I love the ’90s. Objectively the best decade ever, and I won’t hear nor see arguments to the contrary. It brought us rave music, the burgeoning popularity of side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, and amazing 2D pixel art on SNK’s Neo Geo console.
Funny, then, that along comes Final Vendetta with all of the aforementioned in a package deal.
I can’t stress enough how absolutely gorgeous a package this is. It genuinely looks like a mid-late ‘90s Neo Geo game; a time when the King of Fighters series was in its stride with pixel art that was witchcraft, frankly. Final Vendetta shares a lot of the same stylistic cues and aesthetic choices of that whole generation. It’s incredibly well-observed and an absolute treat for the eyes. It animates well too, with a solid knowledge of animation principles being clear from the most basic of punches through to the various smoke and fire special effects.
And it sounds great. Have you ever listened to the various Streets of Rage soundtracks and thought “what if this was dialled up to 11?” This is the result, and it’s authentic to boot – ‘90s rave-dance duo Utah Saints contributed to the musical side of things, which is complemented by an array of crunchy impact and hitting sounds that are all so completely satisfying in unison. Top marks for presentation.
It very much pays tribute to games such as Final Fight and Streets of Rage, and its control scheme is something of an amalgam of such titles. Fans will be right at home with the basic attack/jump/special buttons; maybe less so with the ‘block’ button. It’s there if you want to use it. Confusingly, the ‘special’ button doesn’t activate a special attack in the usual sense but is to be used in conjunction with other buttons depending on the context. It can be used to throw weapons, kick downed enemies, and even a perform ‘special’ attack – one which differs from the Final Fight-esque ‘super attack’ activated by hitting the attack and jump button together.
Sound complex? That’s Final Vendetta’s whole rub, really.
You’d be forgiven for thinking a belt-scroller such as this would be a case of approaching an enemy and then mashing the ‘hit stuff’ button until said stuff falls to the ground. And to some degree, you can play like that. You won’t get very far though, because this is a tough cookie that demands a little more of a considered approach to your onscreen violence. Each type of enemy has its own flavour of attack and a unique pattern, and these must be learned and countered with the corresponding strategy. This does serve to break up the moment-to-moment gameplay quite nicely, even if the game does initially present a brick wall of difficulty against initial attempts to just hit things ad nauseam.
On top of this, it’s incredibly well-paced. Levels don’t overstay their welcome, bosses aren’t generally a grind, encounters don’t seem overly padded, and there are only six stages to fight through – all of which means the difficulty won’t overbear or burn out even some of the more attention-deficit players with a nigh-perfect arcade length.
So, what’s the catch? Well, I’m afraid that’s all there is.
As mentioned, Final Vendetta is difficult. It’s the kind of game where learning it is akin to headbutting the same solid surface over and over and over with no alternatives. Other modes exist (Survival, Boss Rush, and Practice) but they are only unlocked on completion. Yes, even practice mode, of all things. There is no choice but to keep on headbutting. There’s also a lack of difficulty settings to choose from – ‘Easy’ and ‘Hard’ by default, with ‘Ultimate’ only being unlocked upon a hard mode completion. So, despite being a well-paced game with an expertly considered length overall, it can be something of a grind to learn.
The other main caveats I have are of the gameplay itself. It’s fun, don’t misunderstand me here, but it feels like several of the mechanics are just there for completeness. The ‘block’ button is all but useless as most enemies have unblockable attacks, and if you drop a weapon – a genre staple – it’s gone for good, even if you merely grapple an enemy. This renders them effectively useless, except maybe to throw at enemies for a sneaky first attack from afar.
There are other nitpicks, such as the ‘piano drop’ hazards of the dock level – a warning flashes onscreen before either a crane hook swings by or a shipping container falls, but there’s little indication of how to react to these the first time around and said containers kill instantly. Sometimes the game can be a little uncharitable like this, although it isn’t entirely unfair – each of the six stages has an extra life hidden somewhere within to ease the suffering a little.
Not that there is much suffering. Final Vendetta is a solid game with a few notable flaws. It’s worth playing if you love the belt-scrolling beat ‘em up genre in general, although it probably won’t make a new fan of you if you’re not. Very good for what it is, even if it doesn’t come close to dethroning the mighty Streets of Rage 4.
Published by Numskull Games and developed by Bitmap Bureau, Final Vendetta is out now on all formats. A retail version is available for Switch, PS4, and PS5.