Treachery in Beatdown City takes on the style of an over-the-top late-’80s beat-’em-up that you might spot at an arcade, but from the second you start playing you can tell it’s doing much more than just emulating the past. Playing with the standard style of brawler games by utilizing smart humor and classic tactics mechanics, it creates an exciting amalgamation of genres that makes almost every punch fun.
The game opens up with an alternate universe action-movie trailer explaining that the president, Blake Orama, just got kidnapped by ninja dragon terrorists. Everyone is scrambling. The corrupt billionaire mayor of the city doesn’t step up and the police can’t handle it, so the chief calls on the only people he knows can stop this madness: you and your fighting friends! You’re able to rotate between three street fighters, each with their own styles and witty banter. There’s Lisa Santiago, a boxer; Bruce Maxwell, a capoeira fighter; and Brad Steele, an ex-wrestler. They’re all introduced with gorgeous art and theme music showcasing them in awesome fighting stances.
All of the fighters have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to punching, kicking, and grappling. Before each duel you need to gauge the enemy type to make sure it’s a good matchup. The enemies have support, grappler, striker types as well, and these foes range from gentrifiers, racists and rude tech bros to cops and a biker gang. You have to think about your interactions with them, even in the early levels, because a mismatched fighter might just lose you an otherwise easy fight.
Playing around with all of these character types makes the gameplay more focused than most brawlers, where you can usually mash buttons and progress. When a fight begins, you have access to a time-freezing tactical menu of all the punches, grapples, and combos you can string against your foes. The tactics layer of the game is easy to get the hang of because the system is laid out well, providing easy access to your catalog of attacks and suplexes that drain a slowly replenishing FP bar. New moves and combo rhythms are explained as you progress, too, so you can learn as you go. Combo variation is rewarded through bonus FP, so finding cool ways to tie moves together is worth the effort, especially if you’re almost out of health.
The new moves you learn can also shake up the way you approach battles. There’s a point when Brad Steele, your resident grappler, eventually unlocks a “Toe Kick” that makes it way easier to confirm a grab. From the moment I unlocked it, the move became a staple in the combos I was running. It gave me way better options to topple even the toughest of street fighters. Every character learns a few abilities tailored to their playstyle like that, and those moves grant a lot of flexibility to your protagonists, making for longer and more thrilling extensions to your assortment of hits. Once you get in the groove of any of their movesets the game opens up in the way that makes you feel like an unstoppable strategic warrior.
The game tends to keep its energy up, but midway through your quest in Beatdown City, there are a few moments where combat gets a bit monotonous. For example, there are enemies armed with weapons in later levels. The weapons are supposed to be a new obstacle, but they actually make most matchups easier to handle. Once you disarm your opponent, you can pick up the weapon for yourself and eliminate any enemy with a few quick hits. In those fights, you don’t want to think of a long string of attacks to take down an enemy when you can just press A three times. Grudge matches also come into play later in the game; they’re rematches between one of the protagonists and a particularly rude person they met on the street. At first the grudge matches spice up the rotation of enemies and add some meaning to the battles, but after a few matches against the recurring characters you learn the exact approach to defeating them and it begins to feel stale. Those encounters put a few road bumps in the generally smooth ride.
Before significant fights, there are short cutscenes where an altercation occurs, your character says a nice action hero one-liner, and then hand-throws ensue. These cutscenes do a great job breaking up portions with a lot of back-to-back fighting, and they raise the stakes in a comical way while consistently punching up. You’re always fighting a complete jerk; it could be someone mad because you didn’t buy their mixtape or just a flat-out racist, but regardless, Treachery in Beatdown City pokes fun at the overly-privileged in a way that stays clever and entertaining. At one point while you’re playing as Bruce, a black man, you’re approached by a preppy white guy named Dan. Dan puts on an atrocious Jamaican accent and asks for drugs, and Bruce replies, “I buy and sell stocks, not whatever it is you’re thinking,” and then proceeds to kick his butt. Another altercation happens because a couple of influencers are blocking the sidewalk discussing the best way to take pictures of their food for “Snapstergram.” Since everyone you encounter is sincerely the worst in their own way, those cutscenes make it fun to fight back and see that your character won’t let things slide.
Treachery in Beatdown City uses humor skillfully as a tool to deal with contemporary issues with the gig economy, insidious tech company ploys, and obnoxious bigots. It has some lulls and a bit of an abrupt conclusion, but that’s overshadowed by how especially fun the conversations and combat are. The mechanics stand out and push against the standards of the brawler genre, injecting a strong tactics twist that lets you make some freestyle combos in the blink of an eye. In the end it was a short, satisfying playthrough that maintained its action movie aura the entire time. Treachery in Beatdown City is all about fighting, but it shines because at its core it’s about fighting back.