8Bit Box: Double Rumble
Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 45 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: Low
I’ve reviewed the 8-Bit Box base set, this review is for the expansion Double Rumble only. Double Rumble is the 8-Bit Box attempt to re-create games such as Double Dragon, Final Fight and Streets of Rage, where beefy martial artists march through a side scrolling city pummeling into submission pretty much everyone they encounter. It comes in with a 1-2 player count, though probably works a little better with one that two, which does raise the question as to why it wasn’t included in the base set which had three games, none of which featured a minimum player count under 3.
Gameplay is pretty simple, the players deploy their combatants to a column or row of the battlefield and deploy queues of villains looking to get their faces beaten into custard, ending with a level boss. Players roll dice to defeat their combatant with buffs for matching their special symbol to the opponent’s weak spot, building up rage or equipping items while the enemies have their own buffs or debuffs for the heroes. Smash your way through four levels of villains and bosses without using too many continues and count yourself a psychopathically violent super star.
Presentation wise the package is solid, the artwork mostly looks like it could spring from a range of Namco’s 90s output. The one mis-step is the fact that the enemies become increasingly mutated in a very Lovecraftian manner which really doesn’t fit with the majority of the genre and adds a slightly unpleasant horror edge to the game that won’t sit well with many people for no really good reason.
The first question is if this game represents the best parts of the side scrolling beat-‘em ups that it seeks to re-create. While those games clearly had a certain element of dexterity and timing that is hard to re-create in a tabletop game, they were also a manner of resource management, with power attacks taking energy. Here this is re-created by requiring the loss of energy to switch up special attacks or to switch row and column in the middle of a battle. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t offer the range of options that would be preferred, there’s no combo system, jump kicks or power attacks which would be the standard minimum menu for this sort of game. The directional pad on the controllers is used only to track a character's power unlocking ‘rage’ level which seems like a waste when it could be used to operate a range of attacks each activation.
The thing is that the digital versions of these games were, if nothing else, active. Combatants could and would use the whole of the space available, leaping from side to side of the screen without warning and knocking down whole swathes of enemies with swings of their mighty arms. In Double Rumble they stand, resolutely glued to the ground, and simply pummel enemies who queue up for their beatings before shuffling across to the next line of lump-heads. Its actually ironic that the one tactic that wouldn't work in the source material of the games, standing still and mashing the attack button, is what the majority of this game consists of. By penalizing movement (you literally suffer a direct penalty if you move from spot to another while there are bad guys still left in your line) the game destroys any sense of the frantic and active action of its inspiration.
Players are allowed to activate their fighters in the order of their choice, and often it makes sense to give one fighter the lion share of the duty on a level if their special happens to match the villains and they build up a set of equipment and fury. In solo play that’s no kind of issue, but if you do play two player it could leave levels pretty tedious for the player that doesn’t happen to be in a useful position. What is an issue for the solo version is how easy the game is and the lack of real mixing things up on the different difficulty levels. I won my first game without using a single credit, which rather undermines the point of playing through on the difficulty level that reduces credits by one, so I skipped straight to top difficulty and won that too. Its possible that there is a particularly weak combination of heroes, of which there are a very solid range to choose from, or a really nasty combination of villains, but frankly the dice rolling and slight amount of resource management gameplay really wasn’t enough encouragement for me to dig through until I could find a set of running shoes lead filled enough to mean that I wouldn’t win. A couple more set-ups to make sure it wasn’t just fluke and its very hard to see why I would play again.
Is it fun during play? At times, yes, when you roll big and fling an opponent around or use the elimination of one opponent to trigger effects on another it feels good. Since villains are removed even if you don’t defeat them its hard to imagine getting frustrated, however its also hard to imagine losing on anything other than by the combination of the worst luck and most bone headed choices, which can undermine the joy of success. There’s also no real sense of progression or reward for knocking down bosses, rather just a feeling of being set back to the start of a very similar next level. These games relied a lot of the time on a sense of discovery and progression, which this doesn’t really re-create.
I mentioned before that its quite odd that this wasn’t included in the base set of 8-Bit Box, and I still don’t understand why it wasn’t. The core set offers three games all with 3+ player counts, adding a 1-2 player game to round that count out would seem an obvious choice. Its possible it wasn’t ready during the initial release, but its hard to imagine that the release couldn’t have been moved to accommodate its development. The sense is then that either it was felt it wouldn’t present well in the main box, or that the games in the main box wouldn’t sell as a stand-alone.
Its been around a year since the last 8Bit Box release, and there’s no news of anything new coming up in the range, which I think is a terrible shame if that’s it for the system. However, Double Rumble isn’t going to have anyone fighting for more of the same.