This article is part of my ongoing “Indie Fighting Game Thursday” review/retrospective series, now on supercombo.gg! This week we talk about Beatdown Dungeon, a 2D street art, hand-drawn air dasher with a dungeon crawler campaign! This article was originally published on my Medium blog on the 26th August, 2021, and has been ported to Supercombo.gg for preservation and sharing it with more people in the fighting game community!
Fighting games are supposed to be — mainly — multiplayer experiences. Since ye old gone days of the arcade booms, fiery opponents have been burning through quarters to show each other who’s the best at smashing virtual faces, all while performing wrist-twisting motion inputs and spewing more sodium chloride than a Polish salt mine.
Surpringly, maybe to improve the marketability of console ports, fighting game developers became better at producing decent single player content, going from simple arcade endings (Kazuya slasher smile™ approved) to more complex modes, like Weapon Master in SoulCalibur 2, to the recent trend of adding cinematic story modes. However, single players modes, as good as they might be, are most of the times afterthoughts or just additions to the basic formula of pure, unadulterated fisticuffs.
Except when they aren’t.
Enter the dungeon
Yes, you read it right — Beatdown Dungeon is an outlier to the above formula: The true and tried core of the game is a single player dungeon crawler through partially randomized floors, not unlike Shin Megami Tensei. Floors are initially covered by a thick fog-of-war, which prevents you from having a look around without committing to entering a room, but with a handy “!” indicator popping up if an adjacent square contains a monster. And, when your character meets one of said monsters, instead of a turn based RPG battle, you have to vanquish them in a 1v1 fight.
Each dungeon is built around a theme of sorts, with different backgrounds and music, ranging from a rather plain tiled pattern for the Noob Sanctuary (no jokes, it’s REALLY the name of the first level), to the moody, almost somber, atmosphere of Mystic Forest, just to flow into the high-octane, blood-pumping depths of the Hangover Hell night club, only to glide into the last regular level — the aptly named Queen’s Quarters.
The plot is relatively straight-forward: Queen, the — well — queen of the Demon Realm, decides, out of boredom, to destroy the world if Earth’s best heroes cannot stop her in the next 24 hours, thus prompting Nitro & co. to hurry up and go smash her face before it’s too late.
Even if the premise might sound lackluster or cliche-y at first, it’s DEFINITELY not the case with its execution. Every now and then, during the exploration of the main dungeons, Queen and her trusted butler Malphas will keep commenting on the player’s progress, regularly breaking the fourth wall and going through a sheer amount of comedic banter, which will often border in the absurd. I won’t spoiler anything, since it’s best to play it blind, but be prepared for a silly chaos of quirky remarks, crazy scenarios and some funny pop culture references.
Inside the dungeons, players can buy healing items, unique assists, which provide various special attacks, badges that trigger special effects when equipped (e.g. increasing chip damage or providing a once-per-round burst) and unlock new playable characters. There is also a variety of status effects, which can be pretty wild, ranging from simple damage over time (Poison) to being locked out of your specials (Curse) or being unable to jump or dash for a short time (Paralysis).
Only two characters at a time can be brought inside a dungeon: You can freely swap between them while on the map, but, if either of them is KO’d, it’s time for the dreaded game over. Dungeons do not have checkpoints, so if you fail, you will have to restart the run from the beginning of the level.
A tutorial in disguise
One thing the single player mode excels at, is teaching the player how to play the game. The first enemies are pushovers, but the jumping Power Pudding already prompts you to learn how to anti-air effectively. Afterwards, you encounter the Rusty Bebop, a robot with a shield that blocks everything you throw at it, forcing you to learn how to grab an opponent. In the same vein, you are then introduced to enemies who shoot projectiles, then those who block and counter, those who perform low attacks or deal a lot of chip damage, those with super armor, in a smooth progression of increasing complexity.
The difficulty step I personally “felt” the most was the one between the first and the second dungeon, where you finally meet Demon opponents who use assists and burst out of combos. I utterly dreaded those encounters because of how complete their movesets were and always had to hope not to screw the match too much, trying to save precious life points for dealing with the next foe.
Beatdown Dungeon uses this progression to teach fighting game standard tactics and it’s quite successful at that. End-of-dungeon boss fights never felt cheap, except maybe the last one against the final opponent, which proved fairly hard to deal with, even after reaching the level cap.
The demon is in the details
Now, for the meat and potatoes, let’s talk about the combat system of Beatdown Dungeon. The controls are rather simple: you have a Light button, a Medium button, a Heavy button, a Special button, a Mana button and an Assist button . Each button can be canceled into one of higher strength on hit or block. Light can cancel into Medium, Heavy, Special and Mana; Medium can cancel into Heavy, Special and Mana, and so on. Some moves can be canceled with a jump on hit too.
Pressing Light button three times in a row unleashes a Light, Medium, Heavy autocombo. Forward + Light triggers an additional special move, usually covering the ground in front of the character. Special moves are performed by pressing a direction together with the Special button. Grabs are perfomed by pressing the Light and Medium buttons together and cannot be blocked or teched (truth be told, there is a tech window of 1 frame, so that if both characters grab the opponent at the same time, a mutual throw tech happens).
Each character has two supers, one performed with the Mana button and the other by pressing Down + Mana, for the cost of 50% meter. Usually, one super is a utility move, while the other deals significant damage. There are no other ways to use super meter, except when equipping the Pain Chain badge, that acts as a combo extender to a super for an additional 25% meter, or the Pro Block badge, that grants access to something akin to Guilty Gear’s Faultless Defense.
Assists are varied and cover several different use cases — some are good combo fillers, others help controlling space, others inflict status effects to the opponent — and are a core part of how a character is played. A good assist can complement the traditional game plan of a character (e.g. by making their already high combo potential even higher) or mitigate some inherent character flaws (e.g. giving a slow grappler a projectile to safely approach the opponent). Assists have a cooldown which is unique per each of them, forcing the player to choose well the moment when to call them to the rescue, adding an a layer of decision-making to the table.
Overall, the system is rather simple to pick up and flows pretty well. It reminds of a simplified anime fighter, with a good amount of combo creativity and tight movement.
Heroes, demons and teenage ghost girls
The game’s cast comprises seven playable characters. There’s Nitro, the best character for beginners, with very solid normals, an advancing elbow attack, fireballs and a very damaging fire blast super; Satoshi, a character whose gameplan revolves around long combos and locking down the opponent with his coin toss super; Alisa, the resident long-range character, using needles to space the opponent and combo them with her launchers; Shirley, the puppet character, a ghost girl who summons her friends to help her fight; Marv, the buff grappler oni bouncer who goes full Hulk during his super; Custom Demon, a character with a customizable moveset whose specials can be selected among a decent pool; and, finally, Queen herself, whose fighting style heavily revolves around a special bar that allows her to freely cancel her moves into one another.
The cast is overall pretty balanced for the single player campaign. For the PvP versus mode, however…
Beatdown Dungeon has a functional versus mode, which allows two players to face off against each other. Each player can select one assist and one single badge among all those available in the game, without having to unlock them. The game also offers a dedicated training mode to try out some of your flashy combos. With these premises, the game actually achieved to build a small yet hardcore competitive scene, with a couple online tourneys played through Parsec.
The problem competitive players faced after a little bit of labbing (or the best thing about it, if you are into those things, not gonna judge) is that almost every character has an infinite combo or an abusable unblockable oki setup of sorts.
From Nitro’s Light autocombo into elbow attack on repeat, to Shirley looping corner ghost recall, to Marv’s unblockable special punch oki, an infinite can turn the tide of a match from one, single interaction. The competitive community embraced this crazy aspect of the game, deciding only to limit the number of allowed repetitions with a gentletofu agreement. It is telling that the boss character Queen, despite having a secret one-hit KO super and a proper infinite, is considered low tier because of how many resources she needs to starts her offence and keep it running.
This format has worked well enough for tournaments, and the game is surprisingly fun to witness in motion, when played by competent competitors (which means, not me). Fortunately, I got you covered — thanks to this footage from the Indievo Summer Showdown 2020 tournament grand finals!
If you got curious about the game, but got put off by the perspective of unpatched infinites, rest easy: the developer is currently working on a sequel — Beatdown Dungeon: Demon Day, replacing the dungeon crawling portion with RPG elements and free map exploration! The game is currently in open beta and is being developed as we speak. Expect even more madness and additional characters, this time with a tighter balance and some additional infinite-prevention-systems!
How to play it?
The game is available for download, free of charge, on itch.io and runs on Windows operating systems. There is a Discord server for both this game and the sequel. The server is moderately active for both labbing and matchmaking, using Parsec, since the game has no native netcode. You can also follow the developer Phil Airdash on Twitter.
Name of the game: Beatdown Dungeon
Developer: Phil Airdash
Available on: PC (itch.io)
Year of release: 2018
Netcode: none (Parsec)
In one sentence: 2D stylish hybrid between an anime fighting game and a dungeon crawler
Special thanks to YellowSlotCar and Ciao for reviewing the article during the draft phase, providing both useful feedback and tournament footage.
If you are interested in more coverage about indie fighting games, you can find me on Twitter at @AndreaDProjects