Treachery in Beatdown City shines bright like a diamond for its first 90 minutes or so. It makes a brilliant first impression. You may have heard your favorite gaming personalities shower it with praise based on their initial time with it. I did the same, even encouraging a friend to pick up a copy based on my initial excitement.
The game opens with some charming NES-era nostalgia mixed with New York in-jokes and political satire. After some lighthearted banter and a few genuinely funny gags, the game introduces its combat system—a unique hybrid of beat ‘em up and turn-based tactics that wouldn’t feel out of place in a modern Square Enix JRPG.
The big difference here is that, instead of a crew of attractive anime characters battling in beautiful 3D environments, the diverse cast of Treachery in Beatdown City brawl in 8-bit streets that resemble the original Double Dragon or River City Ransom.
Between fights you navigate the map via a node-based grid. The exploration is no more complicated than the overworld map from Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s just a way to get you from battle to battle, and experience the bits of storyline between.
Early on, there’s a sense that Treachery in Beatdown City may open up in enough new ways to keep it compelling. Tutorials do a good job of explaining the battle mechanics, a variety of enemy types keep you on your toes, and you quickly unlock three different heroes with their own unique movesets.
But it isn’t long before that initial luster fades, and the questions of, “Is this all there is?”, start to set in. Once the base mechanics are fully introduced it’s really nothing but fight after fight. The grid overworld map strips out any potential for discovery or exploration, so the game really lives and dies based on the quality of the combat and the storytelling.
The thing is, there isn’t much of a story to tell. Most of the dialogue is silly context for why our heroes have to stop and fight almost every single person on their path to city hall. And the crew’s whole goal is to get to city hall in order to begin their real mission.
By hour two or three, I was messaging my friend to ask if he was running out of steam. It turns out we were both starting to tire of the game and it wasn’t even halfway over. I decided to push through to the end, partially because—full disclosure—I Kickstarted this game in 2014, and partially to finish it for a review.
My perseverance didn’t do the game any favors in the end. With less and less new combat wrinkles sprinkled in, a story that was truly going nowhere, and environments I’d grown tired of hours ago, Treachery in Beatdown City completely wore out its welcome. Even worse, just as it seemed like something might actually happen, the game ended on a sudden cliffhanger.
When it popped me back to a chapter select and informed me that chapter 2 was on the way as a free update, my jaw almost hit the floor. How is there so little to this game after six years? Why would I want to play chapter 2 if I’m already bored of chapter 1? And why didn’t they put any of the actual plot in this first chapter?
It would take some big improvements to Treachery in Beatdown City to get me interested in playing more. I’d love to see a free roaming overworld, some way to fight with multiple characters at once, and more involved mechanics across the board. I’d like to see the plot go somewhere, and feel like there’s more to it than dunking on Karens and bodyslamming dirty cops.
I can’t imagine a follow-up chapter having any of these things without being put off for months or even years, but I wouldn’t mind waiting either. Treachery in Beatdown City started off strong, but by the end I couldn’t turn it off fast enough.