Of course, this was just the tip of the iceberg. Side scrolling brawlers were a pound a penny in the early ‘90s. Batman Returns on the SNES was also a classic, letting you lob evil clowns through shop windows or pick one up in each hand a smack their heads together. There was a real feeling of just not giving a bat-fuck in this game, and that’s one of the things that made it so damn memorable. Making the player feel like a badass is half the battle with brawlers, and Batman Returns did this in spades. Although your character looked stern and stiff, you moved at an incredibly swift pace, always able to get the upper hand on the Penguin’s army. Why did a short man with fur coat and a nose longer that than any afore mentioned trucks have an army of mischievous clowns? I guess that’s just how they roll in Gotham City, where dudes dress up as bats, chicks dress as cats and nobody speaks about how creepy Commissioner Gordon’s moustache makes me look.
This obsession with knocking the pixels out of my opponents spilled over onto the Sega Megadrive too, which was home to a whole host of fantastic side scrollers, each with their own charm and personality. The original Golden Axe has been one of my go-to games on the system since the very first time I played it. Picking Tyris Flare and hopping on board a fire breathing dragon while my friend Gilius Thunderheaded it around battling skeletons on the backs of giant turtles; it may sound like a bizarre LSD trip, but it made perfect sense to my innocent little child brain at the time. I mean, why wouldn’t Ax Battler summon clusters of volcanic rock and wear the tightest underwear known to mankind while charging into a full scale war with giants and fully armoured knights? Sega also brought Streets of Rage to the fold, which is still one of my favourite games. It plays primarily like everything else on this list, but also packs one of the most entertaining soundtracks on the system.
With no new or exciting games to give me the chance to swing for criminals with lead pipes while chomping down on succulent plates of ham and turkey with reckless abandon, I moved on and found other genres to fill that extra-tight-underpants shaped hole that brawlers had left in my heart. During the Playstation days, I had a blast jamming on the abundance of incredible games on offer for the console. Those who knew how to use this new technology to their advantage and utilise graphics and controls to their maximum potential excelled in their fields. Games like Die Hard Trilogy and Wild 9 carried the torch for action while Alien Trilogy and Resident Evil brought games down a darker, grittier path. Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy brought graphics and beauty to new heights; at this same time experimental games like Vib Ribbon or Descent demanded the attention of anyone who wasn’t already knee deep in this exciting world filled with deliciously chunky polygons and misshapen humans. Through all of these, brawlers were nowhere to be seen outside of the occasional Fantastic 4 title. Games were evolving and that old genre that I’d spent so many hours and 20p coins on simply wasn’t.
It wasn’t until analogue controllers emerged, near the end of PS1’s life, that people started to understand how to really control 3D models on a TV screen. The Dualshock blew the fucking doors wide open and changed everything. This gave the brawlers of old a chance to step back into the spotlight and prove their worth. However, this time they weren’t played on a 2D plane. They’d been to the right hand side. They knew what it was all about and, to be honest, it probably wasn’t really that exciting. So instead, characters in these games spent their time with their backs to the player and changing forwards into the background. Analogue sticks gave the player more control and allowed for more precise movement. Suddenly, spamming attack buttons and simply hoping for the best wasn’t enough. They had become something else, something that required more skill, something that kept the player on their toes and forced them to make split-second, game changing decisions in order to win. The metamorphosis was complete. The brawler genre had finally evolved into hack’n’slash, and it was glorious!
From here, it was only a matter of time until this style got perfected, and that came in the form of Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening. A savagely fast action game, built to be played on a casual level or on an extremely hardcore level where one wrong move will see you thrown at a game over screen so fast, it’ll knock the eyeballs out of your head. There was no two ways about it, these games kicked ass, and when their play style mixed with wide ranged attacks used to decimate multiple enemies at once in games like God of War it just pushed the genre even further. However, in the midst of all the carnage and frame-perfect movement, there was something else going on; something that fighting games had not yet discovered. Or at least, hadn’t discovered how to do this correctly.
Fighters are built in fantastic worlds with outrageous characters, often packing superhero style abilities. The love interests and bitter rivalries within these universes keep it fresh and interesting. Unfortunately though, until Mortal Kombat broke the tradition a few short years ago, we only ever got to witness these worlds through brief endings upon the completion of the game. A few seconds of Ryu walking into the distance, or of Tekken’s Mishima family lobbing each other into volcanoes. It was enough to keep me chomping at the bit for more information about the games’ stories, but it wasn’t really enough to let me know what was really going on here. Why were these characters doing what they were doing? Who is right and who is wrong here? How am I to know that my chosen character isn’t a cannibalistic maniac? Perhaps Guile is travelling around the world, fist fighting sumo wrestlers and detectives in a desperate bid to force everyone on earth to copy his Johnny Bravo hair style.
That was the power that hack’n’slash titles. The fact that I had the opportunity to get to know my character, to grow with them and understand them, made the world of difference. Even if the story was poorly told or just plain shit, I still got to learn about the universe and decide for myself whether or not I thought the characters therein were in the right. From Heavenly Sword to Bayonetta, these games either captivated me through their stories or pushed me to my limits through their gameplay. They took what I loved from the old 2D format, surrounded me with 360 degrees of action and left me to fend for myself. To this day they often challenge me and thrill me in equal measures, appealing to my competitive nature even though they are single player experiences. The use of online leader boards and survival tower modes keeps things interesting and gives me extra drive to prove my worth as a player, never wanting to settle for second best.
A combination of all of these things crossed with endless waves of high octane action come together to provide a gaming experience that I simply can’t get enough of. It takes me back to my Streets of Rage days while still staying contemporary and making me work for what I want. A well made hack’n’slash title plays very similar to a fighting game, but instead of consisting of mind games against another player it’s closer to being a case of man verses machine. You may think that this doesn’t hold the same level of urgency and sportsmanship as playing against other people, but I say to you- You don’t want to be beaten by a machine do you? Each time you take a loss, it becomes one step closer to robot world domination. By hacking and slashing my way through countless great games, I’m inadvertently saving the world… You can thank me later.
Unleash the devil within with Spud's review of Devil May Cry: HD Collection
Spud discusses the battles and struggles of one of the greatest characters to ever grace the world of videogames- Kratos; the God of War.
Spud discusses one of the driving forces his gaming life- The endless want to beat really feckin' tough games!