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Konami Beat-em-ups

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by ZZZ and David DeRienzo - August 2008

If you even infrequently visited the arcades between 1989 and 1993, there were probably only three kinds of games that you cared about: Street Fighter II variants, the first two Mortal Kombats, and licensed Konami beat-em-ups. If you were a kid in the early 1990's, then games like TMNT, The Simpsons, and X-Men owned your quarters. An entire generation shovelled cups full of change into those machines. Literally. Ask anybody who was an 8-to-13 year old arcade goer at the time if they remember pooling cash with their buddies at Chuck E. Cheese's/any arcade, gathering around any of those cabinets, and plowing through a game with a disposable cup half-filled with quarters.

When it came to beat-em-ups, Capcom and Technos may have arguably been better at making the things, but nobody had more major successes with the genre than Konami. Their games played a major part in defining a generation's arcade going experiences, and it all began with a game called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It had two majorly important things going for it - a HUGELY popular license and four player co-op play, which most people had never experienced before. That formula would set the stage for several other licensed beat-em-ups to later come from the developer. By the early 1990's, Konami began buying up licenses to other popular franchises left and right in hopes of recreating their success with TMNT. They would eventually produce a good half dozen non-TMNT-related licensed beat-em-up titles - four in the arcades, and two for home consoles. They also took the time to develop a few original titles in the genre. Besides their Crime Fighters trilogy, there's also another couple of arcade games, and an entry for NES that actually predates any of their arcade releases.

The majority of these titles are based off of variations of the engine that TMNT ran on. This means that not only is their gameplay sometimes similar, but that for many of them multi-player is also a big part of their appeal. There really was nothing cooler in the arcades in 1989 than teaming up with three other random people in front of the same machine and hacking away at Foot Soldiers and mutants in TMNT, so much of what followed in the genre from them also allowed four players, or even more. Konami realized better than any other developer how important co-op play is to these kinds of games, even emphasizing it to the point that several of their entries in the genre are practically based around it.

Before the revival of their TMNT series a few years back, Konami had only been active in the beat-em-up genre for a mere five years around its peak. Yet, during that period they produced at least fifteen of the things, making them among the two most prolific developers in the genre along with Capcom. What follows is a look at only the beat-em-ups that Konami produced outside of their TMNT and Crime Fighters games, as those are wholly separate series.

The Simpsons (Arcade)


The Adventures of Bayou Billy / Mad City (マッド・シティ) - NES (1988)

American NES Cover

Japanese Famicom Cover

Released a year before the original Crime Fighters and TMNT arcade games, Bayou Billy was Konami's very first entry into the beat-em-up genre. If it wasn't already obvious enough, the Japanese box art should erase all doubt that it's basically supposed to be "Crocodile Dundee: The Game", but without any kind of official license. Of course that didn't stop Konami, who went ahead and made the game anyway, albeit with a few creative licenses taken. It's about a guy named Billy West and his escapades with ass kicking, name taking, and trying to rescue his girlfriend Annabelle Lane from a mobster named Godfather Gordon. If it weren't enough that they stole the plot wholesale from Crocodile Dundee II, the main character is so blatantly derivative of Paul Hogan's portrayal of the hero from the movies that it's obviously based on that they might as well have just called the game Alligator Dundee and been done with it.

At first glance, Bayou Billy looks like it has a lot going for it. It's basically Konami's equivalent of Battletoads (before Battletoads was released, of course), in that it mixes other genres with beat-em-ups in some kind of crazy attempt to make the ultimate 8-bit video game. There are nine levels in all, but only five of the stages are dedicated to the beat-em-up gameplay. The remaining four consist of two light gun stages and another two driving levels. The driving stages are pretty standard action game fare, where you drive down a road, turn here or there, and dodge puddles and boulders, all while firing bullets at cars and lobbing grenades at helicopters. A collision with anything will result in an instant loss of a life, which you have precious few of to begin with, so it ends up being way too challenging as a result. Combine that with overly long repetitive stages, and an otherwise good idea falls short of anything noteworthy. Thankfully, the light gun stages are much better. You can play with either the NES Zapper or a standard control pad - the latter giving you rapid fire capabilities. The downside to rapid fire is that there's no way to replenish your ammo, so if you run out then it's an automatic Game Over. The rail shooter stages are really brief, but they're still pretty cool.

When you get down to it, the game is going to either rise or fall on the bulk of its gameplay - the beat-em-up stages - but that's where it really falters. To be fair, it does have some cool things going for it, like a good assortment of weaponry (sticks, throwing knives, whips, and pistols), but that's about it. The fact that your standard moveset is just jumpkick, punch, and kick means that the combat is a bit too repetitive, but that's not the real problem. What really kills it is its horribly flawed and poorly balanced difficulty level. Like in the original Crime Fighters, the hit detection is crap, and the enemies all take way too many hits to beat. As if this weren't bad enough, your foes aren't dazed by your hits for more than a small fraction of a second, so they can come back and attack you while you're still wailing away at them. Making it even worse, the directional controls aren't responsive enough, so you'll sometimes jumpkick in the direction you were just facing when you actually meant to turn around. There's a few parts where the game throws pointless crap at you, like making you fend off alligators or dodge birds, which does nothing but slow down the pacing. Even with the rail-shooter stages, Bayou Billy is really nothing more than a great example of wasted potential.

The Japanese version of the game (called Mad City), while still being very challenging, is significantly easier to deal with. Not only do enemies take less hits to defeat, but health items and weapons are more plentiful. A few sections of the game have slightly different designs and enemies, but it's otherwise the exact same game. There are also a few cosmetic differences. When you lose in the rail shooter stages, the image of Billy has much lighter clothing. This makes him look even more like Crocodile Dundee, which is likely why Konami changed it. The two versions also have a different looking cursor for when you play the rail shooter stages with a control pad. Lastly, the title screen is completely different, and lacks the really cool warping effect found in the American release. The American version also has some cool voice effects, like the introduction stating "The Adventures of Bayou Billy!"

Believe it or not, there was actually a very short lived graphic novel based on the game. It took several creative licenses with the game's plot, giving Billy a murdered first wife, changing Annabelle's last name to Lee, and introducing an original character who had mentored Billy and taught him how to survive in the swamp. Billy also showed up in the animated series Captain N: The Game Master, where he looked even more like Paul Hogan. The cartoon even takes a crack at the game's difficulty, calling it the only game that even Captain N can't beat.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

Beat-'em-Up

Themes:

Indiana Clones


The Adventures of Bayou Billy (NES)

The Adventures of Bayou Billy (NES)

The Adventures of Bayou Billy (NES)

The Adventures of Bayou Billy (NES)


View all "The Adventures of Bayou Billy" items on eBay


Additional Screenshots


S.P.Y.: Special Project Y - Arcade (1989)

American Arcade Flyer

S.P.Y.: Special Project Y could be called Konami's most obscure beat-em-up game. That is, if you'd even call it a beat-em-up at all. Y'know how Bayou Billy, was kinda like an attempt to make the ultimate late 1980's video game by combining a bunch of genres that were popular at the time? Well, S.P.Y. pretty much stems from the same motivations. You've got a Space Harrier level, a few Rolling Thunder levels, some Devastators levels, and a couple of stages that might be best described as "light beat-em-up levels". It takes that whole ambitious mess and puts it all into a Hollywood spy flick setting. It even has an intro that's an homage of sorts to the famous opening credits sequence from the James Bond films.

S.P.Y. Special Project Y

The good thing is that it plays much better than Bayou Billy. The bad is that, just like with Bayou Billy, it still doesn't do any one thing particularly well. The lone Space Harrier knock-off stage that opens the game is, at best, mediocre. The biggest problem with it being that it's kinda hard to aim. This doesn't just make it fall way short of Sega's classic, but also keeps it from matching up to more competent Space Harrier clones like Cosmic Epsilon. Stages 3 and 6 are played Devastators-style, where you run "into" the screen blasting away at an oncoming horde of goons. These are far from a disaster, but it would be a bit much to call them good - probably the most boring parts of the game, actually.

Levels 2 and 4 are where it turns into a beat-em-up. Though it actually plays kinda like Irem's classic Kung-Fu Master set in a beat-em-up playing field. Not only are there no combos, but most of your foes go down after a lone hit. However, you can throw, and a playthrough will reveal that it does technically meet the requirements for the genre, but it just doesn't really feel all that much like a beat-em-up. The Rolling Thunder knock-off stages (5 and 7) are basically the same thing as the beat-em-up levels, only on a lone plane. The fact that they're absolutely NOTHING like a one-plane beat-em-up just emphasizes the other levels' iffy beat-em-up status. These aren't too hot either, but I can't say that they're terrible.

In any of the seven stages, if you take out an orange jump suit wearing grunt then you'll nab yourself whatever weapon he happened to be totting around. This is without any doubt whatsoever the highlight of the game. You can grab anything from a laser gun, to a machine gun, to a pistol, to a shotgun, to a pack of grenades, or even a crowd-obliterating giant ball of flame (!).

Also, it's disappointing that they didn't do more with the spy film theme. The in-game sprite art doesn't really feature any notable genre referencing motifs, so you could easily miss the whole spy movie concept from just glancing at a given stage. At the very least, it would have been nice to see some more direct allusions to the genre - even humorously - but there's really nothing worth speaking of. The music is reasonably appropriate for the theme, but, much like the graphics, only in a vague sense. Lastly, it should probably be mentioned that the game ends on a confusing note. After you take down the final boss' henchman, he flies away in a rocket-powered chair never to be seen again, and then the game loops back to the first stage with no explanation whatsoever. Anyhow, it may not really even be a pure beat-em-up, but it's an interesting experiment, for sure. It's just too bad that it's not a particularly great game.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

Beat-'em-Up

Themes:

Period: Cold War


S.P.Y. Special Project Y (Arcade)

S.P.Y. Special Project Y (Arcade)

S.P.Y. Special Project Y (Arcade)

S.P.Y. Special Project Y (Arcade)


Additional Screenshots


The Simpsons Arcade Game - Arcade, Commodore 64, DOS, XBLA, PSN (1991)

American Arcade Flyer

XBLA Cover

The Simpsons is not exactly known for its quality licensed video games. To be completely honest, I'd argue that it's one of the worst goddamn licensing franchise ever. There is, however, a major exception to this otherwise strict rule. That exception is, of course, Konami's arcade beat-em-up The Simpsons.

Characters

Two years after having a massive, massive hit with TMNT, Konami set out to recreate some of that same magic in the arcades, this time with a game bearing the license from The Simpsons. It also represents the beginning of their "take TMNT engine, insert interchangeable theme" formula that so many of their beat-em-ups have.

The Simpsons tells a fairly simple story. At the beginning of the game, the family is out for a walk when they run into Smithers in the middle of a diamond heist. Smithers and Homer bump heads, and the diamond goes flying. Maggie ends up with the thing (she mistakes it for a pacifier) and, because taking a diamond from an infant is just that damn difficult, Smithers kidnaps her to get his loot back, which isn't really in character for him, but oh well. Because Chief Wiggums is apparently a worthless procrastinating piece of crap, they head right out on their own to get her back. Their journey sends them throughout Springfield before ending with a fight against an armored Mr. Burns, whose armor bears a strong resemblance to Hitler's from Wolfenstein 3D from the following year. Maybe the guys at id were fans of this game, too.

As simple as the plot is, the gameplay is even more basic. You can attack and jump, or pull off a strong attack by pushing both buttons. There are multiple animations for your strikes, but you can't pick which one comes out, and they all amount to the same thing anyway. The weaponry that you'll find lying around is pretty cool, but it doesn't do you too much good in practice. Instead of the standard Final Fight-style weapon combat, all you can do with most of the weaponry is hoist it over your head and hurl it at any hapless goons standing in your way. Among others, there's a cola can, a bowling ball, a rock, a cue ball, a road construction cone, and even a raccoon. The only problem is, they're all only good for one toss, and they're a bit rarer to begin with than would be ideal. Like in Konami's TMNT arcade game, you can also smack signs and send them flying off screen, knocking down anybody in their path. You can even arm your character with a slingshot, broom, or mallet, which are much more effective than the other weapons. As excessively basic as it is, the combat still stands up reasonably well. Even so, there just isn't enough to it for that alone to make the game. With just the basic combat system it could get a tad repetitive, but luckily the game really comes into its own during co-op play.

Whenever there are two or more players at the machine, any two characters in play can team up by standing motionless in the same spot for about a second. When teamed up the two characters will have completely different attacks than they have on their own, which are always stronger, to boot. Both players have full control over both characters while they're teamed up, which can get a bit awkward, but it just emphasizes the importance of team work. Best of all, the results for each possible character combination are different, lending different moves and a different animation. It's a brilliant idea really, and easily the best reason to play the game. It also makes The Simpsons like ten times better with four players than it could possibly be by yourself. Seriously, no other beat-em-up benefits from multi-player like this game does, and you really haven't experienced the thing yet if you haven't played it with other people.

It also does a spectacular job of recreating the look of the animated series. The graphics pretty much look exactly like a sprite art version of the show, with the game even beginning with an intro based on the series' famous title theme. Cameos abound from practically every member of the early seasons' casts. You'll run into everybody from Milhouse, to Barney, to Otto, to Sherri (or Terri), to Marvin Monroe, to Sideshow Bob - even the Life in Hell Rabbits make an appearance or two. There are also several odd bits of humor throughout the game, like when Marge is electrocuted or when she gets her hair caught in her vacuum cleaner and you see that she has huge ears hidden beneath her hair (wig?) like the Life in Hell rabbits.

While The Simpsons is well known for never having been ported to any console, perhaps since Acclaim had the rights to publish the license on consoles, it did actually have a mega-obscure PC port. Considering that most arcade/console ports to MS-DOS turned out terribly, it's actually pretty amazing that this one turned out decently. The graphics aren't perfect, but they're pretty decent, and even the cutscenes have been replicated perfectly. The action is smooth, although the combos are stiff, there's a lot less enemies, and the special moves seem to be gone. Most of the sound effects are missing too, although the Adlib music isn't too bad. It's also only two player. A Commodore 64 version was also released. This one has very nice looking cutscenes, and decent SID music, but it's incredibly slow and stiff.

There's also a Japanese version of the arcade machine with a few minor differences. Its difficulty setting seems to be lower, and health ups seemingly a tad more plentiful. You also get much higher scores in the Japanese version, and extra points are rewarded based on how much health you have left after finishing a stage. Finally, the Japanese release allows you to jump while armed with melee weapons, whereas that's not possible in the American version.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

Beat-'em-Up

Themes:

Licensed


The Simpsons (Arcade)

The Simpsons (Arcade)

The Simpsons (Arcade)

The Simpsons (Arcade)

The Simpsons (Arcade)

The Simpsons (Arcade)

The Simpsons (Arcade)

The Simpsons (Arcade)

The Simpsons (Arcade)


Comparison Screenshots

Additional Screenshots


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Next Page >>>

Page 1:
The Adventures of Bayou Billy
S.P.Y.: Special Project Y
The Simpsons

Page 2:
Astérix
Bucky O'Hare
X-Men

Page 3:
Batman Returns (NES)
Batman Returns (SNES)

Page 4:
Metamorphic Force
Gaiapolis

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