Let’s talk about what makes games fun, or good. I think we’ve talked about it before, but it bears repeating.
A game can be immersive – it can tell a story, it can make you feel like you’re inhabiting or exploring a world, it can make you feel like you’re living a person’s life, it can even make you feel emotion about the events you’re observing and interacting with.
A game can also be challenging and mechanically engaging – it can provide you with a challenge that is neither vapidly easy nor insurmountably difficult. It can avoid both frustration and boredom. It can give you a whole series of mechanics to explore and master. It can give you tasks to complete, and it can make the attempts to do so enjoyable in their challenge.
A game can also be both of these things, and it can do many things that are in a middle ground – the kinetic appeal of running and leaping in the latest Prince of Persia, pathetically easy as it was, had something to it. Even better, the web-swinging in the various Spider-Man games is fantastically enjoyable, even though it’s not particularly challenging to swing around the city, and there’s no real challenge facing your speed and mobility for the most part. The very kinetics, the very experience of action in a game, can be fun.
The beatemup genre fails at all of these things. It is a supreme failure. It is an attempt to make a game easy enough that anyone can play it and feel like they’re doing okay, but clunky and impossible enough that eventually you’ll have to dump more coins into the arcade machine. That’s what they’re designed for. All you have to do is mash an attack button at the right time, and you will attack your enemies successfully. But there’s no dodge button. Jumping won’t save you. Blocking is nearly pointless, since enemies can hit you from behind, and blocking an attack doesn’t leave the enemy vulnerable; there’s no reason to block instead of attack. And so we have a game that is insipid and facile, where you just need to move in a vague direction and mash your attack button, but at the same time it is impossible to avoid damage and thus your quarters continue to vanish.
The genre persists because of nostalgia, largely, but some people love that shit. I think it accesses the same part of your brain’s pleasure centres as games where you mindlessly click on enemies and watch your levels and stats increase. It’s just a stupid, mindless time-waster that gently tickles your reward centres.
Even if you want to waste your time, there are better ways to do it. Even the most vapid action movies and pulpy novels provide some real benefit. A game like Knights of the Round has nothing to offer. If you play it, you are shortening your lifespan, because while you’re mindlessly mashing those buttons, I don’t think it counts as living.