Talk about an unexpected workout. Capcom's brawler marks the first time in a very, very long while that we've dabbled with a game's easy mode after getting routinely thrashed on normal. After what seems like the umpteenth time restarting at an early checkpoint, we've come not to look at the two higher notches on Spyborgs' difficulty settings as a challenge, but as our own personal Everest. It may look like a cartoony romp, but Spyborgs has teeth and no qualms about biting down hard on your gaming dignity.
It isn't an unfair game but for a time we thought it was a shallow one. What we discovered is that Spyborgs has a hard-won charm of its own. It just takes time and dedication to find it. This isn't Easy Street. This is Old Testament Capcom.
Our initial mistake was taking this as an exercise in button-mashing. It is not. Your best friends are dexterity and blocking. Enemy numbers are constantly stacked against you and their hordes are seemingly unlimited. While the lengthy stages are really nothing more than interconnected fighting arenas leading you from A to B, you will be too busy neck deep in cybernetic baddies to notice.
Even with this knowledge, it's tough going. You're cookie dough until you start unlocking upgrades, bought with collected red nodes scattered through each level. Health increases, new moves and quicker regeneration for instant kill special moves seriously beef you up and empower you to survive to the next checkpoint.
We're letting you know this because, like us, you'll be an hour into the game and thinking of giving up. Stick with it though. Somewhere between those upgrades kicking in and the first wonderfully realised boss battle is when that nagging familiarity clicks. This is a successor to the Capcom side-scrollers of old. It might not have the same instant appeal of, say, Final Fight, but it's been poured into the same mould... even though that mould isn't quite perfect.
The lack of those little details we've come to expect from today's top-notch actioners reveals the game's limitations. Each of the three characters has a combo that'll launch an enemy into the air. Great for tossing bad guys off bridges, but we'd like a choice for follow up aerial attacks. Also the gun barrage that Stinger unleashes at the end of his combo can miss entirely on occasion. It's not game-breaking stuff but it is frustrating at times.
You can also lose track of the action when multiple characters flood the screen, resulting in you losing a good portion of your health from unseen blows. Dodges, once unlocked, are not fluid enough. Likewise, dash attacks are not precise enough in their targeting to prove particularly useful when things really heat up. Chained combos can still be countered by an enemy attack. Add all this up and the fighting lacks the finesse of its peers.
Yet here we are, some hours in, still playing, kicking tail and the game is scoring very respectably. For our money, it still deserves a run through, though it might never find itself in the running for Game of the Year. So why are we being so forgiving?
Consider it partly due to that trademark Capcom flair. It's hard to think of a game from the company's stable that has been truly awful. Developer Bionic Games (whose team members have worked on the likes of the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance: Fall Of Man) might have taken a familiar approach to the fighter roster with 'fast-but-weak' ninja Clandestine, 'powerhouse' machine gun-totting Stinger and a 'tank' (the hulking robotic Bouncer) that's as old as Golden Axe, but the cast is injected with just enough personality to quickly shed the chains of cliché. The fighting system, though flawed, is satisfying and the variety of enemy types means some thought is needed for the quick dispatch of each. The boss fights are some of the most well-crafted and enjoyable set pieces we've played in recent years and the overall polish that has gone into the game's look and feel are very refreshing for a Wii game.
Even with the impressive visuals and a two-player cooperative mode, there's a real old school charm here. It's a game that grows on you. The levels are sometimes arguably too long, but the fighting and upgrade systems just about outpace your frustration and inspire you to keep on playing.