A Bare Knuckle Brawler
Classic 2D beat-em-ups have entered their modern-day renaissance that's been going strong for several years now. Arcade-inspired brawlers have found a comfortable niche that brings together several ideologies. The first is its ease of accessibility for gamers of all types. On the surface, it's easy to just "mash" an attack button and get by through that alone. Each of the games I've played had little intricacies that rewarded the player for pushing the game engine to its limits. On a basic level, the average beat-em-up features the concept of juggles and combos while some games go the extra mile to include elements from other genres. Others stick to their roots and create a modernization of 90s brawlers in its purest form. Final Vendetta offers a little bit of both.
Developed by Bitmap Bureau, the UK-based indie developer doesn't shy away from showing London's wild side and homage to its hometown. Set in London, Final Vendetta's plot begins with Claire's sister being kidnapped by an evil org known as the Syndic8. Teaming up with ex-professional wrestler Miller and street fighter Duke, the trio sets out across six various levels to save her sister. Each location features familiar "beat-em-up" settings including back alleys, a harbor, the subway, a freight elevator, and a club. The final level is at the head of the Syndic8's manor, with an encounter that rivals the supernatural Shredder himself.
Brawl Like It's 199X
I use the term "love letter" a lot when it comes to 2D games and Final Vedetta is no different. The plot is not only something out of Art of Fighting, but even the title is an homage to two different games, Final Fight and Vendetta. The trio of characters also follows the tried and true "burly wrestler, martial arts woman, and jack-of-all-trades street fighter" formula. Much like Streets of Rage, each character performs similarly but different enough that they each bring something unique to the table. The description for Duke name drops Streets of Rage, calling him a Bare Knuckle fighter. As she is the central character of Final Vendetta, I decided to use Claire at first.
Claire is a Blaze Fielding by a different name of a similar design. Their appearances are strikingly similar as well as their "martial arts" backgrounds. What makes Final Vendetta more than a mere "Bare Knuckle" clone is that it has some of the finest sprite animations I've seen from a game like this. Each character moves fluidly and each attack feels weighty. Claire, being a martial artist, has a different flow than that of Miller. Delivering a Big Boot to the face of enemies is just as satisfying as strategically using the hitbox of a smaller character to avoid an attack.
No Worries About Losing Progress Or Frustration Measures
Final Vendetta bears the distinction of being more accessible to newcomers of the genre than most other titles before it. A recent patch has buffed weapons and AI movement as well as introduced a mode easier than "Easy." There's also a special option in the Settings menu that allows players to start at any level in the game as they progress through the game. This is incredibly useful while also emulating the popular Password system used at the time. Rather than saving their game, players had to write down Passwords to ensure their progress isn't lost at the cost of losing their score.
This is also useful as the player will die and Game Over quite a bit in Final Vendetta. The difficulty affects not only the aggression of the AI, but how many lives the player starts with as well as any gimmicks. There's a boss fight at the harbor that has an annoying crane that is set to ruin the player's day on Hard difficulty. On Easy difficulty, the player begins with double the lives and no gimmicks. The enemies still hit as hard as they would on other difficulties, there's just less to worry about. Even if you lose all your lives at, say, the fourth level, the player can begin their session again on that level via the Settings menu.
Fighting Game Players Will Enjoy The Gameplay
The game has a tutorial that lets players know the basic controls, but not everything is revealed to the player. The player has a "super" attack that leaves them invulnerable and clears enemies surrounding them. In other games, using this move takes a portion of the player's health. In Final Vendetta, defeating enemies will fill the super meter and once it's full, players can use their super move at no cost to their health. Without a full meter, however, players will suffer damage in relation to how much they have in their meter.
There are also special unique attacks that I didn't know each fighter had access to until I beat the game. During the credits, each character will use their unique attack including a Kikosho-like move from Claire. Curiously, I went to the game's training mode to see this for myself. What the game doesn't tell you is that pressing two specific buttons will let players use their special move at no cost, but a full super meter will deal more damage. Depending on the character, characters can juggle enemies indefinitely. This is dependent on the weight class of the enemy as well as the character itself. Claire will have an easier time juggling enemies while Miller deals heavy damage with his throws. It's up to the player to experiment.
While The Game Is Short, Replayability Is As Expected
Six levels is not a lot but it's just right for a retro-inspired brawler. With known artists including Krafty Kuts, Utah Saints, and Featurecast, the latter of whose work is featured in the EU version of Jet Set Radio, Final Vendetta's soundtrack is spot-on. Even the artists themselves are based in the UK, providing thumping tunes that would give Yuzo Koshiro a nod in approval. It may not be the first or last retro-inspired brawler, but Final Vendetta has one thing that trumps its competitors.
Final Vendetta overall is passionate about London and the UK, with local talent and familiar locations representing the seedy underbelly of London. It's a passion project filled with references to other games from the genre's heyday, the animations and gameplay is solid, and I can imagine it's a fun time with co-op. While the quality of life doesn't turn the game into an absolute "easy peasy" adventure, it helps in making a fine piece of modern history available for all types of players.
Final Vendetta is available on the Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. A physical release is slated for later in August.