Only its cheesy '80s cop show vibe saves Tokyo Beat Down from being a bland, unremarkable brawler.
Tokyo Beat Down is a self-proclaimed old-school, coin-op style beat 'em up, and that is an accurate description for the most part. In its own way, it wholeheartedly embraces the monotonous combat and propensity for odd presentation that games such as Final Fight championed in the 16-bit era. For most gamers, though, that isn't a good thing.
Tokyo Beat Down follows the Yaeyasu Police Station's "beast cops", named for their unprofessional tendency to attack first and ask questions later. As an organized terrorist plot slowly becomes apparent, loose cannon—er, headstrong—Lewis Cannon and the rest of the force must rough up troublemakers and investigate around town to save Tokyo. A succession of detailed-but-recycled 2D character panes and crude 3D cut-scenes advance the story and set the backdrop for each mission.
You play most of the game as Lewis, punching, kicking, and shooting your way through sections of Tokyo. Levels flow in a manner similar to Final Fight or Streets of Rage (without the timer), during which you must clear the enemies in a 3D area in order to move forward. Lewis has a variety of moves he can use to take down thugs, and can link punches (Y) and kicks (X) together for chains. He can also grab a baddie (Y + B), pull out his gun (hold L), guard (R), tackle baddies (attack while running), and dodge to the side (double-tap up or down). He also can pull off two special moves with a wider range by attacking while guarding, at the cost of some of his health. Lewis can jump (B), but since he cannot attack in midair, jumping is mostly useless. A few missions feature one of the other cops, who have similar but slightly modified move sets and attack ranges. In classic brawler style, you can pick up food for health and other weapons for more effective carnage.
The combat feels fairly fluid and has some semblance of balance: guarding will not block bullets, you are invincible while grabbing someone, and you must remain aware of all baddies on screen, lest they sneak up from behind. Pulling out your gun can leave you vulnerable, and defeating enemies is easier if you can continue to knock them down before they regain an offensive stance. Enemies do not feel varied despite differences in appearance and weapon of choice, and the way they gang up on you often becomes frustrating, especially when backed into a corner. Some enemies can take a while to defeat, and it takes about two seconds for you or an enemy to get up after being knocked down, which tends to slow the game's pacing.
On the map screen you can choose to advance the story by selecting the highlighted district, or you can patrol the various other locales before continuing with your next mission. As good an idea as patrolling for information and upgrades may sound, here it is squandered by a rushed implementation. Patrolling mostly consists of interrogating the citizens standing around in these Tokyo districts for information. This is a rather tedious process, as the citizens' comments are largely useless and uninteresting one-liners. Sometimes you will stumble upon combative side-missions;—completing one will earn you a power-up that either improves your stamina or increases your maximum combo. Unfortunately, the game provides very little direction, barely mentioning the upgrades in passing near the beginning. And aside from when patrolling is required as part of the plot, the game provides no clear indication of whether or not anything good can come of combing through the eerily static locales and pointless chatter.
Fortunately, the tedious gameplay is spiced up with stilted, tongue-in-cheek cop drama dialogue. The game establishes itself as a cheesy cop drama knock-off in the opening cutscene, which introduces the police force. The writing will not win any awards; it is sometimes abrupt, Lewis tries too hard to be a jackass, and the supposed rapport amongst the colleagues feels forced, but it still has its charm. After all, that's sort of how bad cop drama dialogue should feel. Its presentation is perhaps the game's saving grace: amusing jabs, such as a fourth wall-breaking moment where Lewis is reprimanded for excessive force by having his "stats lowered", really make Beat Down more memorable. Even the manual has some amusing gems ("Bring honor to the game's built-in save files!").
More disappointing is the game's strikingly simplistic level design. Although Lewis and his buddies visit many sections of Tokyo, and each has its own aesthetic touches, every level consists of moving rightward. That's it. Levels never progress upward or downward, further adding to the monotony.
But the worst part of Tokyo Beat Down is easily its boss battles, which typically consist of combat with an overpowered but otherwise unnotable human and his or her limitless supply of henchmen. As in normal combat, the henchmen are quite effective at gnawing away at you, and since they respawn, they can effectively prevent you from effectively tackling the head honcho. Strategy is minimal—conquering a boss usually is a matter of retrying enough times until you get lucky, being sure to kill enough henchmen to spawn health and ammo. One particular boss thoroughly enraged me, as he had a rocket launcher which took off more than half of my health. Once I beat him, I discovered that since he escapes, I had to fight him again–with a less agile character. This replaced any sense of accomplishment with a second bout of frustration. These uninspired yet difficult boss battles sour what is an otherwise mildly enjoyable experience.
Tokyo Beat Down isn't a great game. It isn't really even that good of a game. But fans of similar games will appreciate what the Beast Cops have to offer, and even gamers lukewarm on brawlers will find some merit in Tokyo Beat Down alongside its painfully unfair and tedious moments.