Final Vendetta Review: London Brawling
Sometimes, when an indie developer makes an 8 or 16-bit throwback pixel-art game, they're just using the style and aesthetic as a jumping-off point.
This is not one of those times.
You could slip Final Vendetta into a lineup of retro arcade beat-'em-ups, somewhere between Final Fight and Gaiapolis, and it would take most people a couple of minutes to notice that it was out of place. It's more mechanically complex than the games that inspired it, but at its heart, Final Vendetta is a generally successful attempt to bring back the '90s.
Final Vendetta Review: London Brawling
In 199X London, the "Syndic8" gang is gradually taking over the city. One of them has the bright idea to kidnap Juliette Sparks in an attempt to force her older sister Claire, a martial artist, to pull off a job on Syndic8's behalf.
When they call Claire to lay this out for her, they don't even make it all the way through the phone call. Instead, Claire turns to her equally violent housemates — disgraced Canadian pro wrestler Miller Williams and back-alley boxing legend "Duke" Sancho — and comes up with a plan: go beat up everyone they see until one of them happens to be whoever's got Juliette.
It is not a complicated plan.
This is a slightly more self-aware version of the excuse plots you'd see in '90s brawlers, and from there, Final Vendetta has effectively zero story until you finish it. You've got 3 characters for 1 or 2 players to choose from, as you rampage across 6 stages in search of Juliette.
Along the way, you'll take on a colorful assortment of gang members, who start off as cannon fodder and gradually get tougher as each level progresses, as well as a more dangerous boss encounter at each level's end.
If you've ever played an arcade beat-'em-up in your life, you'll have a decent feel for Final Vendetta right from the start. It's a short, intense burst of cartoon violence, where you and a friend pummel the Syndic8 with knives, bats, pipes, swords, and your own bare fists. It's easy to pick up, but difficult to complete, and the whole game can be cleared start to finish in 30 to 45 minutes.
Final Vendetta does have a deeper combat system than any of its 16-bit inspiration ever did, to its credit. In addition to the usual combo string, grab, and jump kick, each of the 3 playable characters can block, dodge, dash, kick grounded opponents, throw out a rear attack, and use a unique special move.
There's a lot of room to set up juggle combos and find new attack strings here. It'd be easier if you could remap the game's controls, though. Final Vendetta doesn't use a lot of the real estate on an average PC gamepad, but it still relegates basic moves like the special attack to a two-button combination.
You also get a fast-filling super meter, which you can burn on demand for a big knockdown attack with a lot of invincibility frames. It doesn't do a lot of damage, but your super is a decent get-out-of-jail-free card, particularly when you're surrounded, and you can use it with no meter in exchange for a small but significant amount of damage.
The character selection is more interesting than it looks. I went into Final Vendetta thinking Duke was the all-rounder, Miller was the slow-moving brick, and Claire would be focused on speed, because that's how character selection worked in '90s arcade games. Instead, they're unique characters with their own moves.
After playing around with all three, though, it feels like the developers built the game around Duke. He's easily the best of the three playable characters, with several strengths that the others just don't have; his dashing special launches enemies up so he can juggle them, he can cancel his normal combo string into his special attack for massive damage, and he's got the most useful super.
Neither Claire nor Miller have anywhere near as much going for them, which makes co-op irritating when both players have some experience under their belts.
Warts and All
It wouldn't surprise me to find out that you could get a version of Final Vendetta running on an actual Super Nintendo. The pixels and animation are all right out of the 16-bit era, albeit with smoother animation.
The soundtrack's nowhere near that level, and features a bunch of decent to good tracks by several English dance-hall DJs. When I'm messing around in the options, I find myself switching the CRT filter on and off to the beat. Apparently one of the big post-Streets of Rage 4 takeaways is that you've got to have solid music for your beat-'em-up, and honestly? That's not the worst lesson other developers could've learned.
My biggest issue with the overall package is one that I've had with a lot of other games that styled themselves as deliberate throwbacks, and that's one of not leaving the past in the past.
Final Vendetta is effectively made as an arcade quarter-muncher. It's made to shake as much change as possible out of your pockets, with plenty of cheap hits, sudden ambush, and deliberately unfair patterns.
On your first blind run, you're bound to get hit by every trap and obstacle the game throws in your way, because the only ways to get around them are dumb luck or rote memorization. It's my least favorite thing from this particular era of gaming, and it's never made sense to me that so many games want to recapture it.
Final Vendetta doubles down on this with an uneven difficulty curve, where all the real nonsense only starts to show up in the second half. In the first three stages, there are plenty of enemies who have obnoxious little fast attacks that can tag you before you can react, and every boss has something annoying on deck.
Stage 4 is where the party abruptly ends. That's when you start running into the boxers, who can turtle up and block everything you throw at them; several different high-damage traps, which you get only a second's warning for; and the Gentleman, the boss of the stage, who's got Ric Flair's style in Randy Savage's body. Getting anywhere near the Gentleman means you get chokeslammed for 35% life, with few gaps in his pattern for you to exploit.
He's easily the toughest boss in the game, and once you get past him, nothing else in Final Vendetta poses any kind of threat. I can only assume the Gentleman isn't in charge of Syndic8 because he'd rather be backyard-wrestling at the docks.
It's a sudden, unwelcome difficulty spike that marks the point at which Final Vendetta goes from the good kind of throwback to the bad kind, like it suddenly switched directors. That's not a deal-breaker, but the back half of the game is a distinct step down from the front.
Final Vendetta Review — The Bottom Line
- Colorful, expressive graphics.
- Flexible, fluid combat system.
- A soundtrack full of earworms.
- Has a genuinely nostalgic feel.
- I beat a half-dozen men to death with a cricket bat.
- Uneven difficulty; Stage 4's boss is the hardest fight in the game.
- Duke is unquestionably the best character.
- Lots of stupid cheap hits, quarter-muncher style.
- Only six stages.
- Custom controller configuration would be a big help.
2022 in video games has been the year of the insurmountable odds. Forbidden West had to go up against Elden Ring, and Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong barely beat The Quarry to market. Now, Final Vendetta's biggest problem is that it's coming out on the day after TMNT: Shredder's Revenge. It's not going to be pretty.
It's a shame, because there's a lot I like about Final Vendetta. It's got the same feel as plowing through the old beat-'em-ups on the SNES, back in the glory days of the genre, and the music's killer. While it's got its rough spots, like uneven difficulty and character balance, this is a decent game to have around for easy-access couch co-op.
[Note: Bitmap Bureau provided the copy of Final Vendetta used for this review.]