Nostalgia is a powerful force and has been a large driver of video game development and sales in recent years. We've seen all kinds of these throwbacks from remasters to spiritual successors. These retro-inspired games seek to capture what we love about the golden oldies while getting rid of some of the more annoying aspects that came with the time. It's all about taking that game you used to play on the N64 and letting you play it in HD with a better controller. Mega Cat Studios has taken another step towards retro gaming with Creepy Brawlers, a boxing game that can only be played as an NES cartridge.
Creepy Brawler's premise sees players portraying a horror movie buff that gets pulled into a cinema screen, and you'll have to take part in a series of boxing matches against famous movie monsters if you ever want to return to the real world. As the underdog, you either need to take on all the monsters and come out on top or face a game over and lose your soul. For as strange a concept as a monster, boxing championship is, the game's story does a good job of getting the character in place. Between each of the matches, there is brief dialogue with each of the monsters that adds a bit more to the characters. Like any good NES game, you need to pull out the manual and read up on each of the opponents you'll be facing off against if you want more information than the prematch smack talk provides.
The are two modes available in Creepy Brawlers the first of which is the Championship Mode, this is the main storyline where you find yourself stuck fighting monster after monster. There are four different cups available, each with their own roster of monsters that you need to face. Once you get into a fight, fans of classic brawlers like Punch-Out!! might notice that the game looks familiar. With the camera over your shoulder each fight requires you to punch, block, bob, and weave to bring down your opponents health and go for the knockout. You won't be able to charge into battle wildly as you'll start getting blocked or leave yourself open against attacks. Each of the different opponents has their own tells for when they're about to attack and when they're vulnerable that players need to learn to read and act upon. In learning the movement patterns of each of the monsters and dodging them correctly you'll get a bonus attack. If you manage to connect you will do some serious damage and stun your opponents. Between missed opportunities, taking predictable punches, and not knowing when a combo ends you will find yourself losing a lot more fights than winning them. The only way that you can progress in Creepy Brawlers is to learn from losing until you know enough about what your opponent is going to do. You'll get frustrated reaching the same monster over and over again just to be beaten, but once you do manage to beat them the feeling of pride is more than enough a reward.
If you're wanting to just fight a single monster again, for practice or a better score, then you can head to Training Mode. Here you can pick your opponent instead of having to work your way through a cup. The main benefit of this is that if you're trying to take on the fourth monster of a cup to get experience fighting them you don't want to have to defeat the first three all over again. Another benefit is that you are able to see information like fastest time to clear, and how many rounds it took. Working on these scores is more of a personal goal but something nice to bring down.
One of the most difficult parts of this game, as anyone with an NES may be familiar, is getting the game to turn on correctly. After testing the cartridge on multiple NES systems I found that the game would boot to a grey screen. After verifying the NES themselves weren't malfunctioning by testing them with other games, I stumbled upon a process that allowed me to have the game boot correctly every single time. Turn the NES on to the grey screen with the game inserted, quickly pop the game up and back down again, wait until I see the Mega Cat logo on the flashing screen, and then press the reset button on the console. While it was great to get the game working in the end, it was strange that I had to go through so much for it, especially using systems that would load other official NES games on the first try.
Even when dealing with retro hardware, Mega Cat was able to add a feature that gamers will be familiar with, achievements. After each round, you'll get taken to a screen informing you of what achievements you've managed to earn. Some of the achievements are basic and tied to story progression like defeating each of the monsters, then there are ones that scale in difficulty like winning a match after being knocked out twice. The achievements will stay safe across different game sessions and help give players further goals while keeping the game within its hardware limitations.
In terms of graphics and sound, there isn't all that much to Creepy Brawlers, but this is mostly down to hardware limitations. The pixel art for each of the monsters generally does a good job at telling you what it is, though the backgrounds end up just being generic horror-ish locations like a lab or a graveyard. It's easy enough to recognize some of the obvious characters like the Wolfman or a Zombie's shambling frame, there are some misses though like The Bride looking a bit more like The Grudge than anything else, though that may end up working in the game's favor. There was one graphical issue that I did encounter while playing that while dodging sometimes an after image would appear, though Mega Cat has explained that is something that was fixed for production copies of the game.
It's always great to step back into nostalgia to not only remember where you came from, but also where video games as a medium started. Mega Cat Studios has worked hard to truly emulate the kinds of experiences many grew up on. Creepy Brawlers does well to take the boxing game genre that worked so well on the NES and gives it not only a modern twist with special attacks and achievements but also wholly indulges in the movie monsters of the time. The strength of its faithful recreation of an NES title also serves as one of its greatest weaknesses though with a big limit in terms of content available to players. It's a great walk down memory lane but once the novelty wears off there may not be many people returning to the experience.
Creepy Brawlers was reviewed on original NES hardware using a cart sent to the reviewer
A nostalgia-filled adventure that might not be well suited for those with short attention. Creepy Brawlers does well to bring back the feel of classic games but brings with it all of the reasons we left them behind.
- A Learning Experience...
- Plays on Original Hardware...
- Good Pixel Art
- ...Or One You'll Put Down Quickly
- ...Keeps the Annoying Parts