When I first heard of 99Vidas I thought to myself, what does that mean? It translates to 99 lives in Portuguese, and no we don’t start the game invincible. I was also excited to hear that a new beat ‘em up is now available on Xbox One.
You may recall a time in the early to mid 1990s when the side-scrolling brawlers experienced a Golden Age. If not, then you should know that it was hard to walk into a rental store or arcade and not be overwhelmed with the genre. 99Vidas is a throwback to that era. It has classical gameplay and the graphics are nostalgic. Some gamers frown at this recent neo-retro surge, reducing it to a fad. As more and more 8 and 16-bit inspired video games are made, disdain for the pixelated style grows with it. Not me though, I enjoy them and 99Vidas is a game that I couldn’t wait to play.
If you weren’t lucky enough to be around during the beat ‘em up craze that Double Dragon started and Final Fight took to its greatest height, then take it from me that those games aren’t much, or not at all, better than 99Vidas. It’s clear that the Brazilian developers QUByte Interactive have studied the genre’s past. It allowed them to pick out the elements that worked in hundreds of beat ‘em ups. The developers also benefited by being able to avoid the things that didn’t work in the old brawlers.
Tedium is the insidious downfall of every beat ‘em up. The point of the games are to fight or hack ‘n’ slash our way through countless hordes of similar looking enemies. Eventually boredom sets in and the fight to remain conscious will become more challenging than the actual game. It never happens in 99Vidas. The bad guys and gals are varied enough and never get annoyingly repetitive. The stages are perfectly paced, they are not too short and not too long. The boss battle at the end of every stage is challenging, and there are a few sub-bosses around to keep us all on our toes.
99Vidas is heavily inspired by the arcade staple Final Fight, especially the controls. Getting a character in a beat ‘em up to do what you want was generally a nightmare before Final Fight revolutionized the genre. Developers then copied it en masse and most beat ‘em ups after that became clones of the Capcom hit. Gamers loved it and the golden age was shining brighter than ever.
Now it’s 26 years later and the Final Fight formula still works. In the case of 99Vidas there are variations; it has two attack buttons instead of one. One is kick and the other is punch. The third button is a jump and as usual combining that jump with a strike button will perform an aerial attack, including the essential jump kick. The remaining button will deliver a devastating strike called a “special” and any seasoned gamer would be reminded of Golden Axe when using the attack.
Contacting an enemy will allow us to do a grapple move. Attacking with a grapple in Streets of Rage, for example, was useful in clearing out crowds of bad guys and providing the player with some space. In 99Vidas it’s not practical in that regard and grabbing someone will likely get you hit from behind. It’s rather disappointing.
Weapons are scattered throughout the six stages, but it seems like they were an afterthought. Picking one up and using it will only leave you once again vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. QUByte have added in some running strikes and combos, rounding out an impressive move set that will keep any fan of fighting glued to the TV – just be sure to avoid the weapons.
It seems every beat ‘em up story line involves a rescue mission: Double Dragon tasked us with saving our girlfriend, Bad Dudes dared us to find the President of the United States and in one of the worst games ever made, Target: Renegade, we have to get back our missing brother. Thankfully 99Vidas is different. We must recover an enchanted item from a bald-goateed man before he uses it to take over the planet. Okay, it’s the same. In fact it’s as clichéd as it gets, but there can’t be many people (besides me) paying attention to the stories in these games.
While it lasts, 99Vidas is fun. It’s also challenging, especially if you’re playing by yourself. Having friends join in will make the game much more enjoyable – four player co-op is supported locally and it enhanced my playthrough. I’ve heard and read about how some gamers complain that local multiplayer modes are going away in favour of online play, and if you fall into that group then 99Vidas is for you. Everybody else should not worry because there is an online feature.
That’s not all – there’s a survival game, and when you’re done teaming up with your friends and want to beat them up instead, there’s a versus mode too. Turning on “friendly fire” is an option in the 2 – 4 player co-op game, so if you’re a sadomasochist and enjoy punishment then be sure to change it to yes! You may recall how the first Battletoads on the Nintendo Entertainment System had “friendly fire” always on. It made the two player mode extremely frustrating. Fortunately QUByte had us gamers in mind.
We are given four characters to control at the start and more can be unlocked. The controls are simple enough to allow anyone to be able to pick up a controller and play. At the same time they can be complex depending on how one would want to play the game. I got by well enough by punching and using jump kicks, but the combos add depth and allow players to show off their skills.
There is also an in-game currency system. The cash is used to buy upgrades for certain combos and more importantly extra lives, which will come in handy during the difficult stages. It gives the adventure an RPG element, although it does feel limited and underwhelming.
When beat ’em ups ruled the world in the ’90s, every new release had to bring something new to the genre. The ones that didn’t are basically forgotten. Have you heard of Cyborg Justice or Bad Street Brawler? Perhaps, but River City Ransom, and Comix Zone (also the games I mentioned earlier) are still talked about a lot to this day. In the case of 99Vidas it doesn’t do anything to separate itself from the few contemporary side-scrolling titles or the essential ones of past decades. While the game stumbles in some areas, the fundamentals of any great beat ‘em up are there. Brawlers are meant to be played in one sitting, with friends, while the sound of button smashing drowns out the catchy music coming out of the TV. By that standard alone 99Vidas is successful. If QUByte is going to turn this release into a franchise, they certainly have a nice foundation in place. After the downfalls are improved upon, 99Vidas 2 will be a memorable video game.