(Capcom for XBLA)
By Mike Delano
I’m a big side-scrolling beat-’em-up fan, all the way back to the dirty arcade-dwelling days of playing Final Fight in a flickering fluorescent corner of the local 7-Eleven. Sure, the genre rarely evolved past the template established by Mike Haggar and his pair of overworked suspenders, but the best examples were always perfectly formed artistic visions that could be completed in one go. Streets of Rage and Knights of the Round didn’t hold back any of their charms – a fistful of quarters, rather than cheat codes or elite-level skill, was all that was required to see everything that the games had to offer.
The two Dungeons and Dragons games were among the rare brawlers that tried to expand the boundaries of the genre by introducing branching paths and upgradable characters, and even today, they’re among the all-time best brawlers. Even modern takes on the brawler, from Scott Pilgrim to the mighty Castle Crashers, just can’t compete with these two classics – Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara – packaged together now in Chronicles of Mystara. Undoubtedly, the fantastic old school sprite work has a lot to do with Chronicles’ untouchable status. Many games with far more power and the benefit of decades of new technology have tried, but few can match the vibrant visual splendor of Capcom’s artists working at their peak in the Alien vs. Predator and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs heyday. But the gameplay is no slouch either, bringing loot and significant attack variety into the mix, giving every beatdown a satisfying crunch and rewarding conclusion, thereby lessening the fatigue of carving through waves of similar enemies. These two games are as fun and imaginative now as they were 20 years ago, so parting with a few gold coins to score Chronicles is a small price to pay for the number of times you’ll revisit these gems between now and 2033.