Whenever a side-scrolling beat ’em up releases, it’s always difficult to avoid comparing it to the classics like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. In the case of Last Beat Enhanced however, it’s a game inspired by the aforementioned titles and so it’s almost a given to judge it in a similar vein. But has Last Beat Enhanced managed to recreate the old school magic, or has it missed a beat along the way?
The Mad Stroke gang are running rampant in Last Beat Enhanced, with a group of five playable vigilantes looking to put an end to their antics. Disappointingly, that’s the bulk of the ‘story’ done and dusted, most of which is garnered from the games’ own description. So, the only thing left to do is head out to the streets for a scuffle in the hopes of toppling the forces of evil.
Initially just two characters are available to choose from: there’s John, the all-round badass, and the agile Noa. Both of them have an air of familiarity to their appearances – Streets of Rage’s Axel and Blaze. The rest of the playable options are unlockable through different means, including beating the campaign and spending in-game currency. Every character has slightly varied attributes for damage, speed and how swiftly their special move meter fills. It’s good to have a choice, but the limited movesets mean that it doesn’t matter who you pick as the action soon becomes repetitive.
You’ve literally got one button for a basic attack, one for the ability to block/parry, and another to perform a special move. While the special move is fairly enjoyable to pull off, the standard offence leaves a lot to be desired. If close enough, a throwing position is assumed, but getting close to an enemy is risky; best avoided. There are a handful of weapons hidden within destructible objects though, which allows you to wield the likes of a sledgehammer or a sword in order to deliver increased damage to whoever dares to fight you.
Throughout the eight main stages, the objective is to progress through the environment by defeating the enemies which spawn, before going toe to toe with a boss. For the most part, the minion-type baddies are quite bland in appearance and many don’t offer an awful lot in terms of attacks. I don’t think Last Beat Enhanced does itself many favours when certain enemies look and act in similar ways to others from years gone by. For example, an obese chap doing belly flops and rolling around akin to Big Ben. Eventually there are cool ninja and cyborg style foes, but by then some people might have downed tools.
In regards to the bosses and again it’s hard to distinguish whether they’re ripoff versions of the classics or merely paying homage to them. I mean, there are a couple that resemble the wrestler types from Streets of Rage and Double Dragon series’, while another is rather similar to Shredder of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame. They’re all quite brutal upon your first encounter, which makes these moments challenging in a good way. The difficulty becomes very skewed however.
Given that you only possess a single health bar and life, you have to be careful not to die because otherwise it’s game over – hence it’s tricky to survive when swarmed. There are upgrades to purchase, but they aren’t cheap and you must complete the stage you’re on to bank the money earned through combat. Every hit garners cash and you get more per hit as the combo increases, which is a decent incentive to try not to let it be broken. The upgrades range from a faster recharging special move to an extra health bar. Accruing the necessary cash is a grind, seeing you replaying the early levels over and over again.
Once you acquire the special move recharge upgrade though, it’s essentially a breeze to the end. Despite the underwhelming ease of disposing of enemies by over-using the special move, it does at least allow you to experience what the rest of Last Beat Enhanced offers. It ensures you won’t miss out on fighting in the streets, the temples, the arcade, and the rest of the unremarkable environments.
To cap it off, there are a couple of irritations with the gameplay and the hit-boxes in particular. All too often the reach of the playable character and the most basic of enemies are inconsistent, to the point where you’re sometimes taking damage even when throwing punches that should connect. Furthermore, the tightness in some areas can see you picking up items instead of attacking, which often sees you mauled by the enemy as the animation to acquire the item is playing out – the interaction could easily be triggered by a different button.
Overall, Last Beat Enhanced is an old school beat ’em up which tries to create an original experience capable of paying respect to the classics, yet it feels more like a generic offering borrowing ideas. The few good aspects, like the cash earning combos and potential to purchase upgrades, are counterbalanced by repetitive gameplay and uninspiring enemies. In the end, you’re best spending your money elsewhere.
Last Beat Enhanced is on the Xbox Store