Review by JT
Something I have always wanted to see in beat ‘em ups were more moves to spice up all of the repeated punching and kicking. An expanded repertoire that would bring the button mashing beat ‘em up to the move sophistication of a 2D fighter. Combatribes is exciting in that it tries to do more than the average beat ‘em up, or even the great beat ‘em ups like Final Fight and Streets of Rage. While those games were much, much more refined than Combatribes, they could definitely learn a thing or two about no nonsense ass kicking. As an early 90’s arcade game by Technos, a lot of what you’ll find here is cartoon-like, even with the nonstop violence and generous bloodshed.
The actual heroes of the game have the ''personality'' befitting of a cold-blooded killer. They look like ''robots'' (under a steroid enhanced outer skin shell, of course), with unchanging expressions on their face (grimaces, to be exact), no pre-game bios or idle animations. That may mean nothing to you, but the sum total of these absences in actions, design, etc. make for soulless characters to control. It's perfect for smashing faces into cement, but there's little room for anything more than that. There's a reason there weren't Combatribes lunch boxes and backpacks. Other than the fact that the game basically sucks, of course, but I'm getting paragraphs ahead of myself.
What separates Combatribes from the by the numbers beat ‘em ups is its heroes' take no prisoners attitudes. Punching and kicking with your stubby limbs is nearly the same (which leads to another point I’ll make later), but the variation that can be pulled off with these two buttons will amaze all but the most jaded beat 'em up fans. Grabbing an opponent by the collar with your gargantuan arms can by accomplished simply by walking up to one. Here you can heave them forward or turn them upside-down, whilst squirming, and toss them into the ground and anyone between them and the ground. If you grab one character and another approaches from the side, you can grab the other automatically and bash their faces together to a dash of blood!
And best of all, once down, you can perform a variety of moves usually off-limits in the beat ‘em up field. See, the protagonists might kill you, but not while you’re down. That’s lame. Combatribes has no such sense of videogame ethics. You can kick an opponent in the ribs with a nice oomph and jump on their back, knocking the wind clear out. The more devious of you (to which I recommend this game) can also jump onto a downed opponent’s back, grab their scalp and slam their face into the pavement repeatedly, to a similar bloody showcase as seen in the dual face smashing. The most useful of the “special” (“should have thought of that sooner”) moves can be pulled off at the opponent’s feet, where you can grab hold and swing them around, battering other enemies in the process.
With all of the good ideas in the moves department, it’s depressing to see such a glaring omission like “jump.” Maybe, as our heroes are so top heavy, they can’t utilize this most common of videogame abilities. They can perform a little inept jump after the most stone stiff run I’ve ever seen, but it appears as an afterthought and in practice, next to useless. The root of the problem is the highlight of the game. Two button set-ups were the norm for most arcade games back in the day. It was just assumed that one of them would allow you to jump in the beat 'em up. In Technos' attempt at trying something different, they lost sight of good game making. You’re left with the great bit of action commands, but again, depressingly and ineptly slow and no jump button.
While Combatribes goes all groundbreaking in one section of the game, the rest are completely glossed over. Though it probably wouldn’t make a difference in the world with the horrible execution of the basic gameplay elements. The differing shades of enemies mean little in the way of handling them. If you’re lucky to reach one unharmed, you simply hit the action button(s) for as long as it takes to knock them down. They usually fly a few lengths away, which might as well be a mile at the heroes' pace, making the specialty moves much less frequent to redeem more than a fraction of the game's flaws. Some enemies will have their “gimmicks” to set them apart, like the generic thugs with knives or the clowns that have a secret weapon up their sleeve: befuddlement.
Basically, any time an enemy comes packed with anything more than knuckles and a steel-toed boot, you’re in trouble. There’s not much strategy that can overcome a two-by-four. These weapons give the enemies a reach advantage you simply can’t overcome, due to the incompetent exclusion of a jump command or reasonable speed to dodge, retreat or anything possibly life sustaining. If you approach an enemy, you have dedicated yourself to either kicking their ass or them kicking yours. Combatribes' ''trading hits'' style of play ensures a bit of both. The bosses are even worse offenders of arcade-style cheapness by having extremely rapid attacks and most certainly an unstoppable weapon at their disposal.
The levels try something I haven’t seen before in beat ‘em ups, but unlike the additional moves, different and new isn’t always good. The levels are as short as the characters are stumpy. A few are reminiscent of a 2D fighting game stage, where you can scroll a little to the left and a little to the right. The shortness of the levels limits the variation of each stage, since you’ll be trapped in a small area. However, the variation from stage to stage is quite dramatic, from the bike gang infested street to the second level titled “The Demon Clowns.” I'm speechless.
Cheapness of the enemies and simplicity of the levels are the major downers here, comprising the majority of the game, but if you have enough ''quarters'' (ah, MAME), you can trade hits long enough to clear a level or two. However, that would require something to hook the player in to Techno's quarter devouring menagerie of cheapness and simplicity. They’ve got the face slamming and rib kicking, but that’s about it. To me, it was very thrilling... for about 30 minutes. I say come for the interesting ideas, witness their horrible placement in such an ill-executed game, and hope that another picks up where they left off to make a game that is both innovative and fun.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 02/16/02, Updated 02/16/02
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