2022 is a banner year for beat ‘em ups, with GOTY contender Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge, Dawn of the Monsters, Samurai Riot, and River City Girls Zero (Switch version) already out, and the incredible-looking River City Girls 2 on the way. Throwing their hat in the ring are Bitmap Bureau and Numskull games, who have just released Final Vendetta on consoles and PC. Despite having the misfortunate of launching the day after Shredder’s Revenge, Final Vendetta is a very good-looking old-school beat ‘em up, but punishing difficulty won't be doing it any favors.
Final Vendetta (no relation to Konami's Vendetta) begins with an obviously Final Fight-esque introduction in which the evil syndicate, Syndic-8 (argh), calls up the protagonist, Claire, demanding that she complete a drug run in exchange for her sister’s life. Claire then recruits the other two heroes, Miller and Duke, to join her on a mission to stop the Syndic-8 (oh boy) once and for all. After that, everybody will, presumably, sit down and watch Sense8 on Netflix.
The game offers a couple of modes the start: Arcade and Versus, plus a very amusing sound test. Survival, Boss Rush, and Training modes can be unlocked by clearing the game with certain characters. Yes, Training Mode has to be unlocked by beating the game! Two difficulties are initially selectable, with a third unlockable in the same way as the other modes. Most players will not be seeing the unlockable modes or third difficulty level, however, because Final Vendetta is not meant to be beaten by mere mortals. More on that shortly…
After selecting Story Mode, one or two local players can select from a trio of characters, all of whom are roughly equivalent to Final Fight’s three heroes. The character select screen doesn’t display the protagonists’ names or stats, oddly. The big guy, William, has terrible personal style and is so slow as to be useless; the baddies often hit him before he can get to them. Duke and Claire are better dressers and pretty interchangeable, though Claire is probably faster and weaker.
While Final Vendetta takes obvious inspiration from Final Fight and, perhaps, Streets of Rage, its beat ‘em up gameplay has a few twists of its own. In addition to attack and jump buttons, the game has special and block buttons too. None of these can be mapped to the shoulder buttons, which is a shame. Blocking is too much of a gamble here, with offensive options easily proving superior. Other mechanics include the ability to kick downed enemies, wieldable weapons like knives, pipes, and swords, and dashing.
The special button can be combined with other buttons to perform various attacks. Special plus attack does a backwards attack (probably too risky in general), special plus block does a slow attack that has no penalty for use, and special plus jump does a special attack that either consumes the character’s super meter or a sliver of health. The super meter fills up quickly, so players can do them frequently without draining too much health. That mechanic is a smart refinement of the typical health draining system that beat ‘em ups frequently use, and it doesn’t even slow the pace of the game like the special moves of Shredder’s Revenge.
This game consists of six levels, each ending with a (fairly bland) boss. Getting to that final level will be no easy task because Final Vendetta is obnoxiously difficult. Enemies do tremendous damage, and most health pickups restore very little life. Sometimes, the game even forces players to move to the next scene while food items sit on the ground uneaten, which is frustrating. Beat ‘em ups traditionally let players choose to proceed to the next area, not force it. Anyway, it’s very easy to make a little mistake now and then that will cost a life. One little hit from an enemy often leads to a combo that takes half your life or kills you, even on “Easy” difficulty. Some levels also have traps that are extremely hard to dodge, likely causing damage or death.
All those challenges would be no big deal if not for one big design mistake: the lack of continues. In their quest to craft a tough, old-school brawler, Final Vendetta‘s developers left out the ability to continue. When a player runs out of lives, the game inexorably ends. Is that really old-school design, though? 99 percent of arcade beat ‘em ups let players continue; console ports of Final Fight have continues. It just doesn’t make sense that Final Vendetta doesn’t do the same. Local co-op doesn't necessarily ease the difficulty, either. Health pickups don't increase, so there's less health to go around. Downed teammates can't be revived, nor are there any co-op moves.
The sad thing is that Final Vendetta is just a little bit of fine tuning away from being a very good beat ‘em up. The Neo Geo-like art style stands out from most modern games, the soundtrack rocks (we’ll ignore the horrible pigeon sound effects in the first stage), and the core gameplay is genuinely fun. Bitmap Bureau, the developer, could turn things around by just adding continues to the game, though a more thorough rebalancing wouldn’t hurt either. Let’s hope they do, because this game deserves to be enjoyed, not regretted.
Update: Bitmap Bureau took fan feedback (and perhaps our post-review interview questions) to heart, releasing an update consoles and several updates on PC. The updates add a Casual difficulty with continues, a stage select, and more. See our update article for full details and fresh screenshots. With our major criticisms now fixed, we've updated our review scores.
An Xbox review code was provided by the publisher.
The Co-Op Experience: Two players, taking on the role of Claire and Miller, can punch their way through the game together.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.