It was only a matter of time before the beat ‘em up genre, or “belt action”, would come back in vogue in the modern gaming landscape. No doubt it was the release of Streets of Rage 4 and its recent expansion pass, that catapulted the once dated genre into relevancy. There have been numerous collections and compilations too, everything from Capcom’s best of the best found in both the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle and even in Capcom Arcade Stadium. Even alternative classics like Double Dragon and River City. Point is, the best games in the genre have been preserved for modern consoles, and some have even seen sequels in the form of Streets of Rage 4, River City Girls, and yes, even Double Dragon 4.
Not surprisingly, a whole range of clones have already started popping up in the indie landscape. There have been a few of these even before the recent resurgence of the genre, but now there’s more. It’s amazing how quickly someone can come up with their own take on Streets of Rage 4, a game that is still warm out of the oven, but such is the cycle of indie development these days.
The latest of these indie pretenders is called Mayhem Brawler, and just the name alone is hardly inspiring. In fact it almost sounds like a bootleg game your Ol’ Granny picked up for you on Christmas, despite you being so very clear in your letter to Santa. Uninspiring name aside, Mayhem Brawler on Xbox has some cool things going for it, even if the package as a whole doesn’t come close to what’s already abundantly available.
What immediately stands out about Mayhem Brawler is how a lot of care went into its setting and lore. The game has a distinctly comic book vibe, with supernatural creatures situated in a ‘90s-style cop action comedy. The main cast are police officers of varying supernatural prowess, and they must battle a range of creatures and mean humans. The presentation is top notch, with expertly drawn comic panels, charming voice acting, and even a fun satire on Twitter. The various episodes and chapters of the game are each given their own comic-style cover artwork. Honestly, they should think about releasing the art and panels as their own standalone comic books, the material is good enough for it.
The character designs are strong and memorable, but where the game starts to show signs of weakness is when it is in motion. Certainly, an attempt was made to capture the visual style of something like Streets of Rage 4, but the animation quality is severely limited here, as even the main characters are barely able to walk smoothly with limited frames of animation. Perhaps this was a production or budget limitation, but it is hard to not notice how janky it all looks in motion. While the graphics may be hit and miss, the music delivers a foot tapping ‘90s era soundtrack.
Then there is the gameplay, which isn’t inherently wrong at its core, but it’s just that so many games, even older games from console generations past, do it so much better. Mayhem Brawler largely takes after Streets of Rage 2 in its core combat mechanics, but it adds a few novelties of its own such as a handy block button. Much like the limited animation, the core combat feels stiff and uninspired, with the basic gameplay loop losing its appeal fast.
Things do become more enjoyable when played in local co-op, and some of the boss designs are very cool, such as the She Wolf boss, and the main adventure has its charm from a standalone storyline, and also the fact that players even get to choose between branching paths. The gameplay is moderately challenging, the level design doesn’t take too many chances, but there are memorable moments in the story delivery and in some of the boss encounters.
Mayhem Brawler on Xbox doesn’t do anything remarkable that can’t already be experienced in far better games elsewhere, especially since there is no shortage of beat ‘em up titles on the Xbox platform as is. This is a title worth checking out if you have already exhausted all the other alternatives and need another beat ‘em up fix. While the animations and core gameplay systems don’t match the level of its competition, its unique world-building approach and supercharged comic book lore will certainly surprise you.
Take in the latest beat ’em up on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One, in the form of Mayhem Brawler