Gekido (PlayStation) review
"1989 was my favourite year in arcade games. Golden Axe arrived, Final Fight arrived, and just crossing the threshold of an arcade gave me a massive anticipatory rush. My friends and I were living through the glorious rise of the Side-Scrolling Beat-Em-Up, and cooperatively smashing a path through thousands of bad dudes in games with untouchable levels of spectacle, hilarity and gratuitousness (I JUST DESTROYED A PHONEBOOTH BY THROWING EIGHT PEOPLE INTO IT AT ONCE!) was the greatest thing ..."
1989 was my favourite year in arcade games. Golden Axe arrived, Final Fight arrived, and just crossing the threshold of an arcade gave me a massive anticipatory rush. My friends and I were living through the glorious rise of the Side-Scrolling Beat-Em-Up, and cooperatively smashing a path through thousands of bad dudes in games with untouchable levels of spectacle, hilarity and gratuitousness (I JUST DESTROYED A PHONEBOOTH BY THROWING EIGHT PEOPLE INTO IT AT ONCE!) was the greatest thing ever.
But beat-em-ups eventually waned, one-on-one fighters ponced in, and with a few exceptions I lost my enthusiasm for the arcades in the nineties. I also largely forgot what that manic beat-em-up feeling was really like. Until Gekido: Urban Fighters.
Twelve years AFF (After Final Fight) I picked up this supposed beat-em-up for my Playstation, expecting perhaps a lukewarm reminder of better times. What I got was a manly pipe in the face.
Gekido has studied ALL the moves of Final Fight, from giving cool names to its whole cast of thugs (FABIO! DOLF! HEIDI!) to recreating that universe where you can get food and weaponry out of garbage bins. It drags the whole concept kicking and screaming through the nineties, shifts it into full 3D (you can face and attack through 360 degrees, though beat-em-up scenery was always '3D' anyway), throws in dozens of insane arena battle modes and wrings out the extra technical whizbangery offered by a 32-bit system for a riotous dose of sorely missed asskicking. Now obviously, a hell of a lot's happened since 1989. Progressive stuff caught up with videogames, and you know what that means... more CHICKS in beat-em-ups. Chicks giving more punishment! Chicks taking more punishment! Gekido is hip, it's now, and it speaks of our times.
Get ready for some PLOT!
A doe-eyed woman named Angela has been kidnapped in Neo Tokyo... see, they didn't even mess with the basic idea!.. and she needs rescuing from a bunch of creeps, Kintaro's gang, who - quoth the manual - 'look to hell for their advantage in this city.' Flame-eyebrowed Travis is the grizzled man hired to find Angela, but he knows if he's going to lay the smack down on the gang, he'll need help. Rope in one old flame, Michelle, a military boffin blonde with a purple beret which never falls off, and two other buddies who seem to be along for no other reason than that they like to destroy cars and furniture. There's Tetsuo, the cool dressed-in-black martial artist, and Ushi, a walking treetrunk who's obviously an inbred cousin of Mike Haggar.
Together, they are... URBAN FIGHTERS!
The camera zooms in through a rust-hole in a moored ship to reveal a decaying yet hi-tech interior. There's my man Tetsuo, fists swaying menacingly, and there are some uniformed creeps shuffling hesitantly towards him. Some funky beats start playing in the background. I have a jarring flashback to 1989 and before I know what's happening, the punching, kicking, smashing and throwing odyssey has begun anew. I'm taking care of these guys, and I don't mean giving them food and clothes.
You want fat guys who charge you? Check. You want crazy beret-wearers who block your moves? You got 'em. You want psychotic ninjas who fly all over the place? Present. You want rabid dogs? You're covered. You want huge nerdy guys named Martin, with machine guns? Done. You want tons of huge bosses who use cheap moves when they get pissed off? Here. You want wiry bandanna-wearers who peg knives? Natch. You want grenade-lobbing soldiers? Oui.
Hulking robots? The Three Storms from Big Trouble In Little China? Bikers from Renegade? Suits with pistols? Fire-eaters? Ladies who'll dance on your face with their high heels? Razor-wielding dwarves? ALL PRESENT!
Gekido went to thug heaven and rounded up every kind of miscreant you could think of and then some. You'll be permanently outnumbered by masses of foes with unique attack styles, and major issues are headed your way as you try to madly kung-fu your way through side-scrolling downtown slums, noodle markets, storm drains and subways, and across the tops of trains en route to the Kintaro hideout.
Depending on the character(s) you play and whether you're in one or two player mode in the main game, you'll get different level progressions. In the two-player mode you can't hurt each other with regular moves (which prevents a lot of tiresome accidents and arguments) but you can still take care of each other, and I don't mean swapping esteem-building comments. You can still shoot each other, throw people into each other and plug each other with bits of furniture, and let's face it, if you've never clocked your friend in a beat-em-up then acted all innocent - 'I wasn't aiming that grenade at you, honest!' - have you really lived?
Background graphics have got that slummy urban accuracy going onnnnn. Only some semi-weak cut-scenes (in-game, not FMVs) let the side down. It's cool when you can see enemies scrambling to meet you and picking up furniture - yes, they arm themselves in the intervals, the bastards! - or a sniggering boss checking his hair before a showdown while some unreadable japanese character is superimposed on top of it all (no translation? WHO CARES!). But when the camera is just crawling over a barren fence on its lonesome and you and those polygons have to get romantic, it's sour face time.
Don't stress out, because most of the time the dark and luminous cityscapes manage to say, 'This is the nineties, MAN! No more brightly lit punksville for you.' And all of the characters look excellent, with clear and funky anime attitude to burn.
Gekido uses every single button on the Playstation controller in regular play, and for a change someone made this scheme work. With two kinds of punch, a kick and the 'rage' button on the top, and all modifiers on the shoulder buttons (jumping, crouching, target lock-on and special attack) you can comfortably pull off every trick in the bag whilst attacking the controller 'overhand style', as my friend James described it without the slightest hint of entendre.
Travis is gruff and stolid with meat-and-potatoes moves, and I'd say he's been sucking down the raw eggs and whiskey in his spare time because his mangled grunts of exertion are damn ugly. Michelle is lithe, with a sleek balance of military-style offences. Her slower basic punches can domino into rapidfire overhead bitchslaps, and she's also the only person who can actually leap right over an enemy - tres important. Tetsuo is the nimblest of the four, stringing varied combos together with the greatest ease. As for Ushi... well, he's titanic, ugly and slow-handling, but as is the way of lardy powerhouses, there are compensations... which I'll get to LATER!
The 'earn combos as you play' idea is a novel one, but not genuinely useful. It mostly results in a higher degree of antsiness once you're better at Gekido, since you can't use the wilder combos involving up to six button presses until the later stages. But when you string together enough punches, kicks, headbutts and roundhouses, the game gets completely jacked-up, counting your blows and throwing praise at you as bodies hurtle through the air:
1..2..3..4.. EXCELLENT!.. 11..12..13..14.. BRILLIANT!
Now there's nothing I admire more than a game which is excited about itself. It makes me excited, which makes the game excited, which gives me a little mahogany which makes the game... gah, you get the idea! You can even score a 360 degree revolving slowmo combo closeup complete with an echoing 'AH!.. AH!.. AH!..' from your pulverised victim. Playing with a friend, you're destined to get into fights over who can hog the camera the most!
'No, no, not the VENDING MACHINE!'
Gekido's levels are so unbelievably jam-packed with wooden barrels, oil-filled drums, tyres, vending machines, crates and boxes which you can pick up and chuck at people, that your eyes are gonna bug out and your tongue's gonna loll stupidly.
Smash crate after crate over some reeling soldier's head! Still unsatisfied? Toss a whole damn vending machine on top of him! And when you throw the tyres they EXPLODE for no apparent reason! Just don't be messing with these toys when a cut-scene strikes, because you'll probably drop them on yourself. (Ugh, why couldn't they have ironed out these few glitches...) Now, dig this: If you play one of the slower meataxe characters, you can pick up even heavier stuff, like cars and bureau desks! The manual says that Ushi 'remains calm in all situations', but that's a BOLD-FACED LIE because he will throw a whole automobile on top of some roaring guy, then tear a concrete flower-bed out of the pavement and rend it with his spigot-like hands for dessert.
Now, I've always been wary of the inclusion of guns in beat-em-ups, as they're usually gimmicky, cutting down hordes of the basic enemy for a few seconds, but useless on anyone more sophisticated who'd just kick them out of your hands then beat you down for your troubles. The move into 3D cured half the problem, and some programmer with brains cured the other half for Gekido. Having prised a weapon (pistol, shottie or MG) from someone's kung-fu grip, you can aim manually when you need to, but you can also whack the lock-on button which automatically spins you to face the nearest punk. Start firing thattaway to take care of him, and I don't mean showering him with gifts. By alternately tapping Square and lock-on, you can be shooting multiple enemies into the air before the first corpse has even landed on deck, which is some godly chaos.
Gun out of ammo? Not a problem! Just jab Square again to toss the whole stupid empty gun in the enemy's face!
He wasn't expecting that. Now run in there, grab him, throw him across the room. Grab the corpse, throw the CORPSE into red ninja-woman! Grab crates and smash them on HER head! As she stumbles away, scoop up a chair with your foot and plant it in her back! LUNATIC MAYHEM!
Gekido tosses one awesome beat-em-up set-piece at you after another. There's the moment when commandos suddenly swarm all over the roof of a speeding train and lob grenades everywhere. The moment where rabid dogs pour into the street. The part at the end where you have to fight all of the bosses from throughout the whole game again (ARGH!). It even has those semi-cheap life-eaters like the flame-eruption floors in Final Fight. Outrun a fireball in a subway, or a flood in a storm drain whilst beset by knifing crazies; two situations where being hit or stunned just once can be fatal.
The three shared credits you receive make it a fairly safe bet for two players to be able to make it through the game as a team, but for a solo effort, especially as Travis or Michelle, it'll take more practice and finesse, and plenty of training on the the storm drain level and the kill-all-the-bosses-again level.
And of course, the final villain is... a CHICK! With cheaper moves than ever, like inexplicably dumping thunderstorms on your head as you torch her luxury pad. Many lives and maybe even credits will be sucked down the tubes as you take care of this possessed woman, and I don't mean treating her to a vacation in Hawaii.
That was my weak approximation of a vocal sample from Gekido, whose soundtrack is intensely funky. It's half original techno and house grooves, half bits of Fatboy Slim (lots of guys yelling out 'Funk Soul Brother, check it out now!'), and not being well versed in the works of the man of contradictory weight conditions myself, I can't entirely nail down which is which. All you need to know is that it... bops. I've always thought 'phat' was a stupid, stupid word, but now I've goosed myself because 'phat' actually seems to be the best possible word to describe the sound of the burbling analogue bassline on the wickedest track here. Like any good soundtrack, the Gekido one kicks in at just the right moments to get you pumped. And the redbook audio format means I can listen to that super Phat track whenever I want! 'SUP HOMIES? WORD! WORD!
'He looked at me funny...'
As if the main game wasn't great enough, Gekido throws extra battle mode after extra battle mode on you until you yell out from under the pile of furniture, 'I SURRENDER!'
The scene: A grimy carpark. Take up to four urban fighters, drop them in said carpark with a pile of random weapons and plenty of objects to smash over each other, ignite the scenario with some half-imagined pissweak excuse for a fight - 'Michelle's eyebrow moved! LET'S STOMP HER!' - then pull everyone back and let them go. Yep, it's an hilariously brutal arena mode with a last person standing winner policy. This is insanely addictive, even more so if you're playing with a real life pal, and I imagine if you had the supported multi-tap and three friends around, this could be some of the most chaotic joy you'll ever know on the Playstation.
There are tons of variations on the basic arena match. Survival mode, shadow fighter (randomising) mode, team battle etc., all of which keep feeding unlockable secrets into each other. There are another five characters you can get your mitts on - remember, that's more than the whole starting cast - and their more extreme power distributions (E.G. Kobuchi has super high-damaging attacks but his standard method of movement is a limp) make them really worth chasing up.
Why did beat-em-ups became so scarce? I have no idea, because Gekido floored me by delivering their undeniable greatness to me anew. The cooperative fun. The massive volume of bad guys and total onscreen chaos. The freaky sense of humour. I don't know why it's so funny to eat a hamburger I found on the ground, or to toss an angry chick named Heidi down a staircase and then kick her, but it is. Most important of all is the gratuitousness in every department. The violence should be hyperbolic and the scenery should be exploding MOST of the time!
Gekido is A Whole Lot of fun for one player, and a truckload of exploding barrels' worth when you add in a friend, whether to cut a swathe through the main game or to beat the absolute snod out of each other in arena matches. There are just so many character variations, cool bad guys, moves and modes that it's hugely replayable in all of the best ways. The credits system, absence of cheats and even some of the contrived cheapness in the bosses or level designs (E.G. the storm drain) all capture the feel of classic arcade beat-em-ups perfectly. The reason I won't TEN this game is because of the unpolished bits - some blah cut-scenes, the glitch where you can be laid out by your own piece of furniture, a few poorly timed loading pauses, and the way you have to push so far against the screen-edge to scroll at times.
The production credits are surprisingly short for such an awesome game, and I think NA.P.S. Team's obvious attention to detail, and their passion and reverence for beat-em-ups all deserve massive respect. If you disagree with me, I'll have to take care of you, and I don't mean... well what I mean is that I WILL HIT YOU IN THE HEAD WITH A VENDING MACHINE!
-- Gekido: Urban Fighters -- 9/10 --
--- This review is dedicated to GAMEFAQS, celebrating six years of gaming on November 5th 2001
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)
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