back to block incoming attacks. This is further balanced by what’s essential AP, three turns per attack that can be spent on three different attacks. How you string them together affects the combo, the nature of the attack, and most important, how to best get around the unique style of the enemy.
But it’s actually a lot easier than that, and indeed the game’s introduction, suggests. I quickly got used to what it wanted me to be doing, and you get the message pretty fast if you’re using attacks that won’t hit home on a particular baddie. Plus, failing a fight is very unpunishing – you can either start over with the exact conditions you had before, or drop out and try again with a different character. There’s not a single glimmer of rogue-lite here, which is astonishingly refreshing.
I haven’t even mentioned the plot! It’s a doozy! President Blake Orama is entering his third incredibly popular term of presidency, and is launching his strategies to deal with the worldwide spread of ninja attacks. But in the middle of the launch event, the lights go out, and – oh no! – he’s captured by terrorist ninjas! Which naturally leads to the local mayor disbanding the police force and replacing them with his own privately hired security. Something super-dodgy is going down. Fortunately, Lisa, Brad and Bruce aren’t going to take that sitting down, but rather all kicky and punchy.
Yes, it’s daft. And deliberately so. Which makes the cruel satire of awful stupid people within it all the more entertaining. Ugly John (hey!) assumes Hispanic Lisa must be cleaning staff at her gym, and gets the pummelling he deserves. A particularly awful lady assumes Bruce must be her boyfriend because he’s also black, which is suuuuper awkward. Or there’s Mercedez and her conspiracy theories, not believing anything happened unless she saw it with her own eyes. Brrrrr. Still, cathartic to then outdo them in battle.
It deepens the more you play, as more attacks appear, and more complicated enemies join forces to buff each other. And it’s all rather fun! It’s not too hard, which is a pleasant relief, but it’ll get trickier if you don’t properly try to engage with the tactics of it all.
My only concern is that it might have out-priced itself at the $20 point. I really wish all indie games could set that as a minimum, but reality suggests that a retro-styled nostalgia-based game that’s a complicated sell will be tough to shift that high. It’s currently 25% off, so $15 or just under £12, which – and I don’t like saying it – still feels pricey for the overall simplicity of the game itself. (It’s not like there’s a surrounding RPG to match the combat style, for instance. Just a map you move around to get to the next fight.)
I’m having a good time with it though! I’m worried it might get a bit too repetitive, but so far I’m enjoying the rhythm of the tactics and the sense of actually getting anywhere in a game like this, because it’s not constantly making me start from the beginning again.