You may recall Arcade games like Double Dragon, TMNT: Turtles in TIme, and The Simpsons Arcade Game. These were known as “side-scrolling beat ’em ups”, where the player(s) can freely roam an area and fight swarms of enemies. You’re able to move in all directions on a plane and jump. Combat was limited to punches, kicks, with a few combos at your disposal (jump-kicks). Survival was the name of the game – defeat your enemies and movie on, with only so many lives and health at your disposal.
Here is a sample:
Note the ‘plane of movement’. The Ninja Turtle can move all over the street freely. I’m going to be referring to this plane often!
These brawlers were not very technical like their fighting game counterparts. Games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat offered a large arsenal of moves because the onscreen characters were locked to single line of movement: left or right. Even 3D fighting games like Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive would have the combatants zeroed-in on each other along a single line of movement, despite moving around the environment.
With players locked to a single line (not an open plane), the control stick can be used to execute fancy moves, like Ryu’s dragon-punch. Trying to execute a fancy attack in a brawler would result in the onscreen character wobbling in all directions. It can’t be done. But I have an idea to solve that.
But first, a brief history lesson: hybrids of Brawlers and Fighters have been attempted before. Here is a title called Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero (skip ahead to the 3:19 mark to watch gameplay):
As you can see it is a side-scrolling affair with a fighting game pedigree, but ultimately it is very platform-ish, like Mario and Sonic. Sub Zero is limited to a single line of movement, no plane for free movement. This was likely done to make the controls comparable to the Mortal Kombat games.
My proposal: You can have a free-roaming brawler like Double Dragon that employs technical fighters, like Ken and Ryu of Street Fighter. How would it work? It would feature two gears of gameplay: By default, the players can move around and fight with the limited arsenal of a brawler. But if they want to break out the advanced moves, the player will need to hold down a dedicated ‘lock’ button, which will keep the fighter glued to a single line of movement. They can then break out the dragon-punch or flying-spin-kick or fireball – whatever moves they want as long as the lock button is active.
This would be similar to the Z-targeting system found in Ocarina of Time, but instead of locking onto an opponent, you are locking the player to a single line of movement. I would find it ideal to use a trigger button to make the lock feature active.
Note: If the onscreen character is facing left when the lock is pressed, he will remain in that orientation for the duration of that press. If the player needs to face the other way, he’ll have to unlock, move to look the other way, then lock again. Because in fighting games the direction of the fighter is dictated by the location of the opponent. In a brawler, you’ll need to aim the fighter as you see fit.
Having this ability in a brawler would add a lot of depth to the game. You wouldn’t want to spend the whole game using advanced fighting moves, but they are nice to have at your disposal. Perhaps even for the odd moment you just want to block an attacking enemy.