Tuesday, April 6, 2010

AA Look - Denjin Makai 2: The Guardians

When a new arcade controller arrives at your door what's the first game you play to break it in? Well I chose one at random and came up with Denjin Makai 2. So maybe I'm half-asleep and not in the mood for something like ESP Galuda 2 or Futari. Whatever the reasoning I went with a beatemup that for 1995 was way ahead of its time and to this day is a classic in the genre.

The story is a clustermuck of all of our favorite sci-fi and anime cliches. The eight playable characters consist of a busty cyborg, a ninja, a robot, another busty woman who is apparently part-bird, a nearly naked man, a not remotely naked man, some karate master, and an alien. This coloful cast is not content to be a bunch of vivid palette swaps either. Each character has a large selection of moves to work with.

Starting with just defensive moves every character can block, perform evasive dodges or rolls, run, jump(and even doublejump in some cases), and yeah with this alone we already have more moves than 90% of all arcade beatemups. Now let's consider the offensive options available. Every character has basic combo strings, multiple special moves, a host of grab moves(some even specialize in grabbing more than one enemy for double the beatings), a handful of desperation attacks, and even some super combos. I'd say 90% of this stuff is completely unnecessary but who cares? It's a ton of moves designed towards creating a very entertaining combo system that rewards style and making intergalatic disputes as fun as possible.

Cause really a beatemup system is only as good as its mechanics and this is where Makai 2 really impresses. Moves can be combined and chained together to juggle practically any foe. While these thugs can frequently attempt to surround and overwhelm the player most of the time they're simply no match for the moves they have access to. Pretty soon controlling the battlefield is more about getting multiple foes into your devastating combos over survival.

Cause really if you just take it as is the game is pretty short and very easy. The selection of characters and the focus on scoring provide a lot of incentive for players to experiment and become creative with the system. Take the busty cyborg for example. She has a heel stomp that allows her to bounce off an enemy. It sort of works like Chun-Li's heel stomp and it can even be comboed if none on an enemy knocked into the air. It's possible to hit the same enemy with this heel-stomp several times while climbing into the air and then the player can perform an air-throw to finish them off. A lot of the best ideas in this game's fighting system were pulled from a wealth of fighters and other beatemups. It's not exactly original game design but that's quickly forgotten once the player explores all of the options available to them for any fight.

The enemies in this game are little more than combo fodder. Sure they have access to a variety of standing and jumping attacks but when it comes down to it they're more adept at making the player look good rather than trying to kill them. In fact if this game tossed a couple more extra lives in the difficulty would be comparable to much easier console beatemups. The bosses are large and imposing but their patterns are exploitable and even the final boss and his three forms can be handled without too much trouble. Main thing to consider here is the evasive options as the bosses are more likely to use big projectile attacks with lots of telegraphing to warn the player of impending doom. In a way it's not really a bad thing since the bosses will go down quickly and that means more time spent on pounding regular guys and finding new ways to hurt them.

When it comes down to it Denjin Makai 2 in a lot of ways is just a mish-mash of every good idea ever had in a beatemup. It makes one wonder why beatemups of that time or especially in the future haven't tried anything nearly as ambitious. This is especially strange since the developer of this game pretty much knocked it out of the park. In fact I'd say it was only until the advent of 3D beatemups that we saw anything close to the variety of Makai 2. While this is good in that more games are starting to show the appreciation for creativity and depth that is sorely lacking from the genre at the same time the arcade beatemup was pretty much dead when it finally arrived.

Then again I guess in 1995 the genre was winding down and a number of the better games were exclusive to a handful of developers. These days we see the same thing from the 2D shooter genre. Pretty much all of the best games seem to fall under the Cave umbrella and those aren't the kinds of games that can be done in other genres. Compare that to the beatemup and you'll find today we have loads of options from original games like Godhand to the Dynasty Warriors franchise, and even modern action games like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, and so on. Those games can take on many of the elements that made beatemups great, which isn't exactly a good reason for anyone to go back to the belt-scrollers that defined the 80s and 90s.

I guess this is where Denjin Makai 2 can be considered ahead of its time. These days the current belt-scrollers are fan-made and consist almost entirely of ideas present in other beatemups. This game is practically the precursor to this ideal of development. Compare it to something like the Streets of Rage Remake which has everything from the Sega games as well as a number of other features from Capcom as well as other beatemup devs. This makes Denjin Makai 2 sound creatively bankrupt but I assure you that's not my intention. Even if the game had nothing else going for it still has excellent mechanics that allow for freedom that really hasn't been seen in the genre. Overall an outstanding effort and I hope that everyone involved in the development of this game has found success in the 14 or so years that have followed its release.

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