2D beat ’em ups are a bit of a rare breed these days. Back in the 16 bit era, you couldn’t escape them: from Streets of Rage, to Final Fight, Golden Axe, and so on, they were pretty dominant and pretty popular. After failed attempts to pull the genre into the realm of 3D, they got left by the wayside; it’s only relatively recently that we’ve seen a slight resurgence as a result of indie efforts. There have been some great attempts at rekindling that nostalgia, but there have also been some that haven’t fared quite as well.

The latest one to hit the Switch is War Dogs: Red’s Return, but will this one be a good boy – or will we need to take it behind the garden shed? Let’s find out.

Many thanks to QUByte Interactive for the review code.

FUR-NAL FIGHT
After a plague devastates the world, the final remnants of humanity have turned to gene splicing in order to survive. Or at least, this is what the game informs us in order to explain why the world is full of humanoid animals – although quite how splicing your DNA with Lassie is supposed to help you survive a deadly virus remains unexplained, but whatever.

After a period of absence, Red, the Human-Dog thing, has returned home only to find that it has been taken over by gangs and is in a state of constant conflict. Our hero isn’t even able to drink his beer in peace, so understandably he wants to find out who is behind all this chaos.

If the story sounds like it is slightly incomprehensible, you’re absolutely right. What’s more, it only gets stupider and more contrived as it goes on. It’s hard to say whether or not it’s intended to be a parody of the terrible storylines that the genre is famous for, or whether it’s just plain bad. Regardless of intention, it’s all an excuse to send Red to a variety of different locations, each intersected with rather beautiful comic book cutscenes; although these cutscenes are undermined by the questionable dialogue present throughout, which is plagued with numerous errors from typos to grammatical blunders. These mistakes make the game come across as a little cheap and could have easily been avoided by having a proofreader give it a quick check. 

The rest of the presentation can also be a little bit hit or miss too, with visuals akin to Raging Justice; they don’t look particularly great in screenshots and trailers, but are definitely less of an issue in game. Personally, I wasn’t fond of the style, but I also can’t say that it hampered my enjoyment either. Music, on the other hand, is almost entirely forgettable. You won’t find anything close to the the majesty of Yuzo Koshiro here, with most of it blending together. Not bad, just forgettable.

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STREETS OF RUFF
Unlike its peers, War Dogs only has one playable character: Red. There’s a tutorial available to teach you how the game works, but veterans should be able to piece things together with relative ease. There’s a high and low attack, which you can string together into a combo, an aerial jump kick, and a number of different power attacks. Additionally, there are two different types of special attacks: the dash and tornado spin are available to use at any time, with a short cooldown between uses; and there are another three ‘break’ attacks that are available via a meter, which is built up by attacking enemies. Think of it like the magic from Golden Axe: the more you charge, the better the power up. Oddly enough, this meter fills up extremely fast meaning that you can theoretically use these powers more often than the rechargeable ones. Aside from this moveset, there’s also a variety of weapons hidden within crates that you can pick up and use until they break. Pretty standard stuff.

Despite having a variety of attacks at your disposal, there’s no real defensive manoeuvres or throws, so it can make the combat seem a tad simple when compared to other games since there’s no real way to dodge attacks, and a pretty ineffectual block move. This is compounded by stiff movement when moving up or down, meaning you will likely just be moving left to right and beating up enemies that get in your way. There are times when you you’ll need to avoid an area attack, but considering your lack of manoeuvrability you are better off just taking the hit. The combat is still fun though, especially when it throws in some cinematic zoomed-in moments to lend some weight to your attacks.

These moves should help you get through the enemies with ease, as most are relatively dumb and offer little in the way of resistance. There’s a range of enemy types on offer, from Molotov-throwing rats to tracksuit-wearing dogs, but the real standout foes are the bosses. These encounters are definitely a highlight, offering a nice range of scripted attacks making them feel more like a fair challenge rather than just an enemy with loads of HP – which is typically found in the genre. The lack of a dodge can make them slightly less enjoyable than they could be, but they are still quite entertaining for the most part.

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BARKINGTOADS
After the hour or so it will take for you to get through the story mode, what is left for you to do? Well, first of all there’s a mission mode available where you can take on missions with varying difficulty. I presume that these are remixed versions of the story levels, but I honestly didn’t notice much of a difference. However, beating them for the first time will net you additional credits and gems which can then be spent in the store on clothing or implants for Red. Implants can boost your stats to make you stronger, whereas clothing doesn’t offer anything other than just looking cool. Implants are pretty cheap and you should be able to pick them all up very early on, so the lasting appeal in the game is saving up to buy all the clothing. Whether or not you will want to go to that effort is down to you, especially with the game’s biggest flaw… 

 

SMOOTH MOVES

The combat may not have the hugest amount of depth to it, but there’s still plenty to play around with.

DASH
ImageRed’s dash attack can knock a load of enemies down whilst causing solid damage. Also useful for getting out of the way of areas attacks!

TORNADO SPIN
ImageDon’t underestimate the power of the tornado. This attack does huge damage to all enemies – even bosses!

BURST
ImageGet the most out of your attacks with a 50% buff to your attack power! Not extremely useful normally, but it can be handy against bosses.

SOOTHE
ImageRunning low on health? Activating this will recover a little bit of health. It’s not much, but it may be just enough to help you survive. 

SMASH
ImageYour final rage attack causes Red to beat the ground with his fist, causing a screen-nuking power attack. Doesn’t do much against bosses though.

 

 

SINGLE DRAGON
As I alluded to neat the start of the review, this game is single player only; which, for a beat ’em up, is a death sentence. I can understand them not having the resources to implement multiple playable characters and online functionality, but even having 2 player local co-op with the second player controlling a clone of Red would have been enough to help turn this into a must own title for fans of the genre. Considering these types of games are infinitely more fun fighting with another person by your side, I hope they will patch it in later. 

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I won’t deny that my expectations for this game were pretty low, but in the end I came away pleasantly surprised. Despite being a bit rough around the edges in places, it offers a pretty solid beat ’em up experience for fans of the genre. If they can patch in some form of multiplayer and fix some the various grammatical errors, this would be a must own title for the price. As it is, it’s probably only going to appeal to die hard beat ’em up fans.