What follows is a description of an imaginary MUA game.
We will call it MUA X.
I will try to describe what I have been thinking and why it is worth consideration.
There is no particular format, but this writing assumes a lot...
As the reader, imagine you lead a game development team (responsible for crafting a new MUA game) and are required to use the following guidelines….maybe your eccentric boss had an epiphany and has left this memorandum for you…
THE PROBLEM WITH MUA GAMES
I was messing with the difficulty of MUA 1 (changing character skills and NPC stats). I Started a new game again. I entered the lvl 99 code again; I was raising the skill-points of a chosen character for the Nth time, and then it hit me…I realized what kind of MUA game I actually want to play. What’s more, I realized it will take (developmentally) a simple approach.
Each MUA (and XML) game is flawed for different reasons, but the flaw they all share is: trying to be too many different things (game-mechanics-wise). Each game is kind of a mess in this way. Basically, they all attempt to blend action RPG with beat-em-up elements and environmental puzzles; the result has never been cogent.
MUA1 = too many skills for each character to use, wildly imbalanced boost abilities, and an overall clunky mix of combat options with massive gaps in skill usefulness. Collecting gear isn’t bad, but so minimal it doesn’t need to be there. Way too easy.
MUA2 = actually improves in terms of balance and skill simplicity from character to character, but focuses on group power attacks. It feels wrong all over. Its featured RPG elements (skill points and ability points) are annoying by the time you want them maxed. 1 on 1 combat (your char vs. a target) does not feel satisfying. Spamming the same attack with very little thought to block / movement solves every fight. Item system doesn’t need to be there. Way too easy.
MUA3 = Proves that looks aren’t everything…the game world (maps) are great. The characters and their attacks are very stylish and look good. The combat is…soulless. Enemies are damage-sponges. Dodging / blocking / jumping is almost never necessary. The item system is beyond messy. It feels like something that was re-developed a dozen times—and then scrapped—and then kept in the game anyhow. It Leans into Character level and stat management to an irritating degree.
The MUA I envision has a simple premise: take what works in every MUA game (the top-down isometric perspective and the fact that you can play as many iconic MARVEL characters), scrap all RPG mechanics (items and stat management) and lean hard into the BEAT-EM-UP aspect of MUA that has always been there, but never meaningfully developed towards the game-play itself.
The best example of a polished Beat-em-up is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (2022). TMNT has minimal stat / level systems (each char can reach level 1-10, unlocking additional Health, Additional energy (special attack resource) stacks, and the actual special attacks themselves).
It occurred to me that TMNT needs none of this when a friend wanted to play. I had 1 character at lvl 10 from a previous play-through, and he (an experienced gamer, keenly aware that “skipping” can ruin the experience) asked if he would be missing out on anything by using a max lvl character (he was asking if the actual act of leveling was meaningful in the game or just a barrier to more complete gameplay).
I realized that all of it (the need to unlock the few extra character stats) WAS a barrier to actual gameplay. TMNT:SR (2022) does not need a level system or to ask players to worry about the minutia of stats and modifiers. It does not need this because it is not (metaphorically, but also a literal example) DIABLO 2 [in D2 (the granddaddy of action RPG genre) the leveling process – the search for better gear and the eustress of fussing over that gear – IS the point. IF you start a d2 character fully leveled with the best gear, you’ll miss best of what it has to offer.]
Because it is polished (fair, challenging, and engaging all the way through) and because the point is actually (almost entirely) to enjoy the combat, TMNT works just as well by starting with a fully leveled / maxed character (or even better cuz it’s kind of a grind once you want each character maxed) …players won’t miss out on the wonderful game offered by having no interaction with the character levels/ stats.
THIS is important to note. This is the crux of the vision.
MUA X will aspire to be a polished beat-em-up (like TMNT: SR) while refining and expanding on the top-down isometric format and the far-out, crate-smashing, adventure-across-the-universe spirit that MUA games have always embodied, but never willfully exacted.
GAME DEVELOPMENT AND STYLE NOTES
NO skill points, NO gear, NO level systems to worry about. Nothing to collect.
[we are assuming character and enemy designs / animations are beautiful, first and foremost, so…make sure this is so…no specific rules here…all 3 MUA games look good for different reasons, though 2 is a tad overly gritty and 3 just looks kind-of wonderful…probably, just mimic MUA 3 in terms of environmental art direction, but don't be afraid to experiment]
Put All effort/ attention into combat logic > world design > story [story can be kept very simple--almost vague--to great effect…if you’ve got a great story to tell using so many characters, go for it; but it is not necessary].
Also, characters need a good variety of alternate costumes…4+ per char (characters like Spider-Man can have many more).
The main attacks will do a set amount of damage; the special (energy consuming, higher utility) attacks do a % more across the board. No mess of unbalanced, disparate skills. No mess at all. Minimal and efficient.
Character variety comes from visiual design more than anything else (the actual hitboxes / function of attacks should be equal or vary only slightly (small trade-offs on speed/reach/damage/) across the board…the fact that the same input makes THOR slam a charged hammer on the ground while SPIDER-MAN does a flipiddy-kick is what will make each character “feel” unique.
This is a 5-Button Game (plus 4 directional controls)…it will use similar (but slightly more complex) combat controls to those of TMNT: SR (2022) mixed with MUA style combat.
This is a minimalist Game (in most ways).
Systems that impact combat (HUD info) will be kept visually sparse and straight-forward.
Energy Bar (x4 stack built by striking enemies, gained faster with combos)
Extreme Bar (1 stack built by defeating enemies)
CONTROLS (actual inputs are just examples, but comfortable for 5-buttons on PC keyboard)
Move = Up, Down, Left, Right
[Q] Block and dodge (block standing still, dodge with tap + direction)
[D] Main attack A: PUNCHES
[W] Main attack B: KICKS
[Space] Power activation (hold + use 1 of 4 power buttons, Q,W,E,D)
POWERS (uses 1 stack of energy or 1/4th of 1 stack for ‘spam’ skill)
[Q] Extreme. Uses extreme stack (full bar). Full screen, huge damage. Can’t be blocked.
[D] Targeted attack. Uses x1 energy stack. Small area, high damage. Unblockable.
[W] Area attack. Uses x1 energy stack. Large area medium damage. Unblockable.
[E] “Spam” attack. Uses 1/4th of energy stack. Low Damage. Single target. Blockable.
(NOTE: ‘kick’ or ‘punch’ may be a shotgun blast or head-butt or x depending on char animation)
BASIC COMBO A: [D] [D] [D] series of Punches
BASIC COMBO B: [W] [W] [W] series of Kicks
CHARGE STRIKE A: press+hold [D] super Punch
CHARGE STRIKE B : press+hold [W] super Kick
KOCKBACK [D] [D] [W] knock enemy backwards
POPUP: [W] [W] [D] send enemy into air (high) to make vulnerable to jump-hit.
STUN: [W] [D] [D] momentarily stun (susceptible) opponents.
TRIP: [W] [D] [W] trip a fool over.
JUMP-STRIKE: jump, [W] jump and downward kick (In the spirit of many 2D fighters).
AIR STRIKE: jump, [D] (vs. airborne or tall target)
AIR COMBO: hit [D] repeatedly for additional hits vs. air-borne / taller enemies.
THRUST-KICK OF DOOM: [W] + [D] to thrust-kick enemies from high places. Look up “Heroes of Might and Magic: Dark Messiah” if you don’t know about the sheer awesomeness of kicking fools to their doom from conveniently placed ledges.
Each character gets a basic jump, equalized and useful to attack enemies with / navigate map obstacles. Then, Each character get’s a 2ndary jump (hit jump a second time at apex of first).
The 2nd jump should showcase an individual character’s special trait, if logically applicable (same as MUA games have basically done already).
Eg: Spider-man jumps very high/far and gracefully (Use this in favor of the swing mechanic. Same for DD and Moonknight /others that might swing about inexplicably (it’s cool, but they are swinging off the air). Hulk jumps very high/far with a thud. Beast does tight summersaults, Daredevil does a pointless gymnastic move, etc. Everybody should have a unique double jump, even though many characters will have nothing especially noticeable (just unique air stances for those with no super-jumping ability). The 2nd, extra jump is for style / movement utility only. It’s only combat use should be moving away from attacks (thus some of the flyers and super-jumpers will have an advantage in this).
SPECIAL JUMP / MOVEMENT (some characters perform unique actions instead of 2nd jump)
Flight (characters with means of flight)
Teleport (Nightcrawler and Deadpool)
Slide (Iceman and invisible woman)
NOTE: Characters should be unable to attack while flying for the sake of balance (remember that this version of MUA X focuses on tightly balanced, 2D Beat-em up fight logic. Let characters be unbalanced in their 2ndary (character unique) jump abilities and special movement only.
SPECIAL REQUIREMENT: THE MANNEQUINN ROOM
MUA X needs a Character Select Screen in the style of the MUA1 Mannequin room. NO contest here. This was the coolest thing about any MUA / XML game; every character select screen that isn’t like this is disappointing by comparison…the 50+ roster version makes it clear that using a higher number of characters makes it even cooler:
You can use the picture above as a starting point. Heck – you can copy it, make the roster changes felt necessary, and merely fix the somewhat wonky perspective scaling (the only other real problem is the disparate art styles amongst the roster, but your newly designed MUA X won’t have that issue).
The Mannequin room option is more important than can be rationally described…this is a must.
Character Info screen only needs: NAME / SKILLS (list with names of SPECIAL attacks to add flavor) and COSTUMES (the only actual thing a player will ever need to select between / change).
IF you like, include a sheet with a small character Bio / powers description. Come up with a little gradient system if you want (like old-school MARVEL encyclopedias / card games had) just for kicks. Again, flavor. These stats should have no impact on actual game-play. Eg: Assign a scale of 1-7 (or whatever) to a stat sheet like this:
As a nod to many video games (including MUA and XML games), IF you like, give characters with enormous healing abilities a slight (functioning) healing factor. Make it a built-in hidden thing and only include major healers. In fact, limit this to WOLVERINE, DEADPOOL, HULK, BLADE (even though, if you know yer comics, many other characters logically possess some degree of super-human healing…ignore all that and go for x4).
…Give Spider-Man, Nightcrawler, Black Panther, and Wolverine the ability to actually climb the walls (Panther and Wolverine can do this with claws). Oooh – and give Ghost Rider his Wall-Scaling Motor bike for this function. Pointless, but awesome.
Apply the same to any wall-crawlers you include in the final MUA X roster [you’ll probably include Venom…I don’t care about playing as Venom, but most people say I am wrong to feel this way].
Thank you for reading.
This is the sort of thing I might expect a development team under my direction to grasp a more detailed version of…(I have plenty of notes for things like Character roster logic, switching between a villainous and heroic roster ((or switching out mannequin spots in-game, selecting from a total roster of 100+ characters, but you keep the mannequin room at a certain limit for aesthetics sake)), story premises, special character quirks: comic references by way of animation, exact names and visual details for special moves, etc.)
I had this nagging feeling it may be useful to somebody…I figure if you made it this far, you found something about it interesting.
Here’s hoping somebody gains something to ponder.