Beat-’em-ups — a long, historic, well loved genre. The SNES and Genesis days were their golden generation with the likes of Streets of Rage and Final Fight doing the rounds. These days, thanks to the PlayStation Network, Indie developers are getting more limelight to show off their wares, with beat-’em-ups given the best and cheapest opportunity to return. Southend Interactive and Deep Silver bring you Sacred Citadel, an homage to the old-school brawlers with new-school flare.
Sacred Citadel is a side-scrolling action RPG that combines a traditional beat-’em-up style with RPG elements. There are four characters to choose from, each with their own attacks and abilities, allowing friends to team up and not have to worry they are all the same generic fighter. The formula is simple; kill enemies, gain experience points, move to the right, pick-up some random equipment, lather, rinse, repeat. Enemies drop money, food, and equipment for the player to use. However, I never found money to be useful as the game is so easy that I took the RPG mentality of hoarding my loot for that uber-weapon, only to pick up weapons far superior than anything in the stores. Unless some random potions or buff crystals are needed for a boss, it is a useless component.
As mentioned this is a really easy game, with only a few tricky spots throughout, and even those become easy once you figure out the trick. With no difficulty setting the game gets harder through progression. Each new act gives the enemies a stat jump to make them more difficult, but once you’ve surpassed them then they will always be fodder. That is great for those wanting to just relax and enjoy smashing lots of baddies but boring for those looking for a challenge as there is none to be found. A couple of bosses are difficult because of the amount of times they regenerate health vs. you running out of healing potions, but that is difficulty by attrition rather than skill.
The combat system is a button masher’s dream with only a few differing combos to have you press more than square. It is not looking to revolutionize the genre but it gets the job done. It does, however, have a dodge function used with the right stick. Just hold the stick and your character dodges through opponents, which when used right is broken because it makes them invincible during the dodge. Stacked enemies cause a problem for those who enjoy seeing the combat animations as it’s hard to see what is being done when surrounded by multiple stacked enemies. One stage was particularly frustrating trying to survive as the dodge trick doesn’t work with that boss, and getting stuck in a corner means a lot of life loss when it is impossible to see if you’re on the ground or moving.
Graphically this is a really nice game. Visuals are crisp and clean, and give the feeling of what Streets of Rage, for example, could be if done with modern graphics. The downside is there is not much to see in the game, as enemies are recycled continuously and stages are so short that in a couple minutes you’ve seen everything needed to be seen. The backdrops, while nice to look at, are not memorable enough that you’ll be recalling them a week later.
Beat-’em-ups are not known for their story, and while Sacred Citadel tries to at least weave a stronger narrative than its contemporaries, it still falls a bit flat. It has its fun moments, and the voice acting is top notch, but the story is just there to give the characters a reason for risking life and limb rather than turning the other way and skipping town. The DLC continues the story along from the climatic final fourth act but is so short it feels like a footnote rather than something that will ever be remembered. It falls into the clichéd trap of proclaiming an item of dangerous power only for your random hero to conquer it with ease. This is a brawler though, and story is not what they are played for.
One pleasant surprise for a brief moment was the game’s music. Going through the first level it felt as if I was playing Golden Axe as the act’s song sounded like it had chords of parts of the soundtrack in it, making the skull-crushing even more epic. With that said, after that song stopped playing the music became unmemorable and did not stand out in any way. That is a real shame considering that the one strength of beat-’em-ups is their soundtrack, as it is one of the few reasons to replay the game.
This is supposed to be a prequel game to Sacred 3 which will be released later, and sadly it has that prequel feeling all over it. There are many levels but they are short. The few bosses have personality but their appearances are so short that it is a waste of potential. Also with the money mechanic being implemented poorly and making it completely useless, development time was wasted that could have been used on something else. The Jungle Hunt DLC is just the fifth act that has to be paid extra for, and offers nothing new to the core game. Better weapons, armour and higher level enemies are the only benefits for those wanting an easier time to grind out the Trophies.
Sacred Citadel is a beat-’em-up game for those who just want to relax and blow off steam for an hour. It lacks the nostalgia, retro flavor of a Double Dragon Neon, but does enough that if given the chance will keep you interested enough to finish the game. After that there is no reason to play again, sadly, unless leveling up all four characters tickles your fancy.