The Asskickers is the videogame equivalent of imitation crab meat. It presents a series of cheaply compiled, processed ingredients in order to achieve the comparison to something good. Its imitation comes across as neither sincere nor flattering, and it’s got a rotten aftertaste.
While expectations have changed significantly since the Genesis era, there’s nothing wrong with revisiting classic ideas. So, The Asskickers is designed with a reverence for Streets of Rage. It hits on most of the requisites but doesn’t do any one thing very well. Still, there’s something appealing about the idea of Streets of Rage informing a modern beat ‘em up; just not this beat ‘em up. And after Sega put the kibosh on the Streets of Rage Remake fan project earlier this year and have been tight-lipped about the future of the series post-Dreamcast, you might have to take what you can get.
There are the standard three main characters: the average-looking dude’s average; the anorexic girl is fast; and Marcus, the buff dude, is strong. The only one you need to know is Marcus as it’s virtually impossible to get past even the first level with the other characters. The character art looks decent, although it’s limited, and in 16-bit tradition, only consists of the bare essential animations. Enemies span a pretty generic range from preppy dudes to gals, to bosses that look just like their inferiors.
The Asskickers is going for a distinct retro vibe with its hand-drawn art style, which seems appealing at first glance, but quickly hinders the game. Each area lacks any real personality and there’s not really any underlying theme beyond trope-led motifs borrowed from other games. There are however some more neat throwbacks to Streets of Rage with posters recalling the game’s Japanese title, Bare Knuckles, and a general sense that whatever’s been included is there because it’s in Streets. Much of what French dev AGO Games have come up with to fill in the blanks, however, simply feels out of place.
There’s a clumsy feeling to how it’s all put together. It casts a wide net, trying to capture the look and feel of a 16-bit beat ‘em up, yet it comes up with significantly more of the problems associated with the genre in that era than it does anything worth holding onto. There are often empty black rectangles jutting out in front of backgrounds, often getting in the way of action, while characters have a tendency of drifting off from the screen, including the playable characters, making it impossible to progress.
As a beat ‘em up, you’d at least expect the combat to be interesting. It’s not fun in the least, with mundane style-less moves essentially consisting of high, mid, and low attacks, and some fairly unremarkable flourish combos (difficult on a keyboard). Enemy hit boxes are also very small and the AI just sort of bobbles back and forth making it easy to exploit, while they repeatedly attempt a single set attack. The combat feels dated but not in any way that invokes nostalgia. There’s one eccentric thing – you’re able to spank each of the bosses after defeating them. Yeah.
Beyond some sharp points in the visual style, The Asskickers is a prime example of why beat ‘em ups have all but been abandoned. Go play Streets of Rage if you need a reminder of how relevant that still feels – this game won’t satiate anyone’s thirst for 16-bit nostalgia.