If you were to ask me what genre harkens back to the glory days of arcades the most I would probably say fighting games, but side-scrolling beat’em ups are a very close second. If fighting games are the peak of arcade competitive multiplayer, beat’em ups are their cooperative multiplayer equivalent. However, beat’em ups aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be and only recently started popping back up in the market, so today I would like to highlight an indie title from this wave of retro revivals that deserves a little more attention.
The TakeOver was released on Steam in 2019 and was later ported to the Nintendo Switch in 2020 and Playstation 4 in 2021. The game was made by a small developer by the name of Pelikan13. The devs pretty transparently took their inspiration from classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage so it was pretty exciting to see how the game stacked up against the greats.
The story of The TakeOver is set in the city of Steel Haven during a massive spike in crime as local gangs have become suspiciously more coordinated than usual. The main character of the story is Ethan, a police officer whose adoptive daughter Vanessa has been kidnapped amidst the city-wide chaos. Ethan teams up with his girlfriend Megan and his brother-in-arms Connor to save Vanessa and put an end to the violence infesting the city streets. It’s a pretty by-the-numbers narrative for a beat’em up, but that’s all a game like this really needs.
As the player progresses through the game, short comic-book-style cutscenes advance the plot forward. Most of them consist of the protagonists interrogating whatever boss enemy they just beat up for information on where they need to go next. As repetitive as those cutscenes are, the artwork is fantastic, so it never gets boring. The voice acting for these story bits is a little hit and miss, mostly because the sound mixing seems a little off, with some actors coming through clean while others sound too quiet. I will say that some interrogation scenes are pretty brutal, which gives off the impression that our three heroes aren’t quite as heroic as you might expect, but considering the game’s high stakes I can understand why things might take on a darker tone. My biggest complaint with the characterization however, is the fact that Ethan and Megan seem to have shared guardianship over Vanessa despite the fact that the two are not technically married. I fail to see the logic of this decision and would have been much less confused if they were married or at the very least engaged.
The TakeOver’s visual style uses 3D character models and backgrounds. The animation is similar to old Rareware games like the original Donkey Kong Country or Killer Instinct, where despite being 3D models, the movements are more akin to 2D sprites. This artstyle is definitely not very common these days and does look a little stiff at times, but it was nothing I couldn’t get used to after a few minutes. The highlight for me was probably the backgrounds, which often had lots of detail and effects to really capture the atmosphere of whatever theme the stage was going for. The game’s soundtrack was composed largely by a collection of guest musicians ranging from various YouTube cover artists to the great Yuzo Koshiro of Streets of Rage fame. Overall, the music fits the gameplay and settings quite well, though there aren’t too many standout/memorable tracks.
The core gameplay consists of players moving from left to right through the stage taking out any enemies (and boxes) that stand in their way until they reach a boss fight at the end of the stage before moving onto the next one. The player has all the options one would expect from a game like this: punches, kicks, jump attacks, grab attacks, invincible special moves, and a screen-clearing super attack. Some of The TakeOver’s unique mechanics include a robust combo system that allows the player to chain moves together into extended attack strings, a sidearm with limited ammunition that’s great for taking down enemies from a distance, and a rage meter which when activated significantly boosts attack damage and grants full invincibility for a short time. This expansive set of tools and mechanics give the game a lot more depth than I was initially expecting, though it does make the game a little easy on any difficulty setting below hard mode.
The game also boasts a large variety of enemies and stages to fight through. On one hand this ensures the game stays fresh throughout the whole campaign, but on the other hand some enemies and stages feel like they belong in a completely different game, which was pretty immersion-breaking (looking at you stage 5!). There are also two mini-games that pop up as breaks from the usual gameplay: one is a highway car chase and the other is a fight jet sequence (a homage to the 1987 arcade game After Burner). These mini-games aren’t as polished as the core beat‘em up action, but they’re also pretty short so I’d say they’re largely harmless inclusions.
So why would a Catholic be drawn to a game like The TakeOver? Well I’d say it’s the strongest part about any beat’em up: the multiplayer. The TakeOver can be fun as a single player game, but play it with a friend and you’ve got an amazing way to kill any lazy afternoon. I believe this can be applied to Catholicism as well. Having a personal relationship with God is essential to a healthy spiritual life, but as a Church we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, so we must always be ready to share God’s love with others. Plus, the game also has two possible endings, one of which rewards taking the moral high ground and acting with restraint. Always great to see the promotion of good virtues.
So does The TakeOver stand shoulder to shoulder with the best beat’em ups out there? I certainly think so! At least to a certain extent. The mechanical depth it offers is hard to find in similar titles, and while it’s not without a few flaws here and there, overall it does what it needs to do well enough and sometimes that’s all you need to have a good time. The game easily gets my recommendation, especially for the multiplayer.
Double-knot your shoelaces and ice your knuckles because this brawl is going to be a fierce one!
Morality and Parental Warnings
The TakeOver prominently features violence throughout, with an assortment of martial arts, bludgeons, blades, and guns. Attacks with weapons often draw blood. As stated earlier, there are interrogation scenes in the cutscene comics that are pretty brutal. There are also supernatural zombie creatures in level 5 that are dismembered when shot at. The character designs are about as 90s as it gets, with lots of big shirtless muscle men and curvy women in form fitting/revealing outfits.