pattheflip Also, 2D beat em ups feel pretty flat these days (heh). Think the genre was wholly succeeded by DMC, God Hand etc. anyway.
straying from the original topic a bit here, this is something I’ve thought a lot about. I agree with the first sentence, but not the latter. I agree that 2D beat em ups feel flat, because nobody’s exploring the space particularly, they’re just making games “as they were” rather than evolving the genre. I believe there’s a lot of stuff you can do in the beat em up/belt scroller space that is either unique to the space, better there, or otherwise more fitting than in a 3D brawler system like you find in DMC, Yakuza, etc. I think games like Final Fight 3, Undercover Cops, and Streets of Rage 3 were getting there right before the end of 2D’s dominance. Here’s some of that stuff:
2D exploration. There are a couple unique factors about 2D exploration I feel. For one, you’re able to hide branches in plain sight if you want - unlike 3D games where there’s so much to explore that you kind of have to give visual hints and queues or else you’re in trouble, in 2D any door or wall or whatever is viable to be smashed and give access to a new area (planned of course) while you’re beating up other dudes - your hint will be “whoa, some chips came off of that wall when I hit this guy.” So you can hide more stuff and encourage more exploration of the environments, and if you have enough branches and place enemies cleverly you won’t have people just hitting random parts of the environment (hopefully heh). Final Fight 3 gets closest to this that I’ve seen, with this feeling of “oh, I can go over there!?”
2D exploration pt 2. The other exploration thing is, in a 2D space, say you hit a door that’s on a parallel plane to your scrolling. You have no idea what’s in there before you enter. It’s a total unknown space which leads to an interesting moment of anticipation - except in games like Resident Evil where they deliberately hide what’s behind the door to you, most 3D games telegraph it because otherwise it’s kind of unfair. In a 2D belt scroller it’s part of the convention so you can have a lot of surprising rooms.
gimmicks. One of the more interesting features in Double Dragon 2 were the moving walkways, spike pits, etc. Other games have played with that (mostly pits to knock enemies into, or crushers coming from the sky, or fire on the ground), but I feel like there’s more to do in that space, not just for negative effects but positive ones. Healing zones that break, places where you or your enemy could get a buff, and just more elaborate setups, like a rube goldberg style situation to knock enemies into, especially if the player had some control positioning that stuff.
weapons/environment. I think destructible environments and wacky weapons have a lot more room for exploration in general. Break a door and get a 2×4. Smash a phone booth and get a phone receiver on a chain. Tying the destruction of the environment, which is fun, to weapons, which are also fun, means even more fun :P Undercover Cops does a decent job of this, and I’m sure nobody went further because it’s rather expensive in terms of combos of weapons and animations you have to make. But a 2D belt scroller doesn’t necessarily have to be sprite-based, in 2020+.
mechanics. There’s more room for complexity in the 2D space than in a 3D brawler because you can line yourself up on the same plane. You can’t do a lot with up and down, but you can do a lot more with throws, rush attacks, stun effects (like get the enemy into a stun, focus in on you, then give you access to a bigger moveset), jump/aerial attacks, etc. Final Fight 3 and Streets of Rage 3 both got into this with the ability to grab an enemy, hit them, jump over them, and do something else at that point. There’s more to do there I think. There’s also the whole “two player team up” thing but I don’t have any real ideas about how to make that feel satisfying without being fiddly.
Boss interactions. I think bosses are kind of underutilized in these games to an extent. They wind up feeling like limper vs fighters than cool brawler moments. I think games like Yakuza actually get closer because they’ll have one big enemy and a bunch of small fry. For a 2D game, what I’d think could work is a similar setup, but the stream of small fry just doesn’t stop. You have to defeat the boss, doing their weird jumps or whatever, before you get overwhelmed by everyone. The small fry also act as fodder though, you can throw them at the boss, steal their weapons, etc. You could go another step further and add time limits sometimes - not a countdown to death, but a countdown to them summoning more dudes, to where it’s an almost unmanageable number of enemies. One of the limitations of belt scrollers in the past was the number of sprites you could display at once. we don’t have that anymore, and should do more with it.
To conclude, you’d wind up with an almost roguelite room-based thing where you’re exploring a space, but (almost) all paths lead to the boss - but maybe it leads to different bosses! Maybe it changes how you traverse through the space, and you wind up on an outrun-style path through the game with a different light narrative depending on how you do it, with randomized rooms along the way. With destructible environments and a bunch of weird weapons and some unusual traps and bosses I think you can make an experience that couldn’t be done the same way in a 3D brawler, and which would be a pretty compelling experience on its own. That said, I don’t believe this game has to actually be 2D, it could be nicely cel shaded guilty gear/DBZ style, or some other manner of faked 2D, as long as the animation is good.
Now, who’s gonna give me a million dollars to make it heh heh (nobody)